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  • Deaf Children and Their Families:Sustainability, Sign Language, and Equality
  • Alys Young

This article is excerpted from Young, A. (2016). Deaf children and their families: Sustainability, sign language, and equality. In G. A. M. De Clerck & P. V. Paul (Eds.), Sign language, sustainable development, and equal opportunities (pp. 32–48). Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press.

Hearing parents commonly describe their initial response to knowing their child is deaf in terms such as grief, trauma, loss, and crisis (Kurtzer-White & Luterman, 2003; Luterman, 1999). It is possible to argue that such responses arise from negative connotations associated with deafness (Beazley & Moore, 1995) and a predominant discourse that constructs deaf children as impaired versions of hearing children (Young & Russell, 2015). However, in the lives of ordinary parents, grief and loss occur in response to the transformation of what had been expected, hoped for, and dreamt of (DesGeorges, 2003).1

A deaf child introduces new concerns, knowledge, and experience that are sources of dissonance in the expected narrative of the self (Giddens, 1991) and, by extension, the family. Meaning has to be made of the unexpected experience that is coherent with one's sense of self and envisaged future(s) in order to restore "ontological security" (Giddens, 1991, p. 35). The challenge is how individual parents in their highly specific circumstances with idiosyncratic life histories take on that reconstruction of the narrative and forge new meanings coherent with their sense of self and family.

The present chapter, therefore, examines sustainability, equality, and sign language in terms of parents' and families' journeys to construct, deconstruct, and discover meanings through their experience of having a deaf child. Discussion is confined to hearing parents with deaf children, and the chapter focuses on two issues: (a) deafness or being d/Deaf and (b) enabling resilience in the face of inequalities.

Deafness or Being d/Deaf

While fundamentally of the body, deafness operates as if it were a disembodied, objectified attribute—hence, expressions such as child with deafness and mission statements that include aims such as to eradicate deafness. Many sign languages use a shorthand for this kind of discourse, expressed as the shape of a box around the ear.

To consider being d/Deaf rather than deafness forces attention on the ontological—the experience of being deaf both in terms of how the self experiences the world and how the world is influenced by the deaf self. Bahan (2008), referring to sign language users, describes Deaf people as a "visual variety of the human race" (p. 83), people(s) whose fundamental visual orientation affects every aspect of how people, places, and the spaces between are experienced, felt, and understood. The visual orientation of "sign language peoples" (Ladd, 2003) exploits aspects of what it is to be human that most hearing people are unable to access, yet these aspects are a capacity of what it is to be fully human. [End Page 61] Bauman and Murray (2010) made a similar point in coining the concept Deaf Gain in reference to Deaf sign language users, giving examples such as the ease of communication between Deaf people using different signed languages (see also Kusters, 2009).

In respect to others who might be deaf but not sign language users, the point is that there are many ways to be deaf or Deaf (Taylor & Darby, 2003). This is not just about how much one hears or what language(s) one uses. It is also about other characteristics unrelated to being d/Deaf that constitute diversity, such as culture, ethnicity, faith, class, sexual orientation, or gender.

Returning to hearing families with deaf children, a fundamental journey is to understand what it means to be d/Deaf both in the abstract and the specific of an individual child who is part of a family. This focus on the individual child in the family (rather than deaf children in general) is important because families are vitally interested in transmitting their values, culture, and traditions to the next generation (Ahmad, Atkin, & Jones, 2002; Young, Gascon-Ramos, Campbell, & Bamford, 2009).

Early Expectations of Being Deaf

A study of hearing families with early-identified deaf children following newborn hearing screening...


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pp. 61-69
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