Georgian Caught Between Two Cultures
Gary Frazier and I have known each other about ten years. From Milledgeville, Georgia, he reads this column nearly every week and emails comments a couple times a year.
In 1971, at age ten, spinal meningitis and subsequent brain surgeries took his hearing and nearly his life. He became permanently Deaf and today also has trouble walking and short-term memory loss. Recently, he endured a painful spiral fracture of his left ankle, and doctors had to install a plate and screws to stabilize.
Frazier believes the word Deaf should always have a capital "D" to recognize the uniqueness of the Deaf culture and language. To him, spelling Deaf with a capital D is natural as spelling Georgian with a capital G.
Frazier said he often isn't completely accepted by the Deaf culture because of having married a "hearing" woman, being able to speak English, and becoming Deaf at 10. He also has never felt completely accepted by the hearing culture. In an email, however, he talked about the advantages he has enjoyed in being part of both cultures.
He said, "Because I'm bi-lingual (knowing both American Sign Language and English), have the ability to speak, am likeable, and am a hard worker like the majority of Deaf, I received (over the years) better salary increases at work than my hearing co-workers. Noise pollution doesn't affect me. When people say deafness is a handicap, I respond by saying the real 'handicap' is in being able to hear. Hearing people are rendered useless (sometimes) by noise."
Frazier worked a long time in the printing industry operating extremely noisy printing presses.
Due to his knowledge of the English language, some of his Deaf friends occasionally ask him to explain the meaning of printed English words or for help ordering from a fast food restaurant menu. In turn, he has been popular with hearing people-especially with those desiring to work in the Deaf culture-because of his knowledge of it. For example, he said, "Are you aware the word 'mood' is never a positive word with the Deaf?"
He continued, "I have the best of both worlds in being able to communicate with members of either group, but this isn't always a blessing. Although I have more than 120-decibel hearing loss in both ears, Deaf people (sometimes) refer to me as 'hearing,' even though many of them can hear much better than I can."
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Daniel J. Vance is a licensed professional counselor and national certified counselor from Vernon Center, Minn. His weekly newspaper column Disabilities has been published in more than 260 newspapers.
Daniel J. Vance may be reached at www.danieljvance.com