Saturday, August 24, 2013

Blindness and Deafness

Helen Keller said “Blindness separates us from things, but deafness separates us from people.”

I agree with Ms. Keller's statement; not because it would be difficult to argue with her experience, but because I can see how sight connects us to our physical environment while hearing connects us to other people. Conversation, laughter, and music, create a rich and deep connection between people, while sight connects us to the physical world. Siding with Keller, Owoeye, Ologe, and Akande (2007) believed deafness separates an individual from society and affects their ability to communicate and learn language, but blindness does not cause this same separation. And while deaf individuals can be perceived as outcasts because of their inability to communicate, blind individuals can readily learn language and foster the ability to think abstractly and be as successful as a person with sight. When polling medical students, Owoeye, Ologe, and Akande (2007) found a greater number of students feared blindness more than deafness and many individuals polled did not believe deafness was significantly disabling.

It is difficult to think of either disability as advantageous, however, I can easier imagine a loss of hearing, but cannot begin to imagine living in darkness. I would choose to be without hearing, because I could still move about the world, albeit without the same human communication, but I could continue to see color and light. After having been a weaver for many years, I would find it difficult to lose the ability to see the visual quality of textures. Although I understand that deafness creates a gap in socialization, and a loss of one of the most basic methods of communication (Breedlove, Watson, & Rosenzweig, 2010), I would choose it over blindness.

I believe that the timing of the loss or disability would contribute to its challenge. For example, if I lost my hearing tomorrow, I have had the experience of communication. I know what speech sounds like, and I could likely continue to use the proper tone and inflections in my voice, which can be a challenge for individuals with deafness (Breedlove et al., 2010). If deafness is congenital or begins early in childhood, these experiences of language and communication would be lacking (Breedlove et al., 2010).

Considering which of the two disabilities is more advantageous or limiting, Merabet and Pascual-Leone (2010) found the idea that these disabilities impoverish an individual lifelong is antiquated, yet in actuality, individuals with deafness or blindness "make striking adjustments" (p. 44) and compensate for limitations. Further, they make these changes even to the point of superiority in some skills and performance compared to their hearing and seeing counterparts. Perhaps the most intriguing part of this ability to adjust is that the brain uses the non-affected senses as well as areas of the brain associated with the lost sense. For example, the brain of an individual with blindness may continue to utilize parts of the brain associated with vision (Merabet & Pascual-Leone, 2010).

In sum, it seems, as Keller pointed out, a loss of hearing is a loss of socialization, which is a deep human loss. Supporting this idea, Dammeyer (2009) found cochlear implants had a powerful affect on congenitally deafblind children, but the significant change was in their ability to socialize and communicate, even though it had little effect on their ability to speak language. That medical students were far more afraid of blindness than deafness may underline the lack of understanding of how significant the separation is, experienced by deaf individuals, without the ability to socialize and communicate (Owoeye, Ologe, & Akande, 2007). Although I choose deafness vice blindness, my choice is made with a full experience of communication, socialization, and a natural experience of both.

Breedlove, S. M., Watson, N. V., & Rosenzweig, M. R. (2010). Biological psychology: An introduction to behavioral, cognitive, and clinical neuroscience. (6th ed.) Sunderland, MA: Sinauer Associates, Inc. Publishers.

Dammeyer, J. (2009). Congenitally Deafblind Children and Cochlear Implants: Effects on Communication. Journal Of Deaf Studies & Deaf Education, 14(2), 278-288. doi:10.1093/deafed/enn042

Merabet, L.B., & Pascual-Leone, A. (2010). Neural reorganization following sensory loss: The opportunity of change. Nature Reviews Neuroscience. 11(1), 44-52. Doi:10.1038/nrn2758

Owoeye, J. A., Ologe, F. E., & Akande, T. M. (2007). Medical students' perspectives of blindness, deafness, and deafblindness. Disability & Rehabilitation, 29(11/12), 929-933. doi:10.1080/09638280701240565

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