Heartfelt Proof of Deaf Identity

In Paddy Ladd’s Understanding Deaf Culture: In Search of Deafhood (2003), you'll find a Deaf Englishman from the 1800's -- John Kitto -- who validates the concept of a healthy Deaf identity.

Actually, in Ladd’s 502-page classic you’ll find lots of validation of Deaf identity. But it was Kitto’s remark on page 116 that really hit home for me.

In a nutshell, Kitto responded to far-fetched attempts at curing his deafness by stating matter-of-factly how he had no regrets about being Deaf.

Kitto’s comments were made during a time when people really went way overboard trying to “cure” deafness. These people in mainstream society simply could not embrace the concept of Deaf identity.

Whoops, wait a minute. People are still going overboard trying to cure deafness today so perhaps a clarification is in order:

Back in Kitto’s day, the search for a cure included barbaric methods such cracking skulls with a hammer, electric shocks, the use of leeches in the ears, and other absurd techniques that were so crude they sometimes resulted in death.

Basically, Kitto was saying enough already. He didn’t have a problem with being Deaf. He didn’t understand what people were trying so hard to “fix.” And thus his thought-provoking statement.

Regardless, scientists today are still searching for that miracle cure. Of course, this time around they’re using anesthesia and installing top-of-the-line cochlear implants. There are stories of remarkable success and there are stories of disappointment. Success or not, science moves on. Soon there will be other attempts at eradicating deafness. Nerve cell regeneration and genetic manipulation appear to be next on the horizon.

It is not my intention to pooh-pooh the medical approaches that are being used today, nor the ones that are being developed for tomorrow. For the segment of the deaf and hard of hearing community that wishes to take advantage of our modern medical technology, more power to them. I’m all for personal choice.

I’m also for recognizing the fact that there are Deaf people who are comfortable with this delightful thing they refer to as their Deaf identity.

The average lay person in mainstream society sometimes does a double-take when he or she catches wind of this. (“Deaf identity? What in the world are these people thinking? They have a DISABILITY!”)

All right. This is the fun part where I get to say Yes, Virginia, there is a Deaf identity.

Now bear with me for a minute while I veer totally off the point (we need the frame of reference).

Let me tell you right now that I’m a world-class hypochondriac. I have a benign yet maddening condition known as Mitral Valve Prolapse Syndrome. My mitral valve is a little bit floppy but that’s not the main problem. It’s the related symptoms of mitral valve prolapse that drive me up the freaking wall. I’ve worn out the rug to my doctor’s office because of it.

The scariest symptoms are tachycardia, chest pain, shortness of breath, and dizziness. Often I’d run to the doctor or cardiologist only to be told that everything checked out fine. I swear, this is a condition that has the potential to drive people crazy -- but isn’t life-threatening or life-altering (most of the time). Those of us who are able to manage it can still lead normal, healthy lives.

The number one problem with mitral valve prolapse syndrome is that some people who have it may also have to deal with an autonomic nervous system that has a mind of its own. Guess what? I fit into this category.

When I’m at work, there are times when my mind knows I’m in an IEP meeting but my body thinks it’s in a bar fight. That's what happens when the fight-or-flight response in your body gets activated for little or no reason whatsoever. The slightest trigger (especially caffeine, which explains why coffee sends me climbing the walls) can easily throw off the autonomic nervous system of someone who has mitral valve prolapse syndrome.

Fortunately, these annoying symptoms can be kept at bay by a steady dose of proper diet, aerobic exercise, avoidance of sweets (okay, I need to work on that part), and staying hydrated (if you see me making repeat visits to the bathroom, now you know why).

Unfortunately, there have been times when these symptoms snuck up on me and were so nerve-wracking that I actually looked into whether or not this thing can be fixed.

Yes, I’ve actually considered the prospect of having major surgery. Turns out that not only is it not necessary, but it wouldn’t relieve any of the aforementioned symptoms. Just because a bunch of things can happen at the same time, the doctor explained, doesn’t mean that they CAUSE each other. They’re just there.

All right, I think we’ve established that I’ve been a frequent flyer to my doctor's office. While we're at it, let me add that I’ve also been treated for lots of other normal, run-of-the-mill stuff such as broken bones, a hernia, sports injuries, allergies, and so on. Each time, I looked at it as the doctor doing me a big favor.

Now for the kicker.

Throughout all of the above… not once, not ever, have I ever asked my doctor to fix my ears. Never have I walked into a doctor’s office, pointed at my ears, and said doc, you gotta do something about this. Never. Heck, a lousy toenail once bothered me so much that I asked the doctor to look at it. But my ears? The thought never crossed my mind.

If that isn’t proof that people do indeed have a Deaf identity -- and are perfectly fine with it -- I don’t know what is.