Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Deafness and ASL: Rethinking Disability

I was worried about signing up for an ASL course because I thought it was really weird taking a casual approach to what most of society perceives as someone else's disability (deafness).  Like taking a course in using a wheelchair, or ... well, actually, every example I can think of kind of has some kind of merit, at least in terms of building tolerance or understanding.
 
I think I've said here before that, before taking the course, whenever I read about people who said they were glad to be deaf, I just thought that was strange, too.  Accepting, maybe.  But who could be happy, beyond in a resigned, Pollyannish kind of way?
 
But when my teacher said it, a light came on.  It's like being Jewish!
So many people probably would never wish to be Jewish, to have to keep Shabbos, eat kosher, live this life that certainly looks (and, okay, often feels) restrictive in the extreme.
Does that mean I'm not glad I was born with it?
Of course I am.
 
Not just glad, glad, like I'm saying I'm glad, but most of the time, I'm pretty darn grateful for whatever accident of birth put me here.
 
His was German Measles (my teacher).  Mine was the misery that was Europe between the World Wars and the good fortune all my grandparents had to be in Canada instead of Poland during the Shoah.
 
Even if someone is never planning to convert, I love sharing Judaism:  Jewish ideas, Jewish concepts, tidbits of Jewish culture; the things we take for granted but are different from the experience of most people who live alongside us in our North American culture.
 
Which is what this teacher is doing, and it's okay with him if none of us are deaf or hard of hearing or have someone in our life who is.  Sharing tidbits of deaf culture; telling us what it was like for him, growing up deaf in Ontario.  Letting us know that deafness is not a sickness:  he lives, works, has a girlfriend, drives, SeaDoos, listens to music (turned up really loud, he can feel it).
 
Yeah, I knew before that deaf people did all that.  And okay, maybe it's pure voyeurism, wanting to know all the details.  But I'm not the only one in the class soaking it all up, laughing as we begin to follow the little "deafness" jokes.
 
Wanting to be less of a moron, to know more and more and more, but being okay with it taking time, learning it a little at a time.  Not needing a better reason than just the challenge of a new language and the fascination of a new (to me!) cultural paradigm.

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