Deaf campaigns and genetic developments

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The language used in discourses in the field of genetics and deafness assumes that all people who are deaf are afflicted with an ‘illness’, a ‘genetic disorder’, and so research into genes and deafness are largely focused on identifying deafness genes in order to eliminate them. In accepting this medical model of deafness, many people seem unaware of the important differences between people who lose their hearing in adult life, and those born Deaf who see themselves as members of a positive and inspiring global community.

Sign Language Peoples (SLPs) attracted headline media interest in the furore over Clause 14 of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill (HFEB).  A ‘Stop Eugenics’ movement – which was actually trying to show how the Bill was the first step towards genetic deselection of ‘undesirable’ traits - was widely misrepresented in the media as a campaign to give SLPs the ‘right’ to ‘create’ a Deaf baby. This understandably caused much confusion and negative responses from the public.

Scholars, politicians and journalists seemed either unable or unwilling to listen to SLPs cultural perspectives which stressed the positive contribution they offered to the world, and the significance of multi-generational Deaf families in maintaining and developing sign languages and cultures.