Around four babies in every 100,000 births born in the U.S. are born with Usher Syndrome. Usher Syndrome is an inherited disease that commonly affects both hearing and vision. Many people who are diagnosed as medically blind and or deaf have this disease. It is most common for people to go blind or become severely visually impaired, as almost 75,000 do each year. Also, in case you were not aware, people who are deaf are typically also seen as mute. Many deaf people actually have healthy functioning vocal chords, but they still usually mainly communicate in sign language because their tonal inflection and verbal emphasis is off due to their inability to understand the sounds of the alphabet. So. Why all the random facts about people who have lost their sight, hearing, or ability to speak?
Did you have anyone in your classes growing up who was deaf, blind, or mute? Have you ever seen anyone who fits this description in your community? How about here at Lawrence?
Granted there are special accommodations needed for people who fit into these categories, like an aid who can translate what the professor is saying into sign language, as well as better labeling at walkways and maybe even books offered in braille. But people who are missing one of their five senses are still fully able to and have a right to pursue higher education. There are students all over the country as well as the globe who are attending college with various medical handicaps and still doing fine, if not exceeding to prove their worth despite the doubts of others. So where are these students represented at Lawrence? Although in the past people who suffer with severe hearing loss have been labeled as ‘deaf and dumb’, this in no way means they have any intellectual damage or lesser capacity to learn and fully function in society than any other student. This means there are students who fit these descriptions who are able to get into a school like Lawrence. So why don’t I see them? It is not as hard as you may think to attend college with these extra challenges. On metafilter.com, Eric B. commented, “A good friend of mine during graduate school was blind. When he arrived he was given a tour by a campus representative. We, his friends, also walked various routes with him to help him get acclimated—on campus, in town, etc. He navigated by cane and not a service dog. Within days he was on his own. He explained that he counted his steps, had “mapped” various soundscapes in his mind, could tell his position by echoes, non-echoes and came to know street crossings, stairwells, etc. intuitively.” We have students on campus right now from all over the globe and from all sorts of backgrounds, social classes, ethnicities and lifestyles. Lawrence prides itself, as does its students, on our diverse community. And yet here is an area in which our school is lacking.
In past centuries the medical advancements of today weren’t even fathomable, and due to the rough lifestyles of many average citizens of the time, anyone born with physical and or mental handicaps was usually tucked away from the eyes of society and had little to no impact (or say) on the historical events of that time. Is our society still one in which people born with handicaps are kept hidden away? Do people struggling with the challenges of being blind, deaf, and/or mute feel like they cannot even dream of attending a college like Lawrence?