Thursday, August 15, 2013

Cuehood... a process of actualizing an identity as a cuer

Deafhood has received much attention in the Deaf/deaf and hard of hearing communities in regards to the process of coming to terms with the identity shaped by one's personal experiences with deafness.

Now I can't say that I know a lot about what the Deafhood Foundation has brought to the table in regards to Deafhood. After all I've always been intrigued by the idea of taking a Deafhood workshop, yet have been discouraged by the fact that the Deafhood Foundation refuses to accommodate people who are not strong signers, receptively or expressively.

Yet, various discussions and observations have lead me to understand it's basically coming to understand the reality in which "Deaf" people live in and the identities they hold as shaped by the system that governs their education and access to services, whether in a positive or negative way. A question that's been left unanswered is whether there is room for the little d in "deafhood" to represent the greater deaf and hard of hearing community, but that's another discussion for another time.

Native cuers have their own identity with Cued Speech as shaped by their experience with cueing parents/professionals and cued language transliterators. Therefore I would propose that native cuers have their own form of "deafhood" in the sense that they recognize the impact Cued Speech has had on their lives, AKA "cuehood."

In the Cued Speech facebook group, we have people from all walks of life who identify themselves as cuers, whether they have hearing loss or not. Some of those "cuers" identify themselves as either growing up with an oral background or as signers, yet they've come to embrace the idea of Cued Speech as a means of communication and access to spoken language. Some cuers (including myself) put themselves out there in the deaf and hard of hearing community as native cuers with the goal of educating people about what Cued Speech is and how it helps with access to spoken language and communication within the household for hearing-dominant families.

In face of reality today, one should make distinctions between what the Deafhood Foundation asserts as a "Deaf-centric" way of life, and what the majority of people with hearing loss experience. Not all cuers necessarily identify themselves primarily as cuers, but as Deaf people who are part of the Deaf culture as signers. However, the reality is that their lives were shaped by the use of Cued Speech in their personal lives. In this sense, do the ideas of "Deafhood" and "cuehood" come into conflict with each other? Perhaps if one takes the point of view that people who are deaf should accept that reality of deafness and not try to act like hearing people (which would be more of a sloppy generalization of the d/hoh community).

Proponents of Deafhood rail against the system in which we are a part of, which typically marginalizes people with disabilities in favor for those who have full facilities and do not experience discrimination or oppression on the part of ignorant or biased people (read: ignorant management and extremist AVT or ASL advocates). This is the reality that we live in - PWD (Persons with Disabilities) experience a greater level of struggle than the typical person, therefore they develop an identity based out of that struggle.

Now for cuehood, it is a matter of defining the type of struggles that native cuers have experienced growing up with the "mark" of Cued Speech. Even I have experienced vitriol from Deaf people who believe Cued Speech to be an assault on their way of life, therefore my identity is shaped by those interactions and reinforces my desire to dispel people's misconceptions about Cued Speech.

For many cuers, cue camps served as a means of reinforcing their cueing identity through social interaction and the forging of lifelong friendships (and in some cases, marriages). The cue camp experience serves to reinforce the process of cuehood in a positive way despite all the struggles that parents typically have had in trying to get cued language services for their children. It was not until 2004 when the federal government, at the behest of the National Cued Speech Association, finally included the term "cued language" in federal legislation providing protections for the deaf and hard of hearing in terms of accessibility.

I did leave the cueing community for about six years until halfway through college when I returned to Spring (Cue) Camp Cheerio and realized how dramatically the demographics of the camp had changed, with the inclusion of the North Carolina chapter of AG Bell Association as a co-sponsor of the camp. At that time I was angry and wanted it to go back to the way it was, a vibrant camp full of cuers instead of a hashmash of AVT advocates and cuers.

At one point I organized a petition among the cuers to try and push to turn this camp back into a true cue camp, but after pissing people off and burning some bridges (after all my petition was the number one hit on Google ahead of Spring Camp Cheerio...), I came to the realization that maybe it's not such a bad thing to stop preaching to the choir and reach a new audience. Now we have more parents learning Cued Speech in NC and the first child in the United States to get the auditory brainstem implant surgery stateside is a native cuer and his parents learned to cue at this camp...

For each native cuer, their experience with cuehood is different. Some come to embrace American Sign Language and go on to become sign language instructors or teachers of the deaf. Others don't buy into it and go on living their lives like typical hearing people without the use of signing. Yet, they all have one thing in common. Cued Speech.

Now does this mean cuers are going to go on and create their own Cuehood Foundation and give workshops on supporting a "Cue-centric" way of life? Not necessarily. In a way, a different approach has appeared in the form of CLEAR (Cuers for Leadership, Education, and Advocacy Retreat), which is now going through a transition period and is now becoming CLEAR(esources) Center, with the focus on supporting Cued Speech instructors and advocates alike. The emphasis of CLEAR center is on acceptance, inclusiveness, and awareness of all issues within the deaf and hard of hearing community. Facilitators of CLEAR's retreats have made it clear that we cannot afford to be divisive or exclusive as we are still a small minority within this community.

In summary, cuehood is the process of actualizing one's own identity as an cuer through personal experiences.

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