31st May, 2013
By Gbenga Bunmi Aina
I am writing in response to your story in the P.M.NEWS on-line issue of Monday May 28, 2013 entitled Deaf, Dumb Bus Driver Arrested, and the follow-up Editorial published on Thursday May 30 entitled The Deaf And Dumb Danfo Driver And Us.
I am only an occasional reader of P.M.NEWS and other on-line news sources; however this particular story caught my eye because of my own deafness.
Media practitioners, especially journalists, control powerful vehicles for molding public opinion. When a group of journalists and editors – by virtue of whose professional calling are or should be considerably better informed and vastly more enlightened on contemporary issues than the generality of their own society – particularly ones who write for as progressive a media institution with a reputation as admirable as P.M.NEWS, commits the cardinal error of describing a Deaf person as “deaf and dumb”, I am angry and disgusted, as I am sure millions of Deaf people on the planet and their families, friends and allies who read the story and the editorial were as well.
Again, I am Deaf myself. The trajectory of my life in Nigeria was characterized by constant overcoming of obstacles occasioned by attitudes created not by evidence, but by an ill-informed and rather backward orthodoxy regarding Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing people. Aspects of this prevailing orthodoxy are apparent in the choice of descriptive label; in the comments section of the story; and in the tone of your editorial: Deaf people “can’t” because they can’t hear.
I have been an administrator in American higher education for the past 15 years. But as a Deaf person, I am not unique in that sense. I was employed as a lawyer and Senior Deputy Editor at Gani Fawehinmi Chambers/Nigerian Law Publications for 3 years up to my departure for the United States in 1994. But as a Deaf lawyer, I am not unique. I graduated from OAU, Ile-Ife in 1990 and was called to the Bar in 1991. But as a Deaf university graduate, I am not unique. I spent 5 successful years at Christ’s School, Ado-Ekiti, graduating in 1983. But as a Deaf alumnus of a prestigious Nigerian high school, I am not unique. Millions of Deaf people all over this world can point to superior records of accomplishment in their own CV’s than I am able to in mine.
And yet, the orthodoxy holds that “deaf and dumb” people cannot do things any other human being should take for granted.
This is neither the time nor the place to discuss the tangential issue of why Deaf people consider “deaf and dumb” pejorative, but these are powerful examples. During 2001, I saw the likes of Comrade Adams Oshiomole –as he then was—dismiss the federal government as being one “of the deaf”; a columnist with another newspaper congratulating the Broadcasting Service of Oyo State (BCOS) for incorporating “hand sign translations on the news for the deaf and dumb at last”; the hitherto unimpeachable Wole Soyinka treading the dishonorable path of applying deafness to describe reactionaries in opprobrious terms; and the then irresistible Reuben Abati refer to “the deaf and the dumb” in his article of Friday June 22, 2001. These individuals are among the educated elite of Nigerian society, and if elementary enlightenment eludes them, then perhaps for us Deaf people generally to theorize that nothing better can be expected from the generality of society which is constituted by these otherwise distinguished gentlemen’s putative intellectual inferiors, is forgivable.
Deep ignorance about deafness and issues related thereto lies at the heart of this disparaging labeling of Deaf people. This is an unfortunate reality in a country approaching its centenary that has prided itself for many years as the “Giant of Africa”.
Hopefully, cognizant of its ability to influence the formulation of public opinion and shape the corpus of public knowledge, P.M.NEWS and its entire journalistic corps will find common cause with Deaf Nigerians and take the lead in enlightening both the general public and leading individuals on sensitivity and correct usage.
The correct term for a person whose auditory faculties are not functioning is “Deaf” simpliciter. The additional factor that this person is unable to express orally, is incidental, but not in all cases true, being entirely a function of whether deafness is congenital or adventitious. All Deaf people, whether they are capable of speech or not, prefer to be termed properly and correctly as Deaf.
It will be appreciated if P.M.NEWS will lead the way in educating the general public and referring to Deaf people simply as Deaf henceforth.
While auditory information is important in the driving process, there is insufficient data to indicate that deafness affects driving ability. In 1994, McCloskey, Koepsell, Wolf and Buchner conducted a population-based case control study to determine whether hearing loss puts older drivers at greater risk of collision injuries. Their findings (Motor Vehicle Collision Injuries and Sensory Impairment of Older Drivers) were reported in the magazine Age & Ageing, 23 at pages 267-273.
The cases were drivers who sought medical care, within 7 days, for injuries sustained in a police recorded motor vehicle crash. Controls were selected from a pool of eligible subjects who had not been injured in a police recorded motor vehicle crash. Driving exposure, based on self-report, was similar for both groups. Sensory impairment data were extracted from medical records. Results of their investigation revealed no significant increase in risk of injury from motor vehicle collisions as a function of deafness. Clearly, there is no association between deafness and increased risk for motor vehicle accidents. Consequently, there is no empirical evidence to warrant restrictions on Deaf individuals from operating a vehicle.
I doubt any law in Nigeria explicitly or by implication prohibits Deaf persons from operating a vehicle. I also doubt regulations exist governing the operation of motor vehicles by Deaf persons. Accordingly, I would suggest the adoption of fitness-to-drive guidelines to clarify the position. Australia and Canada have workable, reasonable and logical guidelines:
|Totally Deaf||No restriction||Not addressed|
|Hearing Aids||No restriction||Not addressed|
|Some Hearing Loss||No restriction||No restriction. As greater reliance on vision is needed, external mirrors are required|
|Vestibular disorders||Acute labyrinthitis: Patients with acute labyrinthitis or positional vertigo with horizontal head movement should be advised not to drive at all until their condition has subsided or responded to treatment.
Recurrent attacks of vertigo: Patients who are subject to recurrent attacks of vertigo that occur without warning also should not drive until it is certain that their spells of dizziness have been controlled or abated.
|Acute labyrinthitis, Benign paroxysmal vertigo, Meniere’s Disease, Recurrent Vertigo: Should not drive while symptoms persist.|
At worst, the Deaf driver, Mr. Sunday Ogunmola, was arrested for driving without a license and driving in a BRT lane. Driving without a license seems to be a common enough offense in Nigeria; and driving in the BRT lane illegally appears to be similarly common, going by the Lagos state governor Babatunde Raji Fashola’s widely-reported apprehension of an army colonel for doing just that. Sunday Ogunmola’s real offenses are prosaic, and, in reality they are indicative of the systemic need in Nigeria for all qualified persons to enroll in formal, structured driver education classes and pass written and practical driver-education exams as a prerequisite for the issuance of a driver’s license, be it private or commercial.
‘Gbenga Aina, Savage, Maryland, USA