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<<Biblioteca Digital del Portal<<La Educación<<La Educación (120) I, 1995 <<Artículo
La Educación
Número: (120) I
Año: 1995

The Ninety Percent Facts

Critical to understanding deaf people are the Ninety Percent Facts of Deaf Family Life. These are:
  • 90 percent of deaf children have normally hearing parents.
  • 90 percent of deaf adults marry other deaf persons.
  • 90 percent of children born to deaf couples have normal hearing.
Of course, the 90 percent figure is an approximation; various surveys give slightly different amounts—ranging from 87 to 96 percent for each of the facts. For any randomly selected group of deaf people, however, the 90 percent approximation will come close to the actual rate.

The repetition of that rate in each generation emphasizes the pervasiveness of the social isolation and the marginality that deafness imposes.

Typically, deaf children grow up in families whose members are significantly different. Their parents cannot depend upon a major tool used in the parenting of normally hearing children—empathy—for the obvious reason that they are not deaf. Usually their deaf child is the first deaf person with whom they have continuous, close involvement, so they have not had the opportunity to experience deafness even at second hand. Communication within the family is usually difficult. Worse, parents are often unaware of how limited it is. They may become overwrought, even abusive, because they think their deaf child is disobeying them, when the truth is the child simply did not understand what the parents were trying to say.

When deaf children become adults they marry others who are deaf like themselves 9 out of 10 times. Their choice separates them further from their nuclear family. It is a natural choice, however, on several counts: propinquity, communication ease, and the fact that deaf people do not usually find it comfortable to associate with normally hearing people and vice versa. So in choosing a life partner, deaf adults most often choose partners with whom they can communicate easily, who share their disability and, hence, with whom they can relax.

When deaf couples produce children, those children will most often have normal hearing 90 percent of the time. This 90 Percent Factor is supported, theoretically and empirically, by the fact that much deafness is adventitious, and that which is genetically determined is most often the result of a recessive gene. This finding is contrary to the expectations of the Eugenics Movement, which early in this century expected the offspring of deaf-by-deaf marriages to be also deaf.

Arrival of the deaf adults children may strain relations between their normally hearing parents. Occasionally, deaf couples are reluctant to invite the grandparents to see their grandchildren, partly out of resentment for their own upbringing and partly out of fear of the normally hearing parents reactions. It is sad for everyone involved—deaf parents, normally hearing grandparents, and normally hearing children.

We refer to the preceding phenomena as The Three-Generational Impact of Deafness. This is something to bear in mind when working with deaf people. The ninety Percent Facts make it easier to recall how unusual is the typical deaf person’s background.