Oxford student Rachel Kolb has a great blog post in the New York Times this week. Disabilities can be conceived of as the product of an environment. The author is profoundly deaf - but give her a noisy party and someone who knows American Sign Language - and she can communicate when no one else can. I think realizing the ways in which oral communication is imperfect and can be ill-suited for certain situations, helps to rethink what it means to be deaf, what it means to hear, and how we conceive of the world "disability." Everyone is more dependent on their environment then they would like to admit. And as Rachel so eloquently puts it, the human desire to communicate "surpasses our respective identities."
I have a profound hearing loss. In normative terms, I am supposedly the one who is “disabled.” But, when faced with a noisy party filled with signing-impaired people, I sometimes marvel, instead, at the skill my eyes and my hands possess. I know how to gesture to make myself clear. I lipread. I notice visual details that hearing people often do not. If I have deaf or signing companions around, we converse easily.