Recently, an opinion piece in the Washington Post written by Juliet Corwin, a middle schooler (how crazy smart is this kid, by the way…?) raised an interesting issue. Juliet writes that while she was born profoundly deaf, with the help of cochlear implants she can hear and speak. That said, Juliet still regards herself as a deaf person. “I’m still quite different from people who hear naturally,” she writes. Despite this, she feels rejected by the Deaf community. “In the view of many who are integrated into the hearing world through technology, such as hearing aids or cochlear implants, myself included, are regarded as ‘not Deaf enough’ to be part of the community.”
“There is a color between yellow and green that no one can agree on: I think of cochlear implants — hearing but deaf all the same,” she writes.
The line seems to be drawn. Either Juliet can be a part of the hearing/speaking world, or she can be part of the Deaf community. Only two options seem to be available.
While I certainly empathize with Juliet’s situation (and have feared the same fate for Sonya in the past), I can’t help but wonder whether Juliet or her parents had sought out a new and equally wonderful community: the Oral Deaf Community? This is a community of people who are deaf, who use hearing technology to hear. Juliet doesn’t mention it. I wonder if there was a reason why they didn’t or couldn’t access it?
Now, I recognize we are privileged to live in New York City, which is at the forefront of hearing loss research and speech therapy. We are very fortunate to have found the Center for Hearing and Communication, which focuses on teaching children like Sonya, how to hear, listen and speak with technology. At the CHC, Sonya attends group speech therapy sessions once a week, which emphasize language interactions with kids and importantly help Sonya develop friendships with kids who also use technology to hear.
While Sonya attends mainstream preschool; does ballet and yoga with her hearing friends; she also attends attends CampedUP, a summer program for cochlear implant and hearing aid users. CampedUP further cultivates the Oral Deaf Community. It allows children like Sonya a place to socialize with other hearing aid and cochlear implant users of different ages, to gain self advocacy skills and of course to have a wonderful time, it’s summer camp above all!
The Oral Deaf Community is a strong and growing community. It is a community where Sonya can ask questions about and learn to take ownership over her devices. Where Sonya can feel proud of her uniqueness. Above all, this is a community where Sonya can see (and hear) that she is not alone.
Parents: do you have such communities where you live? Do you find them useful? Do your children? I would love to know more (and provide more information to parents who are reading this who aren’t New Yorkers!)