ISBN 1 86178 016 8
This book should be read by anyone who wants to understand
better the communication barriers faced by deaf people. It is a
compelling and readable analysis of communication between deaf and
hearing people. Harris uses quotes to illustrate what happens and
goes on to analyse the process and how it discriminates against,
stigmatises and discredits deaf people.
Harris, a hearing person, carried out her research using an
ethnographic approach, during which she lived for ten months with a
group of deaf people in a rehabilitation unit. She starts from the
premise that deaf people have a discrete culture based on language.
She then uses the social model of difficulty. Communication between
deaf and hearing people is unequal, with hearing people having the
power. 'Social relations between deaf and hearing people depend
upon the goodwill and adaptation of hearing people.' Her research
indicates clearly that the necessary goodwill is largely
Harris finds that the exclusion of deaf people by the hearing is
often unintentional, though not always. She describes how teasing
can be a form of overt exclusion when teasing specifically exploits
the fact that the deaf person cannot hear. In other situations, the
deaf person may simply be ignored.
Harris makes a strong case for all hearing people to adopt an
'open communication attitude', which may mean experimenting with a
variety of ways of communicating. She also makes a good case for
more resources to be provided to enable hearing people to learn
British Sign Language at public expense.
She calls for all professionals dealing with the public to be
expected to learn at least basic BSL and says social services
professionals have a moral obligation to learn to sign as part of
anti-discriminatory practice. I think she has taken the argument to
a logical, but not realistic, conclusion.
Mary Ann Hooper is care group manager (elderly and physical
difficulties), Hertfordshire social services department.