Why should Society Recognise and respect the Deaflympics?

On Friday Two Big Ears promised to answer the question ‘Why should society recognise and respect the Deaflympics?”

In tonights post, Two Big Ears will demonstrate that the Deaflympics are worthy of its equal standing to the Paralympics by using the concepts of “Deaf Gain” and the Social and Medical Models of Disability and the benefits of elite disability sport.

Commentators and spectators alike are suggesting that the Paralympics is re-defining the term ‘disability’ and therefore justifying a sociological impact of sport. The Deaflympics are also capable of doing this.

First some short definitions:

“Social Model of Disability”  The social model of disability identifies systemic barriers, negative attitudes and exclusion by society (purposely or inadvertently) – society is the main contributing factor in disabling people.

“Medical Model of Disability” The medical model of disability focusses on the individuals limitations and ways to reduce those impairments or using adaptive technology to adapt them to society.

“Deaf Gain” is defined as a reframing of ‘deaf‘ as a form of sensory and cognitive diversity that has the potential to contribute to the greater good of humanity. There are several concepts within Deaf Gain, including; Deaf Increase – the opposite of hearing loss, emphasising that Deaf people have something of importance. Deaf benefit – deafness is a benefit as well as a loss. Deaf contribute – all the ways deaf people contrinbute to humankind

Between 1988 and 1993, the ICSD became a member of the IPC to try and find a way to assimilate into the Paralympics. Unfortunately, through the social model of disability the process identified systemic barriers created by the need for interpreters and the costs of this.  When I was interviewed by BBC Newshour yesterday, the presenter challenged the issue “But surely, these days the costs of providing funds to give paralympians specially designed wheelchairs, limbs , equipment and so on must far outweigh the costs of providing sign language interpreters – (in order to allow Deaflympians into the Paralympics)?” A mute point up for discussion between IPC and ICSD

In 1924, the founders of the Silent Games were looking for ways to empower deaf people though the Olympic ideals of Cubertin. Using the power of an international muli-sports competition for the greater good. The motto at the 2009 Taipei Deaflympics was “Power in Me” (The Chinese literal translation was “The Power of Silence”) it empowered both the deaf and the hearing to come together and learn about sign language. The Deaflympics brought a benefit to the Taiwanese hosts to enable them to provide a service to visiting athletes and supporters. The LOC of the games was a mixed team of deaf and hearing people in order to empower everyone and give them an opportunity that would ordinarily be denied.

In the context of Deaf Gain, Deaflympic athletes and coaches should be valued by society because they have something to contribute. Hearing coaches and athletes can pick up new ways of learning and interacting with their sports environment in order to improve performance. One example I have read is an occasion where the Swiss national junior snowboard team hired a coach who was deaf. “The coach realised that the snowboarders were listening to the sound of the board cutting into snow so they could work out if they were making the quickest stops and sharpest turns possible.  The coach was not satisfied with this reliance on auditory cues and made his athletes wear ear-plus during training. Deprived of their usual sensory feedback, the snowboarders initially felt out of their element, but the earplugs forced them to learn to depend on the feel of the snow beneath their boards. Eventually the athlete’s performances improved markedly.”

The Deaflympic are a great forum for “transnationalism” through gesture and sign language. A model of human interaction in a globalised world. Deaflympians are able to interact and communicate with each other across linguistic boundaries immediately. Therefore, in comparison, Olympians and Paralympians have to find a common spoken language before they can communicate successfully.

This week, Tom Smith, a deaf cyclist from Wales is competing in the European Deaf Cycling championships. Tom is not a native sign language user, he has been educated using the oral tradition. His tweets from Russia this week illustrate transnationalism. “Sign language improving. Alphabet similar to ASL. Just keep forgetting f & g ha ha!….. After the race, stood around talking to Russians, Belgians, French, Germans, Austrians, six nationalities including me – one language. How cool is that!”

By comparison, in the book “Sky’s the Limit” there is a description of a daily routine of GB cycling academy which at the time, was 3 hours road work, one hour lunch, 3 hours French then 3 hours track work. They needed to learn French so that they could live and work on mainland europe where French is a dominant language for cycling teams and training environments.

Olympians and Paralympians have a lot to gain from the valuable contributions that Deaflympians bring to human communication.

The article I  have read on ‘Deaf Gain’ concludes with the potential impact of this concept.

“For most parents, the concept of a deaf baby conjures up anxious thoughts of isolation, limited communication and myriad other difficulties for their child. But that is the old frame. The new frame, the frame of Deaf Gain, sees the baby not as a problem but as an asset. A family with a deaf baby benefits by being exposed to a new language and culture and to new people, ideas and experiences. A deaf baby is value added to a family, but the contribution benefits not only the family but general society as well. Every deaf baby born on this planet is a gift to humankind.”

In a world where the Deaflympics is recognised and valued, the above vision of a deaf baby in a hearing family could be translated to a local level in sport. At the moment, to most coaches and athletes, the concept of a deaf athlete/teammate conjures up “anxious thoughts of isolation, limited communication and a myriad of other difficulties”. But through Deaf Gain, the team can see the deaf athlete as an “asset”. A team with a deaf player benefits by being “exposed to a new language and culture and to new ideas and experience”. Value the Deaflympics and it will become a gift to sport and humankind in the same way that the Olympic and Paralympics have inspired a generation this summer.

Two Big Ears was originally planning to stop his campaign when he Paralympic flame was extinguished. But it has been decided to continue as they are some much more to learn about deaf sport. Only by keeping the Deaflympics and the forefront of society’s conscious might we see a “fair deal” for Deaflympians.

Two Big Ears will be blogging twice a week. so please watch out for future posts.

If you like what you are reading here and wish to keep up with other discussions on the subject, you are welcome to visit the UK Deaf Sport group on LinkedIn for professional discussions.

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