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In Bainy Cyrus's All Eyes, she tells about her life growing up in both the deaf and the hearing world. Bainy first attended Clarke School for the Deaf in Northampton, MA, where she learned to speak and struggled with language development. It was typical for a deaf child to cope with delayed English language in the 1960s and 1970s. After seven years at Clarke, Bainy began to face difficulties in regular school but eventually overcame obstacles in the hearing world, at times with humor. She also relates the importance of her lifelong friendships with two girls Cheryl and Diane she met at Clarke, and how the different paths that they took influenced her as an adult.
Bainy entered the world in 1961 with a hidden handicap. Her mother had unknowingly contracted a mild case of rubella during her pregnancy with Bainy. When Bainy reached two years without a single spoken word, her concerned parents took her to Baltimore for hearing tests. It was then she was diagnosed as having severe-to-profound nerve deafness.
At age five Bainy faced a traumatic experience of being sent several hundred miles away to Clarke School for the Deaf by her reluctant parents. Lacking any kind of communication, she could not be reassured that she was not being deserted. However Bainy grew to adapt to this reputable oral school, thanks to the compassionate teacher Miss Miller who also lived at her dormitory. Since Clarke School had a majority of in-state students, Bainy was only one of the few that could not go home every weekend. It would have been disheartening if not for those two families of her best friends Cheryl and Diane who took her home on alternate weekends. Even 40 years later they have greatly influenced Bainy’s life because early on their working-class culture taught her, a doctor’s daughter, to appreciate all kinds of people.
During her seven years at Clarke Bainy cherished her friendships with Cheryl and Diane, sharing humorous adventures surrounded by strict teachers and weary housemothers. She and her classmates went through a long grueling process of oral education while their language development inched along slowly like an unabridged Webster dictionary. Understanding their delay behind hearing peers, Bainy and her deaf friends still felt comfortable in their unusual deaf world where sign language was banned. All they could do was lipread and make informal hand gestures.
Bainy’s world suddenly changed when her parents brought her home for good. At the age of eleven and with the vocabulary of a kindergartner’s, she had great difficulty dealing with regular school and hearing kids. It took Bainy a couple of painful years to grow accustomed to the hearing world. Still, it wasn’t easy all the way through college as she had to face depression and loneliness in a world where there was very little understanding, preferably ignorance, of deafness. However Bainy managed to combat negative feelings after college with the help of her loving, yet boisterous, family.
Over the years Bainy kept in close touch with Cheryl and Diane who also went to regular school after Clarke. They shared hearing-world experiences in their letters, both painful and humorous. Bainy visited them during summers, yet there was slight discomfort among them because she was much more adapted to the hearing world than Cheryl and Diane were. Since she had spent over a decade fighting successfully for acceptance by the larger world, Bainy was upset that Cheryl had later joined the Deaf community whose only means of communication is American Sign Language. Her heart sinking, Bainy felt a silent conflict with Cheryl because they were in different cultures. Diane, on the other hand, had a “both ways” culture: she was in the hearing world but still stayed with her circle of deaf friends.
When Clarke School had a large reunion twenty years after her departure, Bainy was shocked to see nearly all of her old friends using official sign language. She learned later that most of the Clarke students, deafer than her, were not socially and academically content in the hearing world and marched on to deaf colleges where they learned sign language. That prompted Bainy to do research on deafness which she realized is the most controversial disability of all. Oralism versus Sign Language. Cochlear Implant versus Deaf Culture. Special Education versus Mainstreaming.
Much to her surprise, Bainy had known little about her own disability. She finally learned why her voice would never sound natural despite some perfectly pronounced words. And why her writing and reading levels were always below average throughout high school and college. Most of all, Bainy learned that happiness was the most important thing for a deaf person, regardless of what type of communication and lifestyle he or she chose. This discovery encouraged her to finally accept Cheryl’s decision to join the Deaf community and Diane’s decision to stick with her signing friends.
