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TRAIN GO SORRY by Leah Hager Cohen


Inside a Deaf World

by Leah Hager Cohen

Pub Date: Feb. 16th, 1994
ISBN: 0-395-63625-6
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

 Clunky title (American Sign Language for ``missing the boat'') aside: a sensitive report on one year in the life of N.Y.C.'s Lexington School for the Deaf. Cohen, who teaches at Emerson College, is well situated to be Lexington's chronicler: Her father, Oscar, is the school's superintendent; her deaf grandfather, Sam, was a student there 75 years ago; and the author herself--who can hear--attended classes there as a preschooler. She writes at a time when Lexington is coming to terms with the deaf-pride movement, initiated in 1988 with a student rebellion at Gallaudet University, over the appointment of a hearing president. Lexington, Cohen says, is steering a middle course between ``hearing chauvinists'' and ``deaf militants.'' The former--who see deafness as a hated handicap-- rally around the risky ``cochlear implant,'' a new electronic hearing-device fitted in young children; the latter, who consider deafness to be an ethnic trait, oppose ``oralism'' (teaching deaf people to vocalize, long a staple at Lexington) in favor of signing. These tensions within the deaf community shoot through Cohen's narrative, which unfolds via portraits of two Lexington students (a black American and a Russian immigrant) and memories of her grandfather, whose death was accelerated by a hospital's failure to provide a deaf interpreter. On a more personal note, Cohen talks of her own awkwardness at learning sign language; the difficulties of ASL interpretation; friendships between the deaf and those who can hear; and the crisis that hearing advocates of the deaf face in an increasingly politicized climate. An intimate portrait of a tightknit subculture that, ironically, is coming of age as it shrinks in size, the result of medical advances against meningitis and other causes of deafness--a situation that Cohen terms, with typical awareness of both sides, ``bittersweet.''