How The Hearing-Impaired Are Treated vs. How They Should be

By Ariela Moel (’22)

San Diego Jewish Academy student Rena Novom (‘22) sits in Mrs. Hansen’s classroom during POD talking to her computer screen. However, there is no sound coming from her mouth. But how? Through an online class with Brigham Young University, made accessible by SDJA, Novom has been able to spend her first semester as a freshman studying American Sign Language (ASL), a language carefully crafted for English-speaking deaf people in North America. “Learning a unique language that isn’t spoken through verbal words has been incredible,” says Novom, who enjoys communicating in ASL with her online instructor.

People who are hard of hearing or fully deaf often struggle with the way society treats them. At a restaurant, for instance, people often talk slower and with more emphasis when they learn that someone is deaf. Because of this treatment, some deaf people try to hide the fact that they cannot hear.

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“ASL” in sign language executed by Natalie Goldwasser (‘22) and Ella Diamond (‘20) Photo: Ariela Moel (’22)

Despite some common misconceptions about whether or not deafness impairs normal, everyday abilities, such as driving, research from the University of Sheffield shows that deaf people from ages above 15 have 20% better peripheral vision than those who are not deaf, making them more aware of their surroundings. In addition, when licensed to drive, they are supplied with alert systems in their cars for the situations when ambulances need to pass by. Although research supports their abilities, deaf people have had to fight for their right to drive their whole lives.

Many hearing people feel pity for deaf children, but why? Jimmy Cohen (‘22) feels sympathy for people who are hard of hearing “because they can’t hear, obviously.” But many are unaware that some deaf people actually appreciate their difference and express a well-known pride in their linguistic culture since it has helped form them into the people they are today.  

To feel more comfortable, some deaf people go to clubs designed for people like themselves. Most SDJA students interviewed for this article were unaware that such places exist. However, deaf clubs are not hard to find in the San Diego area. One is even as close as UCSD. Eliza Kolmanovsky from the UCSD ASL Club stated that the club is open for anyone—ASL-speaking, deaf, or hard of hearing. The club meets for weekly hangouts which include “Silent Game Nights.” These events provide an environment where San Diegans—hearing impaired or not—can join together as a community. “Anyone interested is welcome to come,” Kolmanovsky states. “Once a quarter, we try to organize ASL performance nights or invite deaf panelists.” Deaf clubs are a very important part of deaf culture because they allow deaf students and people to communicate and have fun together.

Some people might incorrectly assume that the only language for the hard of hearing is ASL.  “I only know ASL exists, I’ve never thought of other countries using sign language in a different way,” said Talia Abu (‘22). In fact, there are over 200 different sign languages around the world. People in China, Israel, Argentina, and Japan all communicate using their own unique sign languages. Some believe that a universal sign language would unite the deaf community, however, there are those who contend that such a language would eliminate the enjoyable cultural learning experience that different sign languages provide.

Deaf people can do most things that hearing people can. By knowing and understanding deaf culture, it is easier to know how deaf people appreciate being treated. The few aspects that have been mentioned are only a small part of deaf culture, but knowing the basics is vital. According to OCDeaf, an organization for the hearing impaired based in Orange County, there are over 3 million deaf people in California alone. Given this fact, SDJA students need to be aware of how to appropriately treat their deaf neighbors.

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