Fair comment, or an example of how it’s impossible to please everyone when it comes to deafness?
In May last year, we reported on how cartoonists at Marvel had responded to a heart-felt letter from the mother of a deaf boy who wouldn’t wear his hearing aids.
Then they sent the boy, called Anthony, an image of himself as a superhero called Blue Ear. Soon after, the boy started wearing his blue hearing aids again.
For many, this was a great example of a large company going out of their way to cheer up a deaf kid, and encourage him not to be ashamed of his hearing aids, something Marvel should be commended for.
Later, Marvel went a step further, teaming up with hearing aid manufacturer Phonak to create a poster that featured the character Iron Man with the message “that kids who use hearing aids are just like him because ‘they are using technology to be their best self.’”
This poster, and in particular, the ‘best self’ statement, has sparked a comment piece by Tara Congdon on CNN’s website, which criticises the comic giant, saying that they were “misguided” and had “stepped into a minefield” with the Iron Man poster.
Congdon admits that Marvel’s gesture to the deaf boy was “heartwarming” and “thoughtful and generous” but says that “by extrapolating an individual’s circumstances and applying it indiscriminately, [the article] devalues a segment of the deaf and hard of hearing community.”
She goes on to say that the message of the poster (left) “is deeply offensive and hurtful to those who gain little to no benefit from hearing aids,” and that it “dismisses the reality that Phonak’s technology does not always succeed in restoring hearing or [achieve] auditory comprehension for its users.”
She says that she formerly used Phonak products and did not benefit from them, and then goes on to explain her experiences of attempts to teach her to hear at school, which made her feel like a failure. She says she was not alone, and cites examples of many of her peers who went on to be successful through using American Sign Language (ASL).
Crucially, she feels that because Marvel’s poster states that through hearing aids, a child can be their “best self,” it therefore implies that the reverse is true of those who don’t wear hearing aids: “because our type or degree of hearing loss prevents us from fully benefiting from Phonak’s technology, we are “failing to be our best selves.”
Is a deaf child’s ‘best self’ only possible if they wear hearing aids? Of course not. Of course there is equal value in a deaf child using sign language and finding the method of hearing, and communicating that best suits them.
But was that really what the poster, which has been designed to go on bedroom walls, was trying to say? That the ‘best self’ cannot be someone who wouldn’t benefit from hearing aids, and/or uses sign language communicate?
For me, I think it’s a lot more simple than that. I think it was trying to say that, for deaf children who would benefit from wearing hearing aids, being proud of them – as part of who you are – is better than being ashamed of them and not wearing them at all.
The whole reason Marvel ever got involved with designing images of superheroes wearing hearing aids was because of a child who would not. That child is incredibly common, for there is a huge stigma associated with wearing hearing aids. Here in the UK, 3.4 million people in the UK could benefit from wearing hearing aids, but do not (Anovum – EuroTrak UK 2010).
The message of the poster, as I read it, is that a deaf kid’s ‘best self’ is not being ashamed of being deaf, not being ashamed of wearing hearing aids as a result, and not deciding not to wear them because of how they look, even if it means you miss out on what people are saying around you.
But what do you think? Do you agree with Congdon? Tell us in the comments below.
Charlie Swinbourne is the Editor of Limping Chicken, as well as being a journalist and award-winning scriptwriter. He writes for the Guardian and BBC Online, and as a scriptwriter, penned My Song, Coming Out and Four Deaf Yorkshiremen.
The Limping Chicken is the UK’s independent deaf news and deaf blogs website! Check out our supporters:
- Remark! – Deaf media company producing television programmes, video BSL translation, multimedia solutions, plus providing training and interpreters
- Deaf Umbrella – Sign language communications provider, including BSL interpreters
- SignVideo – Provider of online BSL video interpreting services
- STAGETEXT – Charity providing theatre captioning – giving you every word of a play
- RAD Deaf Law Centre – Providing legal advice for Deaf people – in BSL
- Bee Communications – Remote Captioning – providing text-based access wherever you are
- Krazy Kat – live visual theatre combining mime, dance, song, puppets and sign language
- SignHealth – The healthcare charity for Deaf people
- The University of Wolverhampton’s Deaf Learner Open Day – on Wednesday 27th March!
The Limping Chicken is the world's most popular Deaf blog, and is edited by Deaf journalist and filmmaker Charlie Swinbourne. Find out how to write for us by clicking here, how to follow us by clicking here, and read our disclaimer here.
The site exists thanks to our supporters. Check them out below:
- Eyewitness Media: TV and film from a Deaf perspective
- Ai-Media: Remote captioning. Find out about 5 funny ways to use captions!
- Bellman & Symfon: home alerting solutions
- Deaf Umbrella: sign language interpreting and communications support
- Appa: Communication services for Deaf, Deafblind and hard of hearing people
- SignLive: Online video interpreting for Deaf people
- SignVideo: Instant BSL video interpreting online
- 121 Captions: captioning and speech-to-text services
- Signature: Leading awarding body for BSL qualifications
- The National Theatre: Captioned and BSL accessible theatre in London
- Doncaster School for the Deaf: education for Deaf children
- Signworld: Learn BSL online!
- Action Deafness Communications: sign language and Red Dot online video interpreting
- BSLcourses.co.uk: Provider of online BSL courses
- Association of Notetaking Professionals: The professional body representing Electronic and Manual Notetakers
- Sign Solutions: communication support, training and translation
- InterpretersLive: On demand BSL video interpretation
- Hamilton Lodge School in Brighton: education for Deaf children
- Lipspeaker UK: specialist lipspeaking support
- Ozen: Australian hearing aid specialists
- Elmfield School, Bristol: Inclusive education for Deaf pupils
- deafPLUS: BSL advice helpline
- Exeter Deaf Academy: education for Deaf children
- Royal Shakespeare Company: Captioned and BSL interpreted performances (see dates here)
- Royal School for the Deaf, Derby: Residential education for deaf children
- RAD Tax Advice: Tax and Tax Credit info for Deaf people
- Performance Interpreting: BSL interpreting at concerts
- National Deaf Children's Society: The leading charity for deaf children
- Signed Culture: Advocating for BSL access to arts and culture
- SignHealth: healthcare charity for Deaf people
- CJ Interpreting: communication support in BSL
- British Society for Mental Health and Deafness: Promoting positive mental health for deaf people