Sign language may be the cause of the rising rate of inherited deafness, which has doubled over the past 200 years. The introduction of sign language in the early 1800s allowed deaf people to communicate with other deaf people, leading to marriage and deaf offspring. Researcher Walter Nance says, “In the United States, at least 85% of individuals with profound deafness marry another deaf person.”
More than 100 genes are involved in hearing loss. Because of this, most deaf people have children with normal hearing. But if both parents have a mutation in the connexin gene, they’ll pass it on to their children, who will be born deaf. Nance says, “In the case of marriages among couples who both have the same form of recessive deafness, all their children will be deaf and capable themselves of also passing on the altered gene to their offspring. In addition, as many as 3.5% of the hearing population in the United States may carry single mutations involving the connexin 26 complex, making this one of the most commonly recognized single gene defects.
“In regions where national or state-wide schools for the deaf have been established and marriages among students have occurred, we’ve seen an amplification of the commonest form of recessive deafness in the overall population.”
Nance thinks this may illustrate how humans developed speech. He says, “If you were one of the first primates with an ability to communicate by speaking, wouldn’t you want to select a partner who could whisper sweet nothings in your ear?”
Brian Lamb supports that rights of deaf people to marry and says, “It is not surprising that people with a shared culture of deafness marry?As well as looking at the genetic causes of deafness it is also important for society to develop ways to improve communication for deaf people so that they live active and fulfilled lives integrated in society.”
Those of us who can hear don’t always appreciate what we have. One way to use our ears is to listen to the relaxing, healing sounds of the ocean, turned into magical music.
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