In one of the most authoritative tomes in the English language, the Oxford English Dictionary, deafness is described in terms of a deficiency. The definition, ‘[l]acking, or defective in, the sense of hearing’, posits full hearing as the norm, from which deafness is a deviation. Yet many disagree with this definition, believing that deafness is not a disability at all, but a culture, with its own language – sign. The culture is transmitted through this language and the institutions and communities which teach it, and its people identify themselves as ‘Deaf’. Those who are hard-of-hearing, who do not sign and are not part of this community are referred to with a lowercase ‘d’, as in ‘deaf’. As a consequence of the long history of the denigration and suppression of sign language, which has only lessened in the last forty years or so, these deaf people have been pressured to belong to the hearing world as well as they can. Brenda Jo Brueggemann, a hard-of-hearing rhetorician, refers to this as ‘passing’, in the sense of trying to pass as a hearing person in order to fit into the dominant culture. It is a vexed position to inhabit, for deaf people can be perceived to be assimilating themselves into hearing culture to access its privileges. However, given the alternative for a person who is not visibly disabled, that is, the constant and awkward disclosure of one’s disability, it is sometimes easier to simply pass, even if this leads to a sense of ghostliness or of not being wholly present. Rather than seeing this bodily lack as detrimental, I maintain that it engenders a responsiveness to one’s surroundings that is immensely creative and, in my own instance, beneficial to my role as a writer.
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