Sounds of Silence

I’m happy to report that this week was filled with interesting lectures* and other events…. and an extra few hours on the dance floor. ūüôā Though my skills don’t¬†come close to those of the¬† (no joke) who signed in¬†before me, I am quite enjoying the (non-competitive) classes with the KCL Dance Society. ¬†My hamstrings can attest to the fact that¬†I haven’t done so many kicks since I was a majorette (twirled baton in marching band) in high school.

Dancing, running,¬†or even just walking around town– it is rather simple to take the ability to participate in such activities for granted. I know I’ve mentioned this before with respect to navigating numerous flights of stairs at tube stations without lifts or escalators, but I think it is worth revisiting.¬†This week’s reminder came to me¬†on Guy’s Campus, the science / medical campus. ¬† Since I don’t have classes on Guy’s Campus, I don’t frequent it as much, and thus my decision to find a¬†bathroom quickly became an adventure in the basement of the¬†Hodgkin Building: a maze of sloped corridors presumably designed to accommodate gurneys. ¬†Despite KCL’s good intention of hanging signs (TOILETS —> ) I still couldn’t manage to find the regular facilities. ¬†Having spotted a empty handicapped-accessible room with 1 toilet, I decided I didn’t need to pick a fight about¬†about the poor¬†signage (which didn’t actually¬†direct¬†people to this¬†singular¬†toilet).

Now, I’m sure most of you have entered a handicapped-accessible stall someplace: it’s most notable feature is its¬†large size that can accommodate a wheelchair or other similar medical device. ¬†Hospital bathrooms usually add in a few bars that the patient and / or medical assistant can use for support. This bathroom not only had those features, but also (most memorable for someone who is 5’10”)¬†had¬†the sink and hand dryer at levels that would be easily usable by someone who is sitting. ¬†The engineer in me was taking stock of these details: “Nice! Someone was really thinking when they designed this!”¬†But I¬†couldn’t help but think of the countless¬†other public bathrooms that I had visited where the design seemed to forget that people who are confined to¬†wheelchairs probably have the same desire to wash and dry their hands as people that are able to stand. ¬†I’ve never had to navigate a public restroom whilst in a wheelchair, though I think that if I ever had to design one, that is definitely a test I would want to apply.

In Engineering design courses, we are constantly reminded to envision our product from the user’s lens.¬†For example,¬†my senior design team was tasked with building a hearing screening device for newborns in¬†South Africa. Our motivation was rooted in the understanding that most cases of hearing loss could be ‘corrected’ if¬†deaf children who were diagnosed¬†and given¬†treatment (eg: hearing aids, extra¬†language development instruction, etc) before critical language development years; children who were diagnosed after¬†this period of critical language development (typically identified by unresponsiveness to¬†loud noises or delayed ability to speak) would never attain¬†the speaking proficiency of their normal-hearing peers. ¬†¬†Though I dare say my team did a pretty good job of accounting for¬†many of¬†these nuanced factors that can make or break the successful implementation of a medical device into a community, I don’t think we ever considered whether the parents would actually¬†prefer¬†to have a deaf child.

I mentioned this topic in a post at the beginning of last term, and after months of sitting with this idea, it still doesn’t sit well with me. ¬†But a marked sign of development is the fact that I better understanding¬†the arguments surrounding the case and can articulate¬†some of my own perspectives that amount to more than ‘an odd feeling’.

Another marked sign of progress is my improved reading speed.** ¬†In between my assigned readings for my classes, I’ve managed to read some more about this case of choosing deafness in the book that our program director (Dr Silvia Camporesi) recently published– ¬†From Bench to Bedside, to Track & Field: The Context of Enhancement and its Ethical Relevance. ¬†Despite the fact that my teammates and I didn’t consider the possibility that some people would prefer to have a deaf child, Silvia notes that:

“Empirical research suggests that deaf people often have a degree of preference for a deaf child, and a rather smaller number would consider acting on their preference with the use of selective techniques. [***See references below.] It turns out that such parents do not view certain genetic conditions as diabilities¬†but as a passport to enter into a rich, shared culture” (p 54).

THAT is certainly some food for thought for engineers trying to implement hearing screening devices.

Last week we were invited to attend Silvia’s book launch.¬†This was pretty exciting since the last book release that I can remember attending was for Harry Potter 7, and¬†no, J K Rowling did not make a guest appearance at Meijer.¬†This intimate event was shared with a good showing from our Social Science, Health, and Medicine department as well as Silvia’s husband & parents who made the trip in from Italy!

At the book launch with some of my classmates. Photo courtesy of Silvias mom. :)
At the book launch with some of my classmates. Photo courtesy of Silvia’s mom. ūüôā

Considering the theme of my musings, I was excited to learn about and attend a Deaf Arts Festival hosted in London this past weekend. (Photos courtesy of Silvia.)

I managed to catch the last part of the student theatre production. Although they provided some super-titles on the background screen, the main method of communication was British Sign Language and a bit of loud, low frequency sounds that you could feel. ¬†Perhaps my favorite part was the silent round of applause at the end of the show– something that looks quite similar to jazz hands or spirit fingers at a basketball game. ¬†I can’t say I understood everything (I think they were performing a¬†modern interpretation of Hamlet?) but it certainly provided some good¬†think time.

And now I’ll leave you here to give you some think-time of your own.



*I’ve saved¬†my notes from one of my favorite lectures this week which gave a philosophical response to “What does it mean to love a person?” ¬†If I can time this well, I might be able to release this mid-February… ūüėČ ¬†Stay tuned!

**I suppose that comes with practice, and goodness knows that those skills had become quite rusty during my years at UM. ¬†Reading a biotransport textbook (30% text, 70% equations) is vastly different than reading a paper¬†about withholding blood transfusions from Jehovah’s Wittness children.

*** References:

Middleton, A, J Hewison, and R F Mueller. 1998. ¬†“Attitudes of Deaf Adults Toward Genetic Testing for Hereditary Deafness.”¬†American Journal of Human Genetics¬†63 (4): 1175-1180. doi:10.1086/302060

Stern, S J, KS Arnos, L Murrelle, K Oelrich Welch, W E Nance, and A Pandya. 2002. ¬†“Attitudes of Deaf and Hard of Hearing Subjects Towards Genetic Testing and Prenatal Diagnosis of Hearing Loss.”¬†Journal¬†of Medical Genetics¬†39 (6) (June): 449-453.

Featured image: also from the Deaf Arts Festival. Photo courtesy of Silvia.