Oral / BSL ... Medical / Cultural II

The idea of a continuum (as indicate in the title of this post) is interesting and no doubt reflects the tensions in the minds of ToDs. In my opinion, the idea of a continuum with those end-points is itself unhelpful. It implies that you cannot have one end without the other. So for example it appears that a medical model leads to social integration whereas a cultural model does not. Not true! It implies speaking and listening skills whereas BSL does not. Again, not true!

However, if ToDs think this way, then of course they will be suspicious of BSL and of cultural affirmation.

Deafness is a disability. The impairment of, say, no cochlear hairs, leads to the disability of being unable to hear conversational speech frequencies, which leads to the handicap of difficulty phoning the Broadband tech support. For example. These are loaded terms, but this strict definition of each of them is helpful. Deafness is also a cultural and personal identity for many people. We are social animals and all have a drive to identify with one group or another. Particularly with a group that resonates with us and in which we do not feel relatively deficient. Deaf Culture and the Deaf Community comprises very real things such as visual gags, a particular valuing of information, increased acceptance of difference, and many things very analogous with life on small islands like the Scillies and Channel islands (which is interesting.)

So they are both there and they are not really opposing things because they are different things entirely. Apples and pears. What is unhelpful is not the medical model, but medics denying, hiding, or being ignorant of deafness as a culture and as a linguistic minority. What is unhelpful is not BSL or Cultural inclination, but pro-Deaf Culture people (be they deaf or otherwise) rejecting or being ignorant of the medical side.

My remarks previously about opening the floodgates to oralism reflects really the assumptions that ToDs (perhaps) hold that these are opposing ends of a continuum. Bringing Cueing into literacy and speech therapy for example, is evidence-based, admirable and good. Believing falsely however that therefore BSL is not evidence-based, is not admirable, and is harmful creates the gradient down which the Oral flood sweeps. Just as over-valuing the oral (non-signing) status of a particular college student minimises and neglects the real needs of the signing majority. Horrendous!

Most of our students struggle with literacy, not because of the presence of BSL, but because of its absence. Because they are all very late to decent models of BSL use – mostly coming from naive hearing families. Providing a strong BSL environment from the early years, undiluted by SSE and cueing except in those lessons where they are demonstrably helpful as in ‘phonics’, gives deaf students an immediately accessible linguistically complex and valid first language (BSL), upon which they can build, with the help of Cueing for example, to develop a good working second language of English. Denying them BSL, or diluting it with SSE (which in fact makes it harder to understand because the BSL grammar lends itself to being understood visually whereas signed pidgin English does not) makes the learning of English extraordinarily hard, unrewarding, and depressing.

We need to focus on both, but the detrimental continuum idea means we need to continue to educate ToDs so that the importance of BSL and of formation of positive Deaf identities and not negative (deficient) Hearing ones, does not vanish under the flood of our natural need to fix / cure.

Jim CromwellComment