Dearborn Press and Guide Editorial Dec. 16, 1990
“Children of a Lesser God,” a play staged last weekend by Henry Ford Community College, points out the fact that many hearing people do not know how to properly communicate with those who are deaf.
Many are quick to call the hearing-impaired “handicapped.” While there are such people who are handicapped, those handicaps have nothing to do with the ability to hear. It is the same as with hearing people who are handicapped. The handicaps have nothing to do with people’s ability to hear, either.
Of course, many people who are deaf do not naturally speak the same language as hearing people. Through the many forms of sign language they are able to communicate among themselves quite well. Sign language is a more rapid form of communication than talking. Sarah, a character who is deaf in the play, says she can with one sign communicate a meaning which would take a hearing person 50 words to explain.
It is when the hearing impaired community is forced to adapt to the spoken language that problems may develop. What is the difference between people who are deaf using sign language and people speaking their native language, be it Spanish, Italian, or Arabic? There is none.
The American people have a tradition of stubbornness when it comes to change. We prefer to continue to do things the way we always have whether it is the language that we speak, the way that we eat or how we measure weights and distances. We recall the great debate over whether we should change to the metric system of measurements to be in line with the rest of the world. Almost all of us still use yards, quarts and pounds.
We expect the rest of the world to switch over to “our” way of doing things, which is not only selfish, but most times not realistic.
People who are hearing-impaired have their own culture. They have their own idioms, just as do people who hear. They have their own etiquette, just like the hearing world. An example of an idiom used by someone who is deaf is “You eat the fish,” which is similar to “You’ve gone batty, ” or “You are crazy.”
Etiquette dictates that when talking to a person who is hearing impaired through an interpreter, you should speak directly to that person. You do not say to the interpreter, “Ask him how’s he doing,” as if the person with a hearing impairment were not really there.
Henry Ford Community College used two deaf performers in “Children of a Lesser God,” and a hearing actor studied sign language for six months to prepare for the role. The dedication to realism not only enhanced the production, but also helped two worlds, hearing and hearing-impaired, catch a few glimpses of each other.
We commend HFCC and director George Popovich for their efforts, and hope their production raised the sensitivities of hearing people toward the hearing-impaired. And vice-versa.