Deafness and Intelligence

Many people do not understand that our linguistic development is tied into our linguistic comprehension. For if we do not know or understand the meaning of the word spoken or written, we cannot understand the message. If we miss a key word or sentence in a conversation, it does not mean that we are stupid. It only means that our understanding of the topic was impacted by missing a crucial piece of information because we did not hear it, or lipread it. So when you must repeat, do not get frustrated or get angry because we misunderstood something. It does not mean we are dumb.

Intelligence is not conveyed through hearing, it is conveyed in our words, our understanding of the messages, and can also be demonstrated in other ways, mathematically, artistically, musically. Intelligence is not solely a product of words. Nor is hearing, vision or physical ability solely the proof of intelligence.

I say this because I have encountered people, who thought that because I am Deaf, I therefore must be Dumb. This is the worst kind of prejudice that I have encountered, and still struggle with appropriately responding to (or not, as the case may be). The condescending attitude, the use of exaggeration in speech or language used, or worse, the “the dumb downing of conversation” has been experienced periodically in my life.

To me, the people that chose to see me as Deaf and Dumb, are the ignorant ones, the bullies, the ones who look for faults in others so that they may deny their own shortcomings. My daughter has told me over the years of classmates who were deaf, or disabled in some other way. She has told me of witnessing prejudicial behaviour, and treatment, and experienced at times, a backlash when she chose to stand up for those classmates and chastise the ones behaving in an ignorant fashion. I am both dismayed and proud when she tells me of these things. She, of all of her classmates understands that a disability or deafness does not automatically mean dumbness, or that they must be treated like infants. We’ve had many conversations her and I, about disabilities, bullying, and the character of the people around us. She has learned that how we treat others reflects back on ourselves. She believes no one should be treated differently, and stands up for many of her classmates when she witnesses any kind of bullying or prejudicial treatment.

My lack of hearing does not mean I am dumb, nor does it mean that I should act dumb either, or accept being treated that way. I am a normal person, built with the same cells, organs and structure like the person next to me. My deafness is caused by missing or damaged nerve cells in the cochlea. That simple fact created the uniqueness of me that is my deafness. Take away the fact I cannot hear, as you read these words, and ask yourself, is it the words I use that conveys my intelligence, or is it the manner in which I write? Suppose if I video blogged in sign language, and wrote accompanying pieces using ASL linguistic structure. Would that therefore make me seem dumb? Simply because you cannot understand ASL, and that I did not use correct grammatical structure. ASL is a separate language, with its own vocabulary (signs), sentence and grammar structure. ASL focuses largely on the body language and facial expression to enhance the communication if a thought or feeling. This is not unlike a person using volume, intonation, and inflections of the voice in a monologue to convey emotions and thoughts.

Stephen Hawking is the premier physicist of our time, and communicates with the help of a special computer that takes his thoughts and speaks them to others. Is he dumb just by virtue of the fact that he is physically disabled and cannot actually speak? His disability was caused by motor neurone disease, in 1963. Obviously he already was brilliant, and thus had to find a way to overcome the limitations caused by the disease. His mind is not fettered like his body is. Clearly the successes of his journal publications, his books, and his presence at many conventions and universities to present his theories, show that he is not limited by his disability. http://www.hawking.org.uk/

So the question one might ask, can you tell just by the way a person looks, speaks or writes how intelligent they are? No, because intelligence can be shown in many ways. A person with Down’s syndrome can convey in the simplest of ways the most profound statements of life, and frequently do. One must take the time to see past the exterior, the equipment, the methods used to communicate and look directly at the MESSAGE being given. The written word, oral history and song, a musical composition, paintings and pictures, and mathematical equations all convey a message.

Prejudicial treatment is the bane of anyone’s life, no matter the color if their skin, or lack of an ability. It happens to even the most able person, and the most intelligent person. So when you look at someone, when you speak with them, or read what they write, look at the message, not method or medium that conveys it. Don’t judge by what you see or hear, judge instead, the message given by the person.

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