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xv Deaf Gain An Introduction H-­ Dirksen L. Bauman and Joseph J. Murr ay As a source of exchange, innovation and creativity, cultural diversity is as necessary for humankind as biodiversity is for nature. In this sense, it is the common heritage of humanity and should be recognised and affirmed for the benefit of present and future generations. —­ Article 1, UNESCO Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity, 2001 Aaron Williamson began to lose his hearing at the age of seven. Having spent the rest of his childhood in visits to audiologists, he now wonders, “Why had all the doctors told me that I was losing my hearing, and not a single one told me that I was gaining my deafness?”1 This is, to be sure, not a common question. Common sense tells us that deaf is defined by the loss of hearing. A visit to any dictionary confirms that there is no way to conceive of deafness other than through the loss of the auditory sense. Yet this definition is not always so common and does not always make sense among those who are deaf.2 Rather than defining their particular sensory orientation in relation to a norm of hearing, deaf individuals live within the plenitude of their particular sensory orientation and languaculture.3 To many in the deaf community, being deaf has nothing to do with “loss” but is, rather, a distinct way of being in the world, one that opens up perceptions, perspectives , and insights that are less common to the majority of hearing persons. The biological, social, and cultural implications of being deaf are not automatically defined simply by loss but could also be defined by difference, and, in some significant instances, as gain. In order to explore this notion, the editors of this volume coined the term Deaf Gain to counter the frame of hearing loss as it refers to the unique cognitive, creative, and cultural gains manifested through deaf ways of being in the world.4 “Deaf” within the Framework of Normalcy The shift from hearing loss to Deaf Gain is only one instance of a larger paradigm shift in thought from an overarching framework of normalcy to one of diversity. As Lennard Davis and others have shown, the invention and enforcement of standards of normalcy gained ascendency within the industrial nineteenth century H-­ Dirksen L. Bauman and Joseph J. Murray xvi and have continued to be a dominant means of measuring and defining human biological , psychological, and cognitive abilities.5 The concept of “normal” emerged as a way of understanding human beings only between 1840 and the 1860s, with the emergence of statistical science as a way of measuring human populations. Physical attributes of humans were, for the first time, graphed onto a plot called a bell curve, signifying a distribution in which the majority of subjects are grouped in the center and a correspondingly small number of people are, in each measurement , further out from the center. The bell curve became seen as a “natural” way of understanding human populations and seeped into public-­ policy-­ making discourse. The concept of normalcy was not only about the majorities but also about defining the margins at either end of the curve. A child whose school test results lie on the high edge of the curve will find it easier to apply for scholarships and be granted admittance to prestigious schools. A child whose IQ test scores show learning difficulties will be labeled as intellectually inferior and find such opportunities more difficult to attain. Self-­ described progressive scientists and reformers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries advocated bringing the “negative” ends of the curve into normalcy, whereas some eugenicists advocated more extreme measures. This “age of normalcy” has had profound implications for Western deaf communities . Although American deaf education was conducted in sign language for much of the nineteenth century, for most of the following century educators forbade its use in the classroom and tried to abolish its use among deaf people. This philosophy, called oralism, fit in with a particular approach to biological difference—­ one that is intent on fixing, rehabilitating, and minimizing the distance between the normal and what is seen as pathological. When infants are born into institutions, such as hospitals, that strive to maintain normalcy, they are set on a trajectory of measurement, diagnosis, and rehabilitation. Upon identifying the precise nature of loss, a medico-­ educational approach to rehabilitation is put in place. This increasingly involves technological interventions such as...


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