Monday, October 21, 2013

The Hidden Potential of Silence

In today's day and age, we commonly assume that those who cannot speak are innately inferior.  That is, if someone cannot verbally communicate something of value, then we assume that they have nothing of value to share.  Such is the case with many people when it comes to the deaf community.  For quite some time, many have held the misconception that deaf children have no intellectual capacity to learn.  However, as recent research has proven, deaf children have the same mental capacity as all others.  The only difference is that they need more individualized education.  That is, deaf people must be taught in sign language by teachers proficient in that level of communication.

Shantha Rau Barriga, the director of disability rights at Human Rights Watch, claims that depriving deaf people of sign language can lead them on a road towards isolation.  It doesn't take an expert to realize that this is a downward spiral that we need not enter.  To pull up and out of this potential disaster, many proponents of deaf people, their rights, and their access to sign language gathered in Sydney, Australia for a major conference organized by the World Federation of the Deaf.  With any hope, this gathering will lead to the amelioration of the treatment of deaf people all around the world, especially in places like Nepal, China, and Uganda, all of which have been the subject of Human Rights Watch documentaries about deaf people.

In a first-world nation like the United States of America, we often fail to realize how lucky we are.  Growing up, I was always surrounded by diversity.  At my elementary school, there were many deaf kids, and many of us embraced them and the culture of sign language.  As I zoom out, however, it becomes clear that such is not the case in many other United States communities, let alone worldwide ones.  The only way to fix this problem is by attacking it at its roots: we must eliminate the misconception that deaf people are inherently inferior.

- Zach Steinfeld

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