I am not, I see, the first dimensional traveler to exist in this body. But how can I make you understand the strangeness of your world to me?
Imagine, if you will, a world where everyone is illiterate. There are no books to read; TV shows do not have subtitles; if you want people to know the rules at your local pool, you have to hire a person to stand near the door and explain it to each of them individually. There are a few simple signs– a red octagon means STOP, a yellow triangle means YIELD– but it has never progressed beyond that stage.
But it is not that this world has not invented literacy. Indeed, there are many written languages. However, these are essentially only known by the mute, and those who work with them. Perhaps a child will learn to spell a few words as part of the disability acceptance unit at their school: their name, maybe “mother” and “father,” maybe their favorite color. But if you have the capacity to use speech, in this world, you do not read.
I speak, of course, of the fact that your world does not have sign.
“But we don’t need sign,” you might say. “We can speak.” Certainly! As long as you never go to a concert. Or want to talk during a movie. Or have dinner at a crowded restaurant. Or take care of a newborn who sleeps lightly and wakes up often. Or want to send a message to someone without other people overhearing. Or want to talk at the same time that another person is talking. Or have a migraine, or autism, or any of dozens of conditions that lead to a sensitivity to sound.
Since none of those things are true, in fact, you would benefit a good deal from sign. But inexplicably instead of learning it you all choose to yell at each other at bars. Why.
I can’t believe how rude people in this world are in public spaces. In my world, if you’re in a restaurant or coffeeshop or on a train or an airplane, you automatically switch to signing. That way, everyone can understand what other people are saying, and no one has to overhear random scraps of other people’s conversations, and if you prefer to focus on your book you can.
In my world, half of all people are deaf. There is an pandemic childhood disease– unfortunately, we have had no luck in developing a vaccine– that nearly everyone catches. It is quite harmless and mostly just gives you a few days off school, but a little more than half of all sufferers wind up losing their hearing.
We would never consider the deaf to be disabled. Deafness is an advantage in so many ways. You’d never hire a hearing person to work construction, or in a factory, or at a stadium in any position other than sound engineer: hearing people can’t focus when there are loud noises, and it can lead to hearing damage such as unpleasant ringing sounds. Deaf people have a huge advantage in focusing: they can simply turn off their cochlear implants and zone out. And deaf people can live in cities, where you can hear sounds of construction and cars and your neighbors upstairs. Hearing people find cities very stressful.
And even if there’s not a specific advantage to being deaf, deafness is just… normal. Sure, deaf people have to go to different concerts than hearing people. (At deaf concerts, the music is loud enough to make a hearing person go deaf, because they usually like the vibrations.) Sure, they have to buy TTY devices if they want to use the phone. I have to spend ten minutes looking for my glasses every morning and you wouldn’t call me disabled about it. Some things are genuinely disabling, like chronic pain or using a wheelchair. But you people take an ordinary part of human variation– one that, as many variations do, has both advantages and disadvantages– refuse to accommodate it, and consider it a disability.
In your world, deaf children are often deprived of language in their critical period, because their parents don’t sign. In my world, this never happens. Is the problem deafness, or is the problem the fact that no one uses sign for no reason I can understand?
It’s a petty example, but think about video games. In my world, many first-person shooters include extra information through sound, but also include loud, distracting or unpleasant noises. (You know, the way that it actually happens during wars?) That way, the experience is fair for both deaf and hearing gamers. Your world refuses to make games that deaf players can play on an even field, and then claims that it’s their fault for not being able to hear!
Or think about movies. You CAN put subtitles in movie theaters. I have seen it. Why don’t you put subtitles routinely? Or cars honking. Why do cars honk? You can hear! It is unpleasant for you too! Replacing it with a flashing bright light, as we do, minimizes the effect on innocent bystanders.
Of course, not everything in our society accommodates deaf and hearing people equally. For example, our world’s musicals are traditionally signed and sung at the same time: the singing is what the characters are saying to each other, while the sign conveys their underlying emotions and thoughts. Of course all musicals have subtitles, but the experience is not at all the same.
In general, dance for us is much closer to song than to the abstract artform of your world. The distinction between dance and poetry, in particular, is often not clear: much poetry is intended to be signed, as poetry in your world is often intended to be read aloud. And this reminds me of the complexities of written sign! The way even fiction in written speech uses written sign to talk about what gestures people make, the various ways people have come up with to indicate a shaky hand or an abortive movement, the meaning of whether you use written sign or written speech or switching between them…
This is a tangent and I intend primarily to complain about your universe’s poor design. I have complained about subtitles and video game design, but above all you need to learn sign. I propose an intensive program of education in the nation’s elementary schools: full immersion in ASL from the moment they step into kindergarten. After a generation’s investment, all hearing people will be able to use both speech and sign, and your world will be tremendously improved.
Please ask me any questions you have and I’ll be sure to answer them over the course of today! I hope I will be able to convince you all of the necessity of learning sign and depathologizing deafness.