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Basic Guide for Communication in Catalan Sign Language

1.2. Are all Deaf People Alike?

Mostra gràfica de l'evolució dels decibels

Not all deaf people are equal, as we saw in the previous section, and one of the factors making them different is their degree of hearing loss. The ear is a highly complex sensorial organ which at the same time interrelates with sight, touch and balance to function properly in situations of time and space. It ultimately helps us perceive what is happening around us as well as within us. Having the outer auditory channel of the ear blocked by wax, for example, can be of some inconvenience. In this case the sounds surrounding us must surpass 20 decibels (dB) for us to perceive them, since normal hearing levels go between 0 and 20 dB. Consequences worsen as hearing loss grows from light to medium to extreme cases of severe, and even profound, hearing loss, in which no type of sound is perceived owing to the loss of 91 to 119 dB. The effects of each stage become increasingly significant. At the same time as hearing worsens, a person's sense of sight gains a more prominent role in their perceptive system. Some people use hearing aids to be able to make the most out of their hearing capacity; others do not simply because they are of no use to them.

The age at which hearing loss appears is also a decisive factor in the global functioning of a person, precisely because this determines whether they have been exposed to a spoken language or not and whether they have had time to develop it correctly. Some already know how to speak before they become deaf. This is known as post-lingual deafness. Others however lose their sense of hearing either before or at the moment of birth or in the first five years of life, the period in which spoken language is acquired most naturally. This in turn is known as pre-lingual deafness.

The term "deaf-mute" has been used traditionally by society to refer erroneously to deaf people. The term, once again, points to the conception of deafness as a pathology and can be considered insulting given its inaccuracy, since muteness refers to the deprivation of speech. Deaf people cannot hear, but they are not mute.

In fact, deafness is as diverse as human nature itself. Diversity is present in human beings from the moment in which each person acquires their own evolutionary characteristics and therefore their own pace of learning. Education models used until now however have not always borne in mind this heterogeneity. Criteria often are based on the natural aptitudes of the majority and many times this entails overlooking the differences and needs of minorities. In the case of deaf people, traditional education has used approaches from an oral standpoint, which receives this name due to the methodical and systematic approach in learning a spoken language while excluding the acquisition of sign language. The ultimate objective of this model is to strengthen any auditory remains with constant articulation and stimulation exercises. As opposed to this model, there is the bilingual education model, backed by recent linguistic studies which establish a different order of priority when educating deaf children. The bilingual education current sustains that deaf children learn sign language in a natural and active manner when they interact with other signing children and therefore need no special exercises. For this reason it is important to see to the needs and rights of deaf children to learn and use a language that is accessible to them. Learning a second language, in this case spoken Catalan or Spanish, is possible when the first natural language, e.g. Catalan sign language, has been correctly developed. This methodology aims to achieve fuller integration of deaf people in society based on respect for their nature and their natural language. At the same time it aspires to reduce the high rates of school failure among deaf students (according to the Catalan Federation of Deaf People, FESOCA, 85% of deaf adults have great difficulties in understanding written texts). With adequate education adapted to their needs, deaf people can communicate using both sign language and oral language, in its written and spoken forms, and according to their visual way of perceiving the world.

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