Bainy also began taking sign language classes and joined a local deaf organization. With a strong motivation to learn more about deafness, she attended meetings to hear about numerous options such as cued speech and ASL/English combinations. During social outings Bainy swapped tales with parents of deaf children and people with the same disability. Since today is more flexible than the 1960’s when she first attended Clarke School, Bainy learned to be open-minded about viewpoints of deafness. As of today, she believes happiness is extremely important for a hearing-impaired person; therefore he or she should have his own choice of communication and lifestyle. And be accepted.
Though they all are in different worlds, Cheryl and Diane will always be Bainy’s dearest friends. Those girls can now talk, lipread, sign, laugh, and be merry – without feeling a tiny tinge of conflict as they did in the past.
"The interesting fact is that deaf people are exceptionally keen with their eyes, able to detect the slightest movement several yards away. Because they have little or none of the auditory sense, deaf people treat their eyes as the number one sense for communication, education, security, and even entertainment. Deaf people are extremely visual. They 'hear' with their eyes. They read speech. They read sign language. They read facial and body languages. They read TTYs. They read closed captions. They become alert to blinking lights of special devices. Deaf people are all eyes. That’s how I feel about myself. I don’t know what would happen if I lost my eyes. How on earth did Helen Keller get by?"
Fascinating Memoir of Deafness
"All Eyes" by Bainy B. Cyrus is a brave, eye-opening and enlightening book on growing up deaf in both hearing and deaf worlds. Born in 1961, she was a happy and seemingly healthy baby, until her family realized that she was not reacting to even the loudest of voices. The subsequent tests determined that she had severe hearing loss and her parents decided to enroll her in a very highly-thought-of school of oralism, Clarke. The only problem with Clarke was that it was some 700 miles away, and Bainy was only 5-years-old. It is hard to imagine the challenges she faced at such an early age, being separated from her parents and three brothers, but luckily she loved the school and the teachers there, and she also developed a life-long friendship with two girls, Cheryl and Diane, whom she met at Clarke and whose families all but adopted her and offered her love and support.
Reading "All Eyes" brought back a lot of memories. I grew up playing with my next door neighbor, Anita, who was deaf, as well as her brother Jani, who was not. I never felt that we played any differently as the other kids, and I clearly remember going to a neighborhood dance and seeing Anita dance to the beat, and looking really good doing it. But reading "All Eyes" I finally realized how many challenges Anita faced, and how well she overcame them if I never felt her to be any different from the rest of us. Bainy's explanations of how tough it is for a deaf child to learn how to talk, and to react appropriately in society without being able to hear all of the auditory clues, as well as her explanations about oralism (lip reading/speaking) versus signing, were truly eye-opening. Her quotes about the extremely low success rate of marriage between a deaf and a hearing partner (according to some sources as low as three percent) made me think about how wide the gap (or rather a chasm) between the hearing and the deaf worlds was, and how little we tend to do to bridge it. As Bainy says several times in her book, deaf people are not stupid. They just learn differently and they need others to understand that and be patient with them.
What could have been a rather heartbreaking or distressing story ended up to be an uplifting and optimistic reading. A lot of factual information mixed with a healthy dose of humor and a ton of honesty turned "All Eyes" into a rare gem - a book about a real challenge that made me both smile and think. I wish everybody would read it and think about it. As author Bainy B. Cyrus says at the very end of the book, "Finally, this memoir has another goal: to encourage the majority to learn and appreciate a disability of any kind in general. It's time to break ground and get to work. We need to build a bridge and cross it soon. It has been too long."
Reviewed by Olivera Baumgartner-Jackson for Reader Views (11/10)
Highly Recommended and Eye-Opening!
The struggles and achievements of a woman born deaf in the 1960's and her determination to fit into both the deaf and hearing worlds are the focus in All Eyes: A Memoir of Deafness by Bainy B. Cyrus.
