I just returned from Great Falls, Montana where I gave a workshop on how Deaf culture can benefit families with deaf children. While there, I learned that almost all deaf children in Montana receive cochlear implants. The procedures are now so routine, that there is no need for specialized cochlear implant centers. Instead, specially trained ENT physicians perform implant surgeries at regular hospitals.
Most of these children are mainstreamed in local schools with the support of sign language interpreters. Every year, their families travel to Great Falls, where the school for the deaf is located, to participate in a Family Learning Vacation. Many students look forward to the annual event as it provides them with rare opportunities to meet and interact with others just like themselves. Parents get to network with other parents in addition to learning from experts in the field and Deaf adults about raising deaf children.
My message to them was that Deaf Culture is full of solutions to help create an environment that would allow for fuller integration of deaf children in their families. Since Deaf people and their families have “been there and done that” for decades, I encouraged workshop participants to tap the wealth of these experiences.
My presentation was based on the information I have gathered over the past twenty years from teaching in the Deaf Studies Department of Ohlone College. I have taught several different Deaf culture courses, including one that is exclusively for Deaf students. In this course, Deaf students often share their frustrations and the challenges of living in a hearing household where they frequently feel left out. This feeling of exclusion is common even among students with cochlear implants. These students have told me that my class was helpful in finding solutions related to defining their identities and their attempts to be more fully included in their families. With cochlear implants becoming more widespread, and deaf children and their families struggling to find solutions, I hope my new textbook, Introduction to American Deaf Culture, will provide them with the information and support they need to become a better integrated family. I believe this book is timely because the situation in Montana is becoming the norm for the rest of the United States.