Hearing loss is a condition that describes inability to use the hearing organ for maximal purpose of hearing due to a defect/damage in its biological functioning.
Hearing loss comes in different measures. It may be severe-profound hearing loss which is deafness or mild-moderate hearing loss which is called hard-of-hearing. A deaf person is unable to use his or her ears to perceive and meaningfully decode speech sound with or without amplification and thus depends on vision for the purpose of human communication.
While a hard-of-hearing person can perceive and meaningfully decode speech sound be it at louder or amplified level, at close distance or by virtue of familiarity with the speaker.
Whether a person is deaf or hard-of-hearing, acquisition and usage of sign language has proven to be of tremendous benefit towards a better living condition in the society. Hearing loss deprives one of partial or total normal language of communication among human folks which is speech. Communication is used for building relationship, for the purpose of learning and acquiring a living.
The importance of communication towards a child’s intellectual development cannot be over-emphasized. Communication contributes to social welfare, psychological development and holistic well-being of man.
Hearing loss, however, constitutes a barrier to communication through total or partial deprivation of ability to perceive and meaningfully decode speech sound. This barrier can however be eradicated or alleviated through acquisition and usage of sign language for persons so affected. Sign language is a medium of communication that uses recognized visual signals to represent spoken words. It is a complete language with its own grammatical structure and rules which can only be acquired through concentrated effort of learning.
Ever since sign language has been introduced into the world of people with hearing loss, it has elevated their profile from the abandoned, ill-treated, deprived, discriminated-against, and the viewed as less-than-human faction of the society.
Sign language has given birth to a group of people with their own unique culture – the Deaf and Hard-of-hearing. People who have accepted their difference, who celebrate their culture. People with healthy self-esteem, people who have overcome the detriments of their hearing loss, people who despite the condition of hearing loss have been able to lead a meaningful life, who are succeeding at par with their hearing counterparts.
Sign language introduces another medium of communication which the Deaf and Hard-of-hearing can acquire to overcome the shortfalls of inability to perceive and meaningfully decode speech sound for the purpose of human communication.
Despite the manifold benefits of sign language to person with hearing loss, its acceptance is still a matter of choice and a debated issue. It takes accepting the reality of the hearing loss by the person (if adult) or the parent of the affected person (if a child). Occurrence of hearing loss, as with other conditions of disability is often greeted with strong denial backed with a desire for recovery which consequently leads to shopping for solution.
Experiences have shown that solution-hunting often leads to further depression as no solution is often gotten even after much wastage of time and resources. This is when it finally dawns that the hearing loss is a reality indeed and the need to accept it. Several persons with hearing loss get to come in contact with sign language at this stage, especially through educational placement in a special school.
Some whose hearing loss occur at more advanced age of life will at one time or the other (earlier or later) come in contact with other people like them who have accepted their condition and use sign language. Through these types of interaction, sign language is transmitted. Although, some may still continue to live in partial or total denial after such encounter.
There is a translation that often greet the introduction to and acquisition of sign language. The deaf child or adult is able to have a language or another language (as the case may be) which can now be used to fulfill human purpose of communication. A child who has been hitherto gloomy will suddenly brighten up, the adult who was often previously confused and whose psychological well-being has been greatly marred will begin to recover. New relationship is built, new identity is taken. There is feeling of equality with hearing counterparts, gateway to more achievement is opened. Indeed sign language opens the world to the deaf and hard-of-hearing.
Although, advancement in medicine and technology seems to be contending with the relevance of sign language. However, hitherto there is no technology that can restore hearing once it is lost and there is no technology that can totally remove the burden of hearing loss. Technological devices like amplifier (hearing aid) or cochlear implant are only helping to minimize the effect of hearing or to manage the situation.
I have met several hard-of-hearing people, who, despite using hearing aids to perceive speech have fully embraced sign language usage. The use of hearing aid does not 100% guarantee hearing at all times. Interaction with these people have shown that they do not hear fully and effectiveness of the hearing aid is subjected to circumstances. There can also be period when their device will run out of battery, or damaged and removed for repair etc. Regardless of assertive device, they can’t ever be fully hearing.
My study about cochlear implant users reveals the same trend of response as observed with hearing aid users. Study reveals that, after been fixed with cochlear implant, patients still have to go through speech therapy to familiarize them with speech sound and some other services. Some cochlear implant deaf persons still find their way into the world of sign language users – the Deaf and they reported feeling more at ease and at home than depending on the cochlear.
Hardly can ever be any technological device or medical intervention that can effectively wipe out sign language from among people with hearing loss because none can replace hearing after it has been lost. Deafness or hard-of-hearing can’t ever be written off from the person so affected by any technological intervention.
Today, September 23 is World Sign Language Day. This article is especially written for parents of children with hearing loss or matured and young adults with hearing loss to accept the condition and embrace sign language. Living in denial of hearing loss reduces chances of fulfillment in life. One may succeed academically and in career life without accepting the situation of hearing loss, but that is not a holistic achievement because man is created a social animal to interact with and explore his world.
Accept your hearing loss, Embrace Sign Language, Accept Deaf culture and be Empowered!
Happy World Sign Language Day!
Bernice Adebimpe OYELEKE
Post graduate student
Dept of Special Education, Faculty of Education, University of Ibadan.