Bill Austin, Marlee Matlin, Bill Clinton
Updated: October 16, 2012 2:38PM
Recently, a news item appeared about a group of British researchers who were able to rebuild nerves in the ears of gerbils. They said that the same technique could conceivably be applicable to deaf humans.
Always the loud one, I decided to ponder the implications on Twitter. I wrote, “ ‘Deafness cure’ is trending. My concern is that it’s bigger than a ‘trend.’ It involves PEOPLE and not as simple as the 4 letters in ‘cure.’ ” I knew I would generate a discussion, but I didn’t realize it would generate so much controversy. As one Twitter follower commented: “You wouldn’t deny fixing a hole in your child’s heart? Why would you deny fixing someone who has lost their hearing?”
About fifteen years ago, I had the opportunity to address similar concerns when a reader wrote to Ann Landers’ column lamenting the loss of his hearing. He wrote, “Deafness cuts you off from people,” and went on to say if he had been given a choice he would’ve rather gone blind than deaf. Ann asked for comments and, of course, I jumped in. “Deafness cuts you off from people only if you LET it,” I wrote. “If that were not the case, we would not have successful deaf doctors, lawyers. There’s even a deaf Oscar winner and a deaf Miss America.” I ended by writing that the “real handicap of deafness does not lie in the ear, it lies in the mind.”
Allow me to clarify my controversial tweet: Never in my wildest dreams would I want someone not to be cured of a hearing loss, if that’s what they wanted. Anyone who knows me, however, knows that I am about choice. I want people to make informed choices about what to do when faced with a hearing loss. It’s what I’ve told thousands of parents of deaf children who’ve asked me if they should get their child a cochlear implant. “Do whatever you feel is best,” is my standard reply, but I always add, “Make sure you look over all options: speech classes, assistive hearing devices and American Sign Language. It’s what my parents did for me, and look where I am today.”
My intention was the same with my tweets about the new stem-cell research. Stories about potential “cures” make great headlines, but at the end of the day we must recognize that behind all this talk there are millions of deaf people who have families, jobs and productive lives. Some of us sign, some of us speak and some of us do both. If you told us we needed to be “cured,” many of us would respond with, “Of what?”
I am proud of who I am, of the beautiful language and culture of American Sign Language and proud to be able to speak as well. Despite what people view as a “handicap,” I would ask people to look at our abilities, rather than dwell on our perceived dis-abilities.
With her interpreter Jack Jason
Oscar winner Marlee Matlin currently stars in “Switched at Birth” on ABC Family. Her new app, “Marlee Signs,” is available in the iTunes App Store, and can be downloaded at http://Bit.ly/marleesigns
Marlee donated her fee for writing this column to the La Canada Flintridge Educational Foundation.