Sensitivity vs. absurdity

society

I was reading a fascinating article in Wired.com today, Glove Won’t Speak for the Deaf, and what struck me most wasn’t the challenges associated with the technology, but the unbelievable ‘political correctness’ demonstrated by one of the organizations cited.

The article describes a special ‘glove’ invention that translates a very limited amount of sign language into spoken English, and notes that many deaf people are less than excited about the development for a number of reasons.

Clearly, a 200 word vocabulary could understandably be more frustrating than fulfilling. Even as a hearing person, I can grasp that.

What I cannot fathom, however, is the defiant and almost farcical attitude of the National Association of the Deaf (“NAD”), which complains that this glove is just another means of suggesting that the deaf are somehow disabled.

Call me an insensitive boor, but as a musician and as a rational human being, I think that any organization that defines deafness as “a unique trait, not a deficiency” is more than a bit off its group rocker.

Along the same lines, then, a war veteran who lost an arm in battle now has the ‘unique trait’ of being an amputee. Or someone who was born without the ability to walk has the ‘unique trait’ of being stuck in a wheelchair.

Descending into even greater absurdity, the NAD further asserts that parents shouldn’t necessarily “view deafness as a disease that needs curing.” Wonderful. So if little Johnny is born deaf, let’s have the parents encourage this ‘unique trait’ instead of examining options to cure it.

In the noble pursuit of de-marginalizing the handicapped, organizations such as NAD have unfortunately replaced intelligent and thoughtful advocacy with laughable rhetoric that is at best embarrassing, at worst, detrimental to the health and happiness of young people.

Why not simply call it like it is? Deafness IS a disability, which Websters defines as “[…]a physical or mental impairment that interferes with or prevents normal achievement in a particular area.”

I believe our society (via public and private endeavors) has an obligation to assist the disabled with job placement… both offering specialized training to deaf people AND persuasive and informative training to current and potential employers. I believe that we should be spending a far greater percentage of our federal budget on research for disease prevention, cure, and care. I believe that every good person — regardless of ability — deserves respect and opportunity, not pity.

What I do not believe in, however, is the mindless drivel associated with political correctness. People who can’t see are not “differently sensitized” — they’re blind. Obese people are not (necessarily) “bold and beautiful” — they’re fat. People in a wheelchair are not “differently abled” — they’re disabled.

Truth and directness in naming isn’t a matter of sensitivity. It’s a matter of honesty… and the first step towards effectively and thoughtfully working with a person or a situation.

Oh, and for the record, I’m no stranger to ‘unique traits.’ I’m short — not “differently heighted.” And you know what? While I do just fine as it is, I sure wouldn’t have turned down an offer to be normally-heighted. 😉

2 comments… add one
  • wheel man Jan 30, 2006

    I agree with alot of what you have said although those other terms are probably used to make people feel better who are down about having a disability and that is probably why they are used.  No one likes to feel different but to think of themselves as unique over disabled probably helps.

  • WheelchairGuy Nov 7, 2008

    Politically correct can provide value to those who are “sensitive” and more or less introverted.  It is a true statement to claim that people who sometimes are referred to as “bold and beautiful” are fat.  It is also true to label somebody without sight as “blind.”  There’s no benevolence here, only truth; so in a way I agree with the argument, but can understand why somebody would be deeply hurt at such term as “fat” or “blind.”  In terms of physical disability, I feel it even more necessary to use these politically correct terms primarily because a good majority of disabled people can’t help it (i.e. – elderly or those confined to wheelchairs).  On the other hand, the argument becomes accepted when an obese person CAN help the fact that they are over weight. (i.e. – eating less and exercising)

What do you think?