03 April 2015

Deaf Village Ireland, The 'Medical' Model and Visibility of Deaf Culture

Just some thoughts about the noticeable new architecture surrounding Cabra's Deaf Village...[English transcription below]

Hi all. Just a quick vlog to update you on what's happening with my studies.

Well, this last month has seen me up to my eyes preparing for my first yearly progress review - it's at the end of the month and it has me a little anxious. I've been formally registered with Trinity COllege Dublin for over twelve months now, and I've been researching and reading away all that time. So the progress review meeting is going to discuss how I've spent that time - has the quality of that work been sufficient? Do I have a clear enough understanding of where I'm going with it all in the next while? I'm going to be well grilled about all this at the interview - a senior Department of History figure is going to be conducting the interview, and hopefully I'll be giving good responses to the questions I get asked.

So I'm a little nervous about this progress review. Another part of the review is a research essay of 8,000 words, and I've been typing away on that, talking about the work I've completed, in which areas, the structure of my thesis, and a host of other things. SO I finished all 8,000 words a couple of days ago. I felt a bit ambivalent about it, but I have two weeks to refine it, and I'll email it to my two supervisors and I'll use their comments and feedback to help that process. After that I'll submit it, hope for the best, then have my progress review interview - and then I guess I'll see how I get on. If I do well, I get officially enrolled as a PhD candidate. Not sure what happens if I don't do well... But I feel confident enough about it right now.

So anyhoo. I did want to vlog about something that occurred to me recently that had quite an impact, and it's possible that many of you watching feel the same, or have had this thought yourselves. But it made me think, and I just wanted to share that with you all.

Yesterday I went to the Deaf Village Ireland (DVI), and I got off the bus at the Navan Road opposite, the main road passing by the site of the DVI. As I went to cross the road, I looked up - and saw something kind of strange. I don't know if you know the new Medical Centre that's there now. It's a tall building that houses doctor's offices, a chemist, and other things like that. The size and sheer presence of this new, large building really struck me. Now, years ago, before this building was ever there, you would have seen a very different sight - the familiar building of St Joseph's school for Deaf Boys. You might see it on your way into the school, which has been there for... how long is it now? Since  1857 anyway, so that's how many years... apologies, I can't do the maths in my head! - but we're talking over 150 years in any case. And in the past, there wasn't any big obstacles blocking your view of the school. Passers-by had a clear view of it from outside. Hearing people would see it every day as they walked down Navan Road, and say "Ah, there's St Joseps's", or "The Deaf and DUmb" as Cabra residents often called it. So for decades, hearing people would pass the school and know what it was - a place where Deaf people were, a Deaf place. I'm sure they would often have seen groups of Deaf boys on their way out of the school, too, signing away - so St Joseph's was a Deaf, sign language-using place in their mind. So for years you had that familiar notion of a Deaf place, easily visible and recognisable.
But now - blocked. Out of sight.

It's not totally rendered invisible by the medical centre - look carefully in the distance to the top right of the centre and you'll see the Thomas Mahon building, kind of hidden away. Here's a photo:
It's become hard to see - blocked by this new medical centre. Which gives me pause. Now, I don't have the kind of deep-seated anger about this that the Deaf community might have - it's not my place, as a hearing child of a heating family (though heavily involved with the Deaf community), and the community will have its own range of emotions and views about this. Now, some Deaf people I've talked to did feel it was kind of an eyesore. I don't know, but for me personally, it struck me - and here's why.

We all know that for the most part, hearing people don't know a thing about Deaf people. ASk about deafness and they're likely to think of the ear, hearing loss, not being able to hear sound - that familiar focus on hearing ability. The first things that come to mind for them are medical - the medical model - how to fix those broken ears, those poor deaf people and their awful lives, how we must attempt to repair them... and when they are hearing - job done. That's a very widespread view among hearing people.

It's similar to doing a search on the internet for the word 'deaf' - see how many search results you'll get that talk about hearing aids... or cochlear implants... or anything linked to a medical view of deafness. It's harder to search for information about Deaf culture, sign language, Deaf pride, history, and tradition - being Deaf. It's harder because first you have to wade through all this stuff from the medical perspective before you find the Deaf cultural info you are searching for.

The problem is that this medical-perspective information - this medical model - is slap-bang in front of you. Obscuring your view of what's behind it. Its sheer presence is an obstacle, and it's hard to see what lies around its corners. Deaf culture ends up hidden away, tucked behind this monolith. Hidden information about a hidden culture.

So when I looked up and saw the Navan Road medical centre... I saw another monolith. Another obstacle, with Deaf culture and sign language and everything linked to it, hidden in a remote corner behiind it. So now, passers-by see just a medical centre there. Maybe they even make a new link; they see St Joseph's - or the Deaf Village, rather- behind the centre and think, is there a connection? Next thing they're thinking that this site is where you get your hearing aids. They're thinking, that's where you go to get your ears fixed. And so on. Is the wrong message getting out there as a result?

I guess it's just of interest to me, the location of this brand new centre - right in front of where, for over a century, one of the most recognisable features of Deaf cultural life could be seen by everyone. And the fact that it's a medical centre, well ... I just think it's a funny kind of metaphor for real life. Take hearing parents when they find out their child is Deaf. They're confused, they look for guidance ... and straight away, the medical-model people are out in droves. The medical professionals are unloading all their advice. The parents are all at sea with all of this new information. And often, they heed all the medical advice they're given. They send their Deaf child to mainstream education, they arrange for a cochlear implant, and all the rest of it. But information about Deaf culture, sign language, pride in being Deaf, the achievements Deaf people possess - being Deaf as something that's okay, a Deaf identity - that information is off in the distance. It's around at the back, far away. Hidden behind this rush of medical guidance, away where it can't be seen. And maybe that is similar to what you see now at the Navan Road.

It's just my view, and maybe you'll feel I'm talking rubbish, But I'd really be interested to hear your views. Thanks for watching.  

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