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Lend Me Your Ear
Rhetorical Constructions of Deafness

Brenda Jo Brueggemann

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From Disability Studies Quarterly

Another title for this investigative project could have been Cover Your Ears: Rhetorical Conflicts Among and About Deaf People. I write this only because this exploration of the lives of Deaf people is far more personal than it is political. It hurt to read it. It hurt maybe because I am a parent of a Deaf daughter who at 19 is still barely able to read and write. It hurt perhaps because it hit too close to the “truth” that is so often hidden within the “Deafness” debates. The text reminds us that although metaphors and linguistic use of “deafness” invade our attitudes and thoughts, the “real” issue is actually about people. The author is someone who claims a bilingual/bicultural identity and the clear ability to be competent in both English and American Sign Language. The personal contributions of the author make this text a MUST READ for those unfamiliar with deaf people and their issues. From my perspective as a late deafened adult who immigrated to the Deaf culture after adolescence, the intended audience for this book is really rookies. That is, it is not for Deaf people already familiar with the issues, or for deafened people trying to find their place. It is an academic and intensely passionate analysis that will benefit those people who still cannot understand what Deaf people want, and what all the fuss is about.

       The text is divided into three sections—Deafness as Disability, Deafness as Pathology and Deafness as Culture. It is effective, and interesting, that the author has chosen to separate (quite literally) disability from pathology. In the chapter on Deafness as Disability the education system is held accountable for “treating” deaf children as “disabled” under the law (PL94-142 and later IDEA) and providing services in later life under the disability frame. What is not engaged in this section is the concept of disability AS culture, or capital D Disability as identity. Disability itself is framed as “handicapping” or “limiting” language instruction. The next section — Deafness as Pathology — is a strong example of the medicalization of deafness. The rise of audiology as a profession that measures and prescribes intervention is a refreshing step into the world of “impairment” that disability studies so often avoid like a contagion. But the world of impairment has so much to do with the constructions and contradictions of the lives of deaf people that it fits nicely into Brueggeman’s book. Deafness as Culture is also useful to those unfamiliar with the history of Gallaudet and the significance of Capitalized Deaf Identity. The book is not directly intended to look at gender, race, sexual orientation or class but through the meta-narratives, examples, and analogies, the author is able to express the intersections and connections between deaf identity/deaf people and other characteristics/identities. Make time to read this book. Make time to think about it and even if it hurts, make time to acknowledge the rhetorical constructions and conflicts in the lives of people who are d/Deaf.

Tanis Doe PhD, University of Victoria and Pearson College

Brenda Jo Brueggemann is a professor in the Department of English at the University of Louisville.

ISBN 978-1-56368-079-3, 6 x 9 hardcover, 302 pages, references, index


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