Unheard Word homepage

The Unheard Word

One woman's slightly skewed views

Sign Language City: Laurent, U.S.A.

Hearing Loss News and Reviews has published an article about a proposed city for deaf people in South Dakota to be named Laurent, after Laurent Clerc, a pioneer of American Sign Language (ASL).

I know the Deaf culture exists and understand many of the reasons for it. However, my first reaction was there are many cultural groups in our society and if all of them wanted their own towns then we’d be in a bit if strife, wouldn’t we?

But it’s not that simple.

Deaf people communicate with an entirely different language to most of the rest of us. (Contrary to what many assume, sign languages are complete languages and have their own syntax, and are not just signed versions of English, or whatever language is spoken by others in a given country.) But unlike immigrants who can learn the language of their new country if they don’t already know it, many Deaf people have limited ability to do this. The reasons for this are varied and in many cases may have less to do with physical ability than with the politics determining the type of education offered to Deaf students.

I personally understand how difficult it is to live in a world in which communication is difficult. Several times, I’ve thought about learning Auslan (the Australian sign language) but I don’t know anyone else who knows it, so there has never been any point. So I can definitely understand that it might seem comfortable and a relief to the Deaf to know that everyone they come across will speak their language.

It seems that society has let down Deaf people in a big way. Shame on us for isolating a group of people with a disability (apologies to Deaf people who don’t consider they have a disability) to the point where they feel driven to all but segregate themselves.

On a more practical note, I certainly can’t see such a town ever being built in Australia — anti-discrimination laws would prevent it, beyond a shadow of a doubt.

I also don’t see how it can be doing kids, in particular, any favours to isolate them from mainstream society. Parents are making the decision for their kids that the kids will never learn to integrate into hearing society. Is this the parents’ right? Should they not be giving their kids all opportunities so the kids can make their own decisions later in life? I know the article doesn’t suggest that residents will never visit places outside of Laurent — but won’t it be increasingly difficult for them to do so when they develop a comfort zone? And if they don’t visit other places and spend time with people living in the wider society, surely they will be less well-equipped to cope when it comes to following a higher education and a career, just to name a couple of instances that are likely to see kids leave the town eventually.

Yes, we all want to surround ourselves with people who share and understand our own circumstances. We all gravitate towards those with whom we have something in common. But, like it or not, our society is bigger than that, and ultimately Deaf people live in the wider world and parents who try to remove their kids from it… well, what are they achieving except teaching them that discrimination (this time against people who don’t speak their language) is ok? I can’t help feeling that integration should still be the goal — not segregation. Though I do admit that I am not Deaf and can’t speak for those in the Deaf culture.

But the bottom line is that our society as a whole has badly failed Deaf people by causing them to feel (not just feel — be) excluded to the point where they want their own town.

Comments are closed.