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Hearing-Impaired Community: How Did We Let Them Down?

Updated: Nov 26, 2022

Written by Adanur Nas


In a world where millions, or even billions, of different communities have lived, it would be only natural to see those communities are living in an equal and peaceful environment. However, much of what this diversity deserved had not been of importance to those who had power, such as world leaders or even certain common folk. Human history is just a plain example of this reality. Maybe it was due to the pleasure that came with the feeling of superiority or it was for those people’s best interest; nevertheless, many could use excuses, but could not explain why such diversity was used to shame and belittle people when they could use it to empower each other. They came up with different methods to justify their stubbornness to continue with their discrimination and persecution on other communities, and in most cases, minorities. Such examples were Social Darwinism and White Australia Policy. Although those examples have long lost their validity, they still hurt many people in the past. They are not in practice anymore, but they painted a highly dark era in human history. Thence, it is now up to us, the next generations, to compensate for what we have done and change our world into a place where every community can live equally and peacefully. However, looking at what has been done till this very day, have we not failed?


Hearing-impaired community is such an important example for the ones we collectively failed. Currently, there are approximately 1.5 billion people (20% of the population) living with some kind of hearing-impairment, and over 430 million of them are living with disabling hearing loss [1]. That is, at least 430 million of them are having harder times to acquire language and get proper education. Moreover, the World Health Organization predicted that by the year 2050, one in every ten people would face disabling hearing loss [2]. Taking into account what United Nations Department of Social and Economic Affairs predicted for the population of the world in 2050 — over 9.8 billion people [3], it can be stated that in the foreseeable future, hearing-impaired community will continue to expand, and if this expansion coincides with our world’s current situation, many people will suffer gravely. Many parameters could be used to explain the current situation, yet if people do not use those explanations to reflect on their lives and how they have acted till this day, we, as humanity, will continue to let hearing-impaired community down once more.


Aforementioned, feeling of superiority has been a driving force for many unacceptable actions in human history. Such examples were the establishment of Middle Passage and Western European encroachment on the Middle East. Or, the exclusion of hearing-impaired individuals in education life because, according to those times’ people, simply, those individuals were not on the same level of other students. Humans are greedy creatures; we go after what can bring ultimate success, then happiness, to us. Many people can get hurt during the process, but it would be only the fault of the ones who got hurt. People should not have been born with their skin color or the illnesses they carried, for the sake of a homogenous perfect society model. While those people are muttering those very words and acting according to them, they are doing so while benefitting from light bulbs and enjoying a classic movie called Children of a Lesser God. The very inventor of the light bulb who brightened our once-dark world, Thomas Edison, was hearing-impaired since he was twelve years old. Some people did not accept that someone from another community, which they had seen as inferior to them, illuminated their world, and they proceeded to claim that Thomas Edison did not face any remarkable hardship since his handicap would not interfere with his 10,000 experiments to invent the light bulb. Then, Thomas Edison invented the basic model of microphone that we use in our mobile phones. Thus, a hearing-impaired individual was named as America’s Greatest Inventor of All Time, much to the disapprobation of those people. The situation with Children of a Lesser God and its lead actress, Marlee Matlin was not that different from Thomas Edison’s situation. Some people subtly questioned Marlee Matlin’s acting skills because she was hearing-impaired since she was eighteen months old. Then, Marlee Matlin starred in one of the classics and even became the first hearing-impaired individual to win an award at acting world’s the most renowned award ceremony, OSCARs, in 1987. She did so by winning in one of the most prestigious categories, Best Leading Actress. These instances show that there are harsh treatments placed on hearing-impaired community, yet the individuals still manage to prove how those treatments and preconceived notions have been all wrong.


