THE MASK OF BENEVOLENCE by Harlan Lane

THE MASK OF BENEVOLENCE

Disabling the Deaf Community

KIRKUS REVIEW

 Lane (Psychology/Northeastern) follows up When the Mind Hears- -his 1984 history of the deaf--with an excoriating analysis of the oppression of the deaf in contemporary society. Hearing people, Lane says, view deafness as a disability--but the deaf see themselves as a linguistic minority, feel that they have a richer social life than hearing people, marry each other, and celebrate the birth of a deaf child as a precious gift. After developing these preconception-shattering revelations, Lane reveals the meshes of paternalistic control exercised by ``audism''--that institution of school administrators, speech therapists, psychologists, and social workers that authorizes views of the deaf, governs where they go to school, and exercises authority over their community. Despite research showing that American Sign Language is a natural language with its own vocabulary, grammar, and art forms, professionals persist in viewing it as disabled English and refuse to learn it. The consequences for the deaf are dire: IQ scores can be lowered 30 points by examiners resorting to ad hoc pantomime for test instruction; psychologists administer tests designed for the hearing and misdiagnose deaf children as learning-disabled; deaf youth are ``mainstreamed'' out of special schools to languish in a hearing, English-speaking environment. The audist establishment, Lane says, has promulgated calling deaf children ``hearing-impaired''--the equivalent, he adds, of calling women ``non-men'' or gays ``sexually impaired.'' And economic self- interest motivates the audist establishment, Lane argues. The hearing-aid industry, for example, annually sells $250 million dollars' worth of hearing aids to deaf children, whose teachers require them. Yet virtually all of these children went deaf before learning English, making the hearing aids useless. What is to be done to empower the deaf? Allow them their language, Lane says, and their history and their dignity. Essential for anyone with a deaf person in his or her life, or for anyone who wishes truly to understand two million deaf fellow Americans.

Pub Date: May 26th, 1992
ISBN: 0-679-40462-7
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1992