Deaf Culture and Its Integration into the Modern Society

It is unlikely that those who have no hearing impairment are particularly conscious of deaf culture and its ongoing struggle, in many parts of the world, to establish its position in our modern society. In an age when we have succeeded in becoming far less discriminatory in our views with regard to race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation, it is all the more surprising that some still look upon those with hearing loss as disabled and, by some of the less informed individuals, perhaps even as mentally disadvantaged.

While almost everyone today appears to accept that those who may be confined to a wheel chair are still perfectly capable of holding down many different types of job on a part-time or even a full-time basis, there remain those who firmly believe that the loss of his or her hearing renders the subject unsuitable for any form of employment.

In addition, there are also many surprising misconceptions relating to various aspects of this very common condition. Among them is the wildly overrated belief in the ability of the hearing impaired to read lips. It is certain to surprise many of those who read this article to learn that only about 20% of all English words actually result in a visible movement of the lips and that, in addition, only about the same percentage of the individuals that comprise the deaf culture within our society possess the skill to interpret them. This means, of course, that as a form of communication, lip-reading is inherently far less efficient than sign language.

Interestingly it is the common dependence upon this mutual form of language, perhaps more than anything else, which has led to the condition being regarded by its sufferers as a trait rather than as a pathology or, worse still, as a limiting disability. Bonded through a communication medium that is totally unfamiliar to the majority of those with normal auditory function, those afflicted by profound hearing loss have slowly emerged as something of a cultural splinter group with independence as its main goal.

In practice, this is a group that has had to be the main provider of support to its members as well as to the family members that need to interact with them. Frequently, fund-raising activities to finance education and the like must be undertaken by the members of this same deaf culture and yet society remains content to focus on the needs of those with cerebral palsy, guide dogs for the blind or providing free counselling services for various addictions.

Although not all may benefit, there has been one major technological advance that has created new hop for many of those whose experience a profound impairment that is not corrected by the use of conventional amplification devices even given the exceptional performance of the most recent units. The cochlear implant has revolutionised the management of sensorineural deafness in which the inner ear lacks the functioning sensory cells required to generate nerve impulses from the incoming sonic vibrations for onward transmission to the brain.

The Ear Institute operates professional audiology clinics throughout South Africa and with its superior Phonak hearing aids and Advanced Bionics cochlear implants has been hugely successful in the reintegration of those from our deaf culture into mainstream society. 

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