Big or little “D”?

I think I might be one of the few hearing people whose thoughts on deafness have been filtered through the concept of Deafness. A lot of the posts on this blog deal with that big-D one, not really the small-d one. It’s sort of funny, because I have a cousin who is little-d.

Okay, maybe I should explain, in case I’m getting ahead of myself. Little-d deafness is the physical condition, while big-D Deafness is the cultural reality, characterised specifically by a (natural, not artificial) sign language, which allows for a unique culture, with different values and social rules. In some ways, Deafness is a subset of deafness, but it’s not as simple as that because hearing CODAs (children of Deaf adults) and some other hearing people involved in the community can be seen as culturally Deaf.

Big-Ds are proud of their Deafness. Many of them would never want to try hearing aids or cochlear implants, or anything like that. Their deafness is part of them, and they often feel insulted by the portrayal of deafness in a negative light, or by the suggestion that d/Deaf are incapable of doing certain things. If has been an uphill battle to get d/Deaf to the point where they’re allowed to get driver’s licenses here in Jamaica.

I realise that it is through the lens of big-D that I now see little-d. My cousin has a significant amount of deafness. He doesn’t hear from his right ear, and wears a hearing aid in his left. I few months ago, it occurred to me that my family is often telling him, “Yu mos put iin yu ierin ied!” (“You should put in your hearing aid!”) when he doesn’t put it on as soon as he wakes up in the morning. I had this thought then:

Hearing people so often want to impose their norms on the deaf. It’s often hard for them to accept or know how to deal with the fact that that their deaf child, or other loved one doesn’t experience the world in the same way. They experience life without the same level of hearing. Those who have hearing aids or cochlear implants know what it’s like to experience life with or without the use of them, and sometimes they may choose not to use them at a particular time. Is it so hard to try to meet them within the realm of their own experience? Use visual clues, get their attention physically. It’s the least we could do, since we make them live in our realm for so much of the time.

And then, I saw this blog post today, an entire run-on paragraph explaining why hearing aids have been a tremendous blessing in this deaf woman’s life. And I remembered that little-ds (like by cousin) exist. Susanna, the blogger, knows sign language, and so would possibly/likely be considered (and consider herself) big-D, but her blog post reminded me that there’s no such thing as one opinion when it comes to deafness.

My thoughts return to my cousin. What’s it like for him, I wonder? He was raised oral, and knows little or no JSL. He once told me, though, that he knows he would “have to” learn it some day. Well, I hope he does. For his sake (many d/Deaf find it liberating to be able to use a mode of communicating that doesn’t take so much work) as well as mine (I’ve been wanted a family member to practise JSL with for ages).

So, I dedicate this post to my cousin. ‘Cause he’s pretty cool.

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9 Responses to Big or little “D”?

  1. read.robin says:

    And yet, wouldn’t learning a whole new language be just as much work as using a hearing aid? Especially for an older person (since kids are all spongy when it comes to learning).


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