Born in 1961 to delighted parents and three older brothers, Bainy Cyrus was a happy, healthy baby. However, by eighteen months, family members noticed she wasn't responding to loud noises or making normal baby babblings. Several trips to pediatricians were inconclusive with autism and aphasia suspected but not diagnosed. Finally, after months of hearing tests at John Hopkins Hospital, it was concluded that she had significant hearing loss. It was determined that oralism (speaking/lip reading) was the best approach to teach Bainy to speak. With a sound amplifying hearing-aid and repetitive training Bainy would learn to read lips and to, at last, talk. However, the only reputable oral school was Clarke School and it was 700 miles away in Massachusetts. Five-year-old Bainy was taken to Clarke where she would live while her parents would return home to Virginia. One can only imagine the traumatic experience of being left without family present at such a young age.
Clarke School for the deaf was a strict and old fashioned school established in 1867. Bainy made lasting friendships and, with the help of a special teacher, Miss Miller, began her life long journey to acceptance into the hearing world. Despite her limited vocabulary and misunderstanding of cliché and humor, Bainy would leave Clarke after seven years for regular public school as a 12-year-old in grade 3. Overcoming the difficulties of deafness, including the misconceptions of hearing classmates, would be an everyday challenge for Bainy at regular grade schools and into college. Later, she would be rejected by a deaf community who prefer sign language over oralism.
It is no wonder that All Eyes: A Memoir of Deafness is a well-reviewed, award-winning memoir. This is an eye-opening and at times heartbreaking look into a world with which many of us have little experience or knowledge. Bainy's early life was not easy by any means, however, the author does not ask for pity. Instead, she shows how life's problems can be overcome with humor, hard work, and a strong network of friends and family. This book shows the many misconceptions about deafness that existed in the 60's and those continuing to hamper hard-of-hearing and deaf people today. The book flows well and is clearly presented. Bainy B. Cyrus packs a great deal of private facts and hard found life lessons into these 126 pages. I highly recommend this always entertaining and often emotional story.
By William R. Potter for Reader's Choice Book Reviews
Author Bainy B. Cyrus' book, All Eyes: A Memoir of Deafness, is the story of a woman who has found her footing in both the hearing and deaf worlds. Cyrus reveals her strength and determination as she walks the reader through many of the milestones of her life from being diagnosed with hearing loss as a toddler through her transformation into a knowledgeable, independent woman. This is an inspiring story that will have an impact on members of the deaf and hearing communities.
"By the time I was eighteen months old, my parents sensed something wasn't right with me (1)." The signs of Cyrus' disability included a general lack of fussiness, no verbal communication, and no response to loud noises. Doctor's initially suspected autism, but this was ruled out when a specialist witnessed Cyrus interacting with her parents. Cyrus was classified as hard of healing and in the book she explains how this differs from profound hearing loss: "...the audiologist found that I could start hearing at 70 decibels in the low-frequency range (4)."
Cyrus was diagnosed during the early 1960's when sign language was viewed as a less acceptable option for deaf children. Her parents were thus encouraged to talk to her in order to stimulate speech. She was enrolled in therapy sessions to teach her how to verbalize and read lips. This began the family's approach to dealing with Cyrus' deafness through oralism. Later in her life, Cyrus would learn that there is on-going conflict within the deaf community regarding oralism versus signing.
This book is a powerful educational tool for the deaf as well as the hearing. Cyrus enlightens the reader by explaining that there are a variety of levels of deafness and that some sound is actually perceived at each level. She is honest about the emotional adversity she suffered as a young woman trying to find a fit in the hearing world. What I found most enlightening about Cyrus' book were her discussions about the conflicts in the deaf community regarding the individual decision to be steeped in the deaf world as opposed to assimilating into the hearing world or even making the choice to live somewhere in the middle. The author's perspective is a valuable resource for hearing parents of deaf children. She writes in great detail about her experiences in college, making independent decisions as an adult, and the attitudes of those of the hearing community constantly confronting her. Cyrus's decision to learn everything she could about her own disability changed her perspective about her life and how she would live it moving forward.
In many ways, All Eyes is a story that illustrates the growth and development of a woman from childhood through to adulthood. It is a story of struggle and enlightenment. It is a story of inspiration. Cyrus validates the difficulties associated with being deaf while also demonstrating that obstacles can be overcome and that having a disability does not stop a person from living a full, happy, normal life. I highly recommend this book.
Melissa Brown Levine for Independent Professional Book Reviewers
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