Deaf Awareness Month – Celebrating the Culture & Correcting Misperceptions

There are over 466 million people all over the world living with disabling hearing loss of whom the vast majority live in low and middle income countries. Due to the fact that there are usually not appropriate ear and hearing devices, these people are denied proper health care and treatment.

With no adequate interventions, hearing loss becomes a significant challenge in the lives the affected. Through public health measures, rehabilitation, education and empowerment, not only can many causes of hearing loss can be prevented, but the full potential of an individual with a hearing loss can be achieved. This is the reason why raising awareness and improving access to services at the primary level is crucial-it can help reduce the prevalence and adverse impact of hearing loss.

What does statistics have to say?

Over 5% of the world’s population, among which 34 million people are children. Researches estimate that, without any measures taken, by 2030 there will be nearly 630 million people with disabling hearing loss. According to similar studies, by 2050, the number is predicted to rise to over 900 million. When it comes to adults, who are defined as people above fifteen years of age, disabling hearing loss is defined as greater than 40 decibels (dB) in the better hearing ear. Among children who are less than fourteen years old, hearing loss greater than 30 dB in the better hearing ear is regarded as disabling.

There are varying degrees of hearing loss between normal hearing and profound hearing loss. They are classified as mild, moderate, moderately severe and severe. Different degrees of hearing loss affect individuals differently. For instance, a child diagnosed with a “mild” hearing loss will suffer significant problems in the classroom. Such problems can be considered “educationally handicapping.”

The measurement unit for hearing loss is decibel (dB). Normal hearing is considered from 0 to 25 dB (15 dB for children), a mild hearing loss from 26-40, moderate from 41-55, moderately severe from 56-70, severe from 71-85, and profound over 85. For comparison, normal speech reaches the ear at approximately 45 dB when the speaker is 3 feet from the listener. The level of 45 dB is regarded as comfortably loud by persons with normal hearing, whereas a person with a mild hearing loss considers 45 dB to be “soft.”

An individual who has a moderate hearing loss may hear speech at a “whisper” and people with moderately severe or poorer hearing will not hear normal speech at all. In order to make them hear what you want to communicate, you are compelled to shout. People with mild to moderate hearing loss hear much better in quiet rooms with only one person speaking. In case of finding themselves in a noisy company, they will have much more difficulty hearing their interlocutor.

What is consoling is the thing that modern hearing aids are able to significantly improve a person’s ability to hear and understand speech in virtually all listening environments. Thanks to today’s technology, a person is able to hear and understand speech with a properly fitted hearing aid and some auditory training.

Disabling hearing in the time of COVID-19

If we rely on our own beliefs and what we learn reading the news, we might easily think that the Deaf community is struggling mightily in the face of COVID-19. What is, actually, true is that many of those who cannot hear are experiencing social isolation and lip-reading challenges. It is not worse for deaf people than to others. Like the pandemic situation is relative to all of us, depending on our lived realities, so it is to a deaf person. Their experience and attitude regarding COVID-19 is different just like among the people without this problem. Furthermore, the Deaf community was an earlier adopter of the video chat platform, so the users were already accustomed to communicating remotely.

In the sea of similar misperceptions about the Deaf community, there were many reasons for the creation of Deaf Awareness Month. For the first time they were officially observed by the World Federation of the Deaf in the late 1950s. That is how the month of September, culminating in International Week of the Deaf, became dedicated to promoting a greater understanding, and celebration, of the Deaf and hard-of-hearing community.

Deaf and hard-of-hearing

When mentioning “deaf,” the first thing that comes to one’s mind is someone who cannot hear. In fact, there are degrees of hearing loss ranging from slight, where slight is a small hearing decrease, to profound, which stands for being unable to hear, at all. In the book “Deaf in America: Voices from a Culture,” authors Carol Padden and Tom Humphries explain the difference between “deaf” and Deaf. The word “deaf” (lowercase) refers to people with hearing loss, while Deaf (upper case) is defined as “a particular group of deaf people who share a language — American Sign Language — and a culture.”

Although it does not sound offensive or undermining, that group of people does not take kindly to the term, “hearing impaired.” However, The National Association of the Deaf (NAD) explained that a lack of hearing is substandard, focusing on “what people cannot do”, like many other abilities or skills that some other people do not have at their disposal. Anyway, acceptable terms are “deaf,” “Deaf” and “hard of hearing,” or HoH.

Then and now

With technology, activism and legislation on their side, the Deaf community has, for the most part, shaken off the negative “deaf-and-dumb” label. Today people with this condition are accepted members of society who can greatly contribute with their knowledge and skills. In addition, The Deaf community has a very valuable range of well-known historical figures to boast, such as Ludwig van Beethoven, Helen Keller and Thomas Edison. The situation is similar with today’s activists, artists, actors and influencers, which includes Marlee MatlinLauren RidloffNyle DiMarco and Chella Man.

Federal civil rights laws are there support this group of people as well:

Aside from the advances on behalf of the Deaf community, there is still a lot of space for improvement. In fact, COVID-19 exposed flaws in current special education policy. In order to mitigate the negatives, we have best practices in educating the youth, whose natural language indication is sign language, must be reconsidered. American Sign Language, commonly used throughout North America is defined as a complete, natural language that has the same linguistic properties as spoken languages, with grammar that differs from English. Similarly to the case of spoken English, American Sign Language (ASL) has its own regional differences.

Technology and The Video Relay Service

Video Relay Service or VRS enables people hard of hearing to connect and communicate with others, via a video camera with internet connection. With the help of this system, the caller contacts a communication assistant (CA), who is a qualified ASL interpreter. The communication assistant places the telephone call to the destination party. The task of this position is acting as the interpreter between the two parties as well. What is highly important about VRS is that it provides smoother communication between a deaf individual and hearing person, eliminating cumbersome typing or texting.

Focus on the Deaf community

Deaf Awareness Month, September, is there to enable more clarity about the contributions made, and challenges faced, by the hard of hearing. In order to become more aware during this month, take into consideration participating in some of the following activities:

  • Volunteer for non-profits that assist the Deaf: It might include schools, civil liberties groups and community organizations.
  • Get in touch with elected representatives: Reach out to municipal, national and state representatives, and ask them to support HoH legislation and regulations.
  • Increase content accessibility through closed captioning:Some platforms offer English caption services for videos, providing live captions on the Zoom platform and for webinars.
  • Learn more about the community and culture:There are publishers that deal with deaf community topics. For instance, Savory Words publishes books by Deaf authors. Moreover, “Through Deaf Eyes” and similar documentaries information about Deaf living in the United States is provided for larger audiences.

During Deaf Awareness Month, all of us should take time and effort to learn more about Deaf culture, history and American Sign Language, in order to be well equipped to help these people and communicate with them effectively.

 



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