Tag Archives: Deaf and Hearing communities

The Tug of War Within the Deaf and the Hearing Communities

“Your whole life, they’ve been trying to take you away from me,” my father says to me, referring to the deaf community. But the deaf community could just as easily say the same about my father.” S. Katz, The New York Times

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key

Credit- Katherine Lam, NYT

Excerpt: Is There a Right Way to Be Deaf? By Sarah Katz, The New York Times

“More than 90 percent of deaf and hard-of-hearing children are born to hearing parents like mine, who have little to no experience interacting with deaf people. When it was discovered that I was profoundly deaf at six weeks old, my parents faced a common decision: Should they adapt themselves to their deaf child, learn sign language, and embrace deaf culture, or have their deaf child adapt to hearing culture, give her cochlear implants or hearing aids, and train her in the precarious art of lip-reading?

My parents chose the former, believing that sign language would provide me with equal access to the opportunities afforded my hearing twin brother. So, when I was 6 months old, my parents welcomed educators from a local deaf school into their home to give signing lessons. Over several months, my mother learned to sign with me…Using sign language, I communicated a lot — even more than my brother. But then something strange happened. I began speaking. Aloud. In English.

Dress pretty, you like?’ my mother recalls me asking her when I was around 3 years old. I did, it turned out, have residual hearing, as later tests confirmed.

But I spoke using classic American Sign Language word order, which involves a grammatical structure closer to French than English — And, although my mother knew that my syntax did not indicate limited cognitive ability, but rather an acute, developing awareness of the language, she began to wonder if sign language was the right choice after all. Was disregarding an aural-oral approach restricting my natural gift of gab?

After more research my parents found what they thought was a middle path. Rather than have me undergo cochlear implant surgery my parents hoped to supplement my sign language education with cued speech, a visual communication system invented in 1966 at Gallaudet University that functions as a supplement to speech-reading (only 30 percent of speech is visible on the lips)…Cued speech can be learned in just 48 hours. My mother was convinced that this bicultural-bilingual approach involving a combination of cued speech and sign language lessons could give me the best of both worlds: full visual access to English and the hearing community, and concurrent access to sign language and the deaf community.

But we apparently couldn’t have it both ways. When the educators from the local deaf school learned that my parents were considering cued speech, they became livid. ‘If you choose cued speech,’ my mother recalls one of them saying, ‘we’re not coming back here.’

In the deaf community, some feel that cued speech, like cochlear implants, threatens deaf culture because they believe it arises from a medical model of deafness, through which deafness is perceived as an undesirable trait that needs to be treated or cured.

A ‘social model,’ on the other hand, suggests that the environment must adapt to the deaf person, whose “natural language” is sign language. The educators even asked my parents to consider sending me to their residential program, where, surrounded by fluent signers, I would absorb sign language at a faster pace and have full exposure to deaf culture… My mother was stumped. On the one hand, she didn’t know if cued speech would work, but desperately wanted to succeed at finding a way to communicate with me quickly and effectively. On the other hand, she didn’t want me to be alienated from the deaf community. My father, however, was resolute: He would not send his child away.

Sign Language Chart-amazon

Together, they decided the promise of cued speech was worth the risk for at least a year at the nearby public school. If it didn’t work out, they would have the deaf school’s residential program as a fallback option.. Throughout my life, I’ve felt like the object of a constant tug of war between the deaf and hearing communities. Although I’m rewardingly self-employed, married and highly literate, I still struggle in hearing-centric environments… Well-meaning hearing people frequently insult me with ‘compliments’ about how well I’ve assimilated, like, ‘I can barely tell you’re deaf!’ (We call comments like these ‘audist’ — akin to ‘racist’ or ‘sexist’ — because they assume deaf people like me must speak aloud and sound like a hearing person to be deemed fortunate or successful.)

On the other hand, when I spend time with deaf friends, I’m often chided by them for not being more fluent in sign language, or otherwise embracing a more culturally deaf way of life. According to them, I’ve succumbed to audism by using my voice to speak more often than my hands, and cued speech to absorb information… I still hold out hope that the deaf and hearing communities will come to a compromise.”

