My hobby right now is taking advantage of snooty cultural things for cheap or free. Last night I happened to share that hobby with some good friends seldom seen (NotwithInk & OnHerToes). Our choice of restaurant was chosen by proximity to our next destination so it was not snooty at all but my drink was blue.
The main event was at the ROM Theatre; a documentary by the name “Voices of El Sayed”. Major low-budget but the quality of production was wholely irrelevant to the purpose. El Sayed is an unrecognized* Bedouin town in Israel with a large Deaf community. Almost every family in the village has at least one Deaf member and most have more. The village even has its own unique sign languge. The crew follows and interviews three main people/groups: 1) a young Dead man who is a central part of the Deaf community and proud of his way of life. 2) a young deaf girl who loves to be Deaf and aspires to cameraperson. 3) a family with 5 hearing children and one deaf boy (Muhammad) who gets a cochlear implant at 2.5 years old.
The film examines what it means to have an identity and a culture. The Israeli government visited the community to educate them on cochlear implants and offered to pay for the operation and therapy. Muhammad’s father decides to take advantage of the offer and his son is given the implant.
In the government’s haste to ‘cure’ deafness they fail to consider the case in context and, one may argue, cause undue hardship to the family. Instance A) Only after the toddler has undergone the surgery (that involves drilling a hole into his skull) does the medical team inform his family that the device must be plugged in to a power source at night. Um, they only get electricity for a few hours a day. The family manages to tap in to a generator.
B) After months of intensive therapy (with his oldest sister trained to work with him to develop language) and still no speech from Muhammad his family starts to worry. Not until now does the doctor play a sample for his father of what scientists believe speech sounds like through a cochlear implant. It is robotic. It is difficult to decifer. His father bluntly tells the doctor that, had he known how speech would sound to his son, he would not have chosen the surgery.
There is so much more I could say about the film but my favourite part of the evening was the sign language interpreter. The movie was subtitled but the question and answer period required interpretation for the hearing and non-hearing members of the audience. Sign is so expressive. So much of the meaning is related through facial expression that to a hearing person seems awkward or over-the-top, but it really is beautiful.
The question period was tense. The expected issues surfaced with a few hearing people asking the director about the potential for a cure, for genetic testing, why no one had tried to help this community. The Deaf audience members took great offense to the suggestion that they needed to be cured or helped in any way or that they were something to be prevented. Who decides what is a disability and what isn’t?
*80 000 Bedouin people in Israel live in villages unrecognized by the government because they are outside designated settlement areas. The villages have little access to services and only receive electricity for a few hours each day.