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Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

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Deaf Identities in the Making: Local Lives, Transnational Connections

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Cochlear Implants: Curse or Pragmatic Solution?

Until a few years ago, Hilde was also against the use of CI, because she looked upon the option as both a lie that would not deliver what it promised and an attack upon deafness and sign language. She is no longer against it. She explains why she has changed her mind, by means of a little detour:

You know, there are persons that choose to get CI, and there are those strongly opposing it. But there have always been different groups of deaf persons, and a division between those going to deaf schools and the integrated ones. The decisions are made by the parents. I have hearing children, but I cannot freely choose to have my kids in a deaf school. I have heard about a deaf mother that wanted her hearing son to attend the deaf school, but she was denied. Today her son is forty, and in his opinion the authorities did the wrong thing. He wanted to go to the deaf school, but he couldn’t. So the topic of integration is a difficult one. I have experienced “integration” myself, and it is no good. You are denied communication. But I can also understand the parents that want to have their child at home. It is a difficult decision to send your child far away to a boarding school. I would recommend a mixed solution: The deaf child goes to a deaf school and stays at home as much as possible.

This “compromising spirit” reflects her position. As a mother, she understands the hearing parents’ dilemmas and the deaf child’s needs. The willingness to compromise is also connected to the dangers of “Deaf extremism,” which she fears will contribute to the drawing of sharper boundaries between the deaf and the hearing worlds, and as such discourage cooperation and reconciliation within mixed families. This is also why she has changed her mind regarding CI. What is in the best interest of the deaf child is what matters for her, she says. The solution is not only a sign language environment, although that is very important, but also the ability to adjust to hearing society if possible. She is furthermore furious when she witnesses the insensitive arguments against CI, which do not cater to the different individual needs and feelings related to the topic. She was thus embarrassed when the secretary general of the Norwegian Association of the Deaf (NDF) argued against CI in public.

What matters is the chance of improving the quality of life within the hearing world. I do not disregard deafness or my identity. I simply want to have access to the whole society. It is not so that I feel impaired and in need of a fix. I belong to the sign language community.

Life at Present

Life at present has become quite comfortable for Hilde. She has a job that she loves and a workplace that is perfect for deaf signers. It has been a struggle to come this far, and she is sad when she thinks about all the years in futile search of a hearing identity. There have also been major changes in the field of deafness, which have made life more comfortable and enjoyable. The recent establishment of a professional Sign Language Theatre is symptomatic of these changes, an occurrence that she fully embraces and celebrates. The status of sign language has also improved, both in the schools and in the minds of the hearing majority. Hilde says, “There have been tremendous changes, and now we are fighting to have sign language accepted by law as a separate language, on equal terms with the Saami language.”

This improved status and her new pride in using sign language has also influenced family relations. Before, she often got obscure messages that hinted she was limited in her ability to be a good mother for her hearing children whenever there was a school-related problem. Back then, she partly accepted this.

But today, I can see that these weren’t problems related to me being deaf. They were rather ordinary problems that challenge each and every parent in communication with their teenagers. Today I can see that my children function fluently in both worlds, in sign language and in spoken Norwegian.

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