Busting Misleading Myths , Misconceptions About the Deaf

  • Deaf People
    A young boy talks to his grandfather in sign language (file image)
  • The average human being is difficult to define. There's not a gallery of cute, little boxes with different tags to pigeonhole the human race. Man is not limited in his capabilities - on both sides of the spectrum.

    One group is self-driven, ambitious, and always burning the midnight oil to find perfection. Like the lady in the neighbourhood whose purpose in life is to make perfect chapatis!

    Then, there's the opposite kind. The group spamming precious cyberspace, especially on TikTok with their trials of that stupid and dangerous 'Milk Crate Challenge', which has left many people injured. Well, ain't that, a tad bovine?

    That's a thing to reflect on.

    It's a twisted observation, but it's sort of inspiring that there's not a single video of someone with hearing impairment trying 'The Crate Challenge'. It's not that they cannot, it's just that it's stupid. And an unnecessary risk to take.

    Deaf People
    Youla Nzale, a sign language interpretor on Citizen Tv news bulletins (file image)

    A lot of people with hearing ability assume that non-hearing people (deaf) are 'disabled'. A 'people living disability' - (PWD's). Oh, boy, how off the mark you are!

    Deafness is not a 'disability' so much as it is a culture. It's a way of life - something that binds them together their loved ones, or fellow deaf people. Much like ethnicity or religious persuasion can do. If you get an opportunity to live among them, you will appreciate that it's basically a way of life.

    Have you lived with a deaf person, or worked in an environment built around deaf people - say, at school? If you have, you realize they have a very special world they live in; almost a purist one. It's a click away from attaining 'cult status'.

    For some families, deafness can be a multi-generational culture. It's a part of their identity, so much that when a child is born hearing into that family, it's not a celebration per se. It's almost like an oddity. The natural feeling is that this hearing child will be 'lost in the world out there".

    It means a lot for parents that their children grow up in the culture they belong to.

    A couple expecting a newborn has a lot of anxious moments. Will our kid be OK? There are aspects an ultrasound scan doesn't reveal. Deafness is one.

    In the probability, the anxiety is usually based on parenting challenges wrongly perceived to apply to a deaf child.

    A baby, born deaf - enjoys the same, exact milestones as a hearing baby. The sounds a hearing baby makes - the nonsense sounds: ga ma ga da da. It's called babbling, and it's the first stage in learning to produce speech.

    They start with the easiest sounds - ba, ga, ma, ba - and slowly increase their range till they learn how to pronounce sounds. The language sets in.

    Hearing babies babble with their mouths. Deaf babies babble with their hands. Did you know that?

    This babbling stage is done no matter what modality a baby is learning a language in. It's instinctive. It’s the first step of learning to speak a language, Deaf, hearing, or otherwise. For a deaf baby, it's sign language. Basically, it's their mother tongue.

    And, ain't it surreal that a deaf person doesn't think in any particular language - like the hearing people?

    A hearing baby will imitate its parent's words. A deaf baby copies their parent's hand signs - copying, practising, producing, learning. They develop behavioural speech patterns as hearing people do - only that it's in sign language. In deaf circles, it's not uncommon to see one tagged as a 'loudmouth', or 'talkative'!

    The school headache kicks in for the parent. Worry not - it's nothing really.

    A school for the deaf on any level looks and functions like a regular school. Oh, did you know it's not a requirement to enrol in a school for the deaf? It's a culture, remember? Not a disability.

    It's just a regular school, except that its modus operandi is in a different language. The environment is developed to infuse the visual, rather than auditory modality. 

    To signal a beginning or end of a class period, end of break - hell, time for lunch - flashing lights are used instead of bells, or buzzers. This goes for fire alarms, too.

    In some instances, some schools have a vibrating set up in contact with their beds - incase of night emergencies.

    It's pretty cool, thanks to the digital revolution. Especially in first world countries.

    Instead of intercoms and loudspeakers, there are text message boards fixed in common areas - or those that'd require an intercom. The deaf, especially school staff employ videophones to make and receive calls.

    Deaf People
    A sign language interpretor works alongside President Uhuru Kenyatta during the Devolution Conference in 2019 (file image)

    While it doesn't cut across all schools for the deaf, most schools have an all-inclusive sign policy. The hearing members may be required to sign at all times.

    This cuts any privilege that hearing people may enjoy and allows deaf students the same degree of incidental learning that hearing students my acquire in hearing-aligned settings.

    It's interesting to know sign language allows for cute, little nicknames? The school's principal? The favourite cook in the school's kitchen? The pet teacher.....

    On the personality angle, 9 out of 10 deaf people are generally good people. For a simple opinion, let's use a personality test that resonates with most hearing people.

    There are two kinds of people at a party. A party? Yes, we've all been to a party.

    Attend a party where something is in short supply. Say, a certain type of drink - or some delicacy on a buffet table. There's the kind of people who'll pick lots of pieces for themselves. There's the kind of people who will pick just a piece - or skip that delicacy entirely.

    Both kinds make that decision because they know that delicacy won't go round. Take this to the bank: 9 out of 10 deaf people will not be in the group grabbing five chicken legs and run away with it.

    Do you agree with my opinion? Give your two-cent-worth in the comment section below.