Apart from feeling of superiority, many people prefer just doing nothing since they believe that someone else will surely take action. Then, this someone else also believes that another someone else will surely act, thus doing nothing. This cycle keeps spinning, and hearing-impaired community continues to get none of the attention and compensation they deserve and long. In psychology, this phenomenon is called the bystander effect people are less likely to help as the number of people increases. In particular, this effect facilitates the occurrence of devastating outcomes, such as when a hearing-impaired individual lost her life under debris because she could not hear the sirens when an earthquake struck Japan in 2011 [4]. In another perspective, 25% of the death toll were disabled people in that earthquake [4]. Such a devastating scene should have taught a couple of lessons to Japan and other countries, yet most of them preferred focusing on other issues which they deemed more important than the danger residing in hearing-impaired individuals’ lives. Most of those countries did have enough resources to spend on how to help hearing-impaired community in cases of disasters and emergencies; they were too lazy to do so. After 10 years of the Great East Japan Earthquake, 12 disabled people drowned in a flood because they could not manage to evacuate on time in the Federal Republic of Germany [5]. This serious problem does not only show itself during emergency situations; hearing-impaired community cannot get proper and sophisticated education as their hearing peers as well. In the Republic of Turkey, there are only 42 hearing-impaired primary schools and 18 secondary schools [6]. Moreover, only 1 university gives proper lessons to hearing-impaired community [7]. The number of hearing-impaired schools decreases as the level of education increases. Thus, many students try to pursue their education by going to public schools or rehabilitation and special education centers. In the former one, nearly no teachers know even the basics of sign language — most of them do not spare their time on learning sign language, whereas the latter one is highly expensive for students with low-income backgrounds. Not only does this bring about a serious inequality of opportunities issue, but also it excludes hearing-impaired community from social life. This also sheds light onto the high percentage of college dropouts among hearing-impaired community, 71% [8].


In conclusion, there are various on-going obstacles in hearing-impaired individuals’ lives, and most of them are results of human beings’ obsession with the feeling of superiority and laziness. However, it is never too late to take actions, however small it may be. We can learn the basics of sign language of the community we are living in, be part of non-governmental organizations focusing on hearing-impaired community, or even just avoid actions and words which are just stereotypes on hearing-impaired community. We live in a world where millions of different communities are sharing it with us, and all of us deserve to live in an equal world. It is not an easy aspiration to reach; however, even our smallest actions can lead up to a change.


References:

1- World Health Organization. (2021, April). Deafness and hearing loss. World Health Organization. Retrieved June 23, 2022, from https://www.who.int/health-topics/hearing-loss#tab=tab_1.

2- World Health Organization. (2021, April 1). Deafness and hearing loss. World Health Organization. Retrieved June 23, 2022, from https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/deafness-and-hearing-loss

3- United Nations. (2017). World population projected to reach 9.8 billion in 2050, and 11.2 billion in 2100. United Nations. Retrieved June 23, 2022, from https://www.un.org/en/desa/world-population-projected-reach-98-billion-2050-and-112-billion-2100.

4- Great East japan earthquake and tsunami and the disabled. Accessible Japan. (2021, April 29). Retrieved June 24, 2022, from https://www.accessible-japan.com/great-east-japan-earthquake-tsunami-disabled/.

5- Hall, K., & Ćerimović, E. (2021, July 21). German flood deaths highlight climate change risks for people with disabilities. Human Rights Watch. Retrieved June 24, 2022, from https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/07/21/german-flood-deaths-highlight-climate-change-risks-people-disabilities.

6- Bu Işareti Görün Artık. İşitme Engelliler Federasyonu. (2018, September 8). Retrieved June 24, 2022, from https://www.ief.org.tr/bu-isareti-gorun-artik/

7- Anadolu Üniversitesi Bilgisayar Araştırma ve Uygulama Merkezi. (2016). Engelli̇ler Entegre Yüksekokulu. Engelliler Entegre Yüksekokulu Genel Bilgi | Anadolu Üniversitesi. Retrieved June 24, 2022, from https://www.anadolu.edu.tr/akademik/yuksekokullar/295/engelliler-entegre-yuksekokulu/genel-bilgi.

8- Kelly, R. R. (2014). Beyond High School. Hands & Voices :: Articles. Retrieved June 24, 2022, from https://www.handsandvoices.org/articles/education/ed/V13-1_beyondHS.htm.



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