You are an adult sitting in a café minding your own business, A man approaches you and holds a gun to your head. He speaks. ‘Deaf or blind, the choice is yours’. Since being either is better than being dead you cram five minutes thought into thirty seconds. You choose to be deaf. You’ll miss the music, but you won’t miss the 24-hour rolling news or the deafening ads and trailers at the cinema.
On the plus side you are happy to note that you can still read, write, watch television with subtitles, cross the road in relative safety, find items and their price-tags on supermarket shelves, read menus, run an eye over possible dates and, most importantly, express yourself to others should the need arise.
Whenever I run this scenario, which I have done many times, a majority of people have elected to be deaf. But what happens if we change it?
You have just been born when an agent of a foreign power approaches you with a ghetto-blaster playing heavy metal at full volume and a bag of toffees you can’t enjoy because you have no teeth yet. You are offered the same choice – deaf or blind – and come to the same decision. You will be deaf. (As before, I find this is what majority choose.) But this time you are making a serious mistake.
As we develop we learn language, which we use to understand the world. If we are born blind there will be words we won’t understand – colour words, for example – but the meanings of most words will be as available to us as to our sighted friends and our understanding will develop at the same pace. However, if we are born deaf, and unless something serious is done about it, we will gradually fall behind our hearing peers.
At school I was given a new word every day and added it to my little tin box. Words are treasure. The Germans have a word for it, and the German word for vocabulary is Wortschatz – word-treasure. So saying, for now, I have expended my word-hoard.
[I have used the word ‘language’ in this post. For the great majority this will be a verbal language, such as English, Swahili or Tagalog, which we learn by ear without effort. But for some the language they use to understand the world may be visual, such as ASL or BSL which are languages in their own right.]