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post

NOTE: Lessons can also be used with native English speakers.

Level: Intermediate – Advanced

Language Skills: Reading, writing, and speaking. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.

Time: Approximately 2 hours.

Materials: Student handout (from this lesson) and access to news article.

Objective: Students will read and discuss the article
with a focus on improving reading comprehension and improving oral skills. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.

I. Pre-Reading Activities

Directions: Examine the title of the post and the actual article.  Examine the photos, then create a list of  words and  ideas  that you  and your group members think might be related to this article. 

II. While Reading Activities

Word Inference

Directions: Students are to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. They may use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word Chart for assistance.

  1. Some people are born deaf.
  2. The class studied aural anatomy yesterday.
  3. They reached an oral agreement.
  4. My mother was stumped by the response.
  5. Researchers look for ways to communicate effectively with deaf children.
  6. She didn’t want me to be alienated from the deaf community.
  7. I’m a 30-year-old who wears hearing aids.
  8. I’ve succumbed to audism by using my voice to speak
  9. She’s often chided by her  deaf friends for speaking.
  10. My father was resolute in his plans for me.

Color Vocabulary Map by Enchanted Learning

Grammar Focus: Identifying Prepositions

Directions: The following sentences are from the news article.For each sentence choose the correct preposition from the choices listed. Note that not all prepositions listed are in the article.

Some Prepositions: at,as, across, around,by, during,for, from, in, into,of, on,to, over,off, through, up,with,

___the other hand, when I spend time ___deaf friends, I’m often chided ___them___not being more fluent ___sign language, or otherwise embracing a more culturally deaf way ___life.According ___them, I’ve succumbed ___audism___using my voice___speak more often than my hands, and cued speech___ absorb information.

Reading Comprehension Fill-ins 

Directions: Place students in groups and after they have read the entire article, have them complete the following sentences  taken from the article. They can use the words and terms from the list provided, or provide their own terms. They are to find the meanings of any new vocabulary.

In the ___community, some feel that___speech, like ___implants, ___deaf ___because they believe it arises from a ___model of deafness, through which ___is perceived as an ___trait that needs to be ___or cured.

WORD LIST: treated, undesirable, deafness, medical, culture,  threatens, cochlear, cued, deaf,

III. Post Reading Activities

WH-How Questions

Directions: Have students use the  WH-question format to discuss or to write the main points from the article.

Who or What is the article about?

Where does the action/event take place?

When does the action/event take place?

Why did the action/event occur?

How did the action/event occur?

Discussion Questions for Comprehension /Writing

Directions: Place students in groups and have them discuss the following questions/statements. Afterwards, have the groups share their thoughts as a class. To reinforce the ideas, students can write an essay on one of the topics mentioned.

  1. Are you or someone you know hearing impaired? If yes, can you describe your experiences with non-hearing people? What about your experiences with people who can hear?
  2. Why is the following comment.I can barely tell you’re deaf!” considered to be an insult to deaf people?
  3. Why did the author’s parents choose to have  her learn sign language?
  4. Why is the classic American Sign Language word order structure closer to French than English?
  5. According to the article what is the difference between cued speech and a social model?
  6. The author states, ‘When the educators from the local deaf school learned that my parents were considering cued speech, they became livid. ‘If you choose cued speech,’ my mother recalls one of them saying, ‘we’re not coming back here.’ Why were the educators angry?
  7. What problems does the author face with her friends in the deaf community?
  8. Who is Amy Crumrine, and what solution does she offer to the deaf and hearing communities?
  9. After reading this article name at least one new thing that you’ve learned about the deaf community. Discuss what you’ve learned with your group members and share as a class.
  10. Create a list that of suggestions for ways the non-hearing and hearing people living together in a deaf community might work things out.
  11. As a group search the web and find famous people who are deaf. Write brief summaries of how they have handled being deaf. Share your findings with the class.


Directions: Allow students 5 minutes to write down three new ideas they’ve learned about the topic from the reading,  two things they did not understand in the reading, and one thing they would like to know that the article did not mention. Review the responses as a class.