Perspectives on Deafness
We present two prevailing perspectives on deafness, the Pathological Model and the Cultural Model. Health care providers often view deafness through a pathological model, while the person who is deaf may view his/her lack of hearing through a cultural model.
Deafness as Pathology
The pathological model of deafness (also referred to as the medical model) posits that deafness is the pathological absence of hearing and that a hearing-impaired individual is disabled because of faulty hearing (Senghas & Monaghan, 2002). This model views deafness as a defect which needs treatment or correction. For example, a cochlear implant or hearing aid aims to restore hearing as much as possible, with the view that to be hearing is the preferred option (A Middleton, 2007). This view focuses on how deaf people are different from non-deaf people and generally, these differences are viewed as limitations. In their training, physicians typically learn about hearing loss through courses that focus on etiology, detection, and treatment of hearing loss itself. Because of this, the physician is likely to view deafness through a pathological model, while the person who is deaf may consider the broader positive cultural and communication issues associated with deafness.
Deafness as Culture
People who perceive deafness through the cultural model do not view deafness as a disability, but simply as a linguistic minority. The “cultural” model views deafness as creating a different, not inferior, experience. In fact, many individuals who are deaf do not believe that their deafness should be corrected. Many deaf adults do not consider their lack of hearing as a problem. They lead rich and full lives and are proud to be deaf.
Communication problems can occur when individuals fail to appreciate these different worldviews. Individuals who are deaf may be wary of hearing people in general and health care providers in particular. This perspective may have developed from a lifetime of exposure to hearing people who perceive individuals who are deaf as disabled, impaired, and otherwise undesirable, and health care providers who typically focus on the pathology of hearing loss (Harmer, 1999). To learn more about discrimination of the deaf and the history of the development of American Sign Language, see the following website: http://www.aslinfo.com/trivia.cfm.