Protactile is a new language used by the deaf blind. I’ve known blind people and I’ve known deaf people, but I’ve never met someone who is deaf and blind. And as we know from the history of Helen Keller, they not only exist, they are able to communicate. How they do that has been an evolution and will no doubt continue. In Helen Keller’s day people could communicate by spelling words in the other’s hands. Then sign language and Braille were developed, and over time deaf blind people realized they were somehow not given the same consideration as others, they had to adapt to others’ way of communicating. For example signing involves the use of the space around the person, certain signs depend on it, not much use to a blind person. The deaf blind then had to depend on interpreters and that made them less independents. In 2005 a group of deaf blind women who were then at the Deaf Blind Service Center in Seattle began to seek another way, for them a better way. They use touch. They sit with knees touching and use touching to communicate. Different gestures have come to mean certain words, usually what the word means or evokes. The word oppression can be expressed by pushing down on the arm or thigh. A large car will be translated with something that means it is heavy such as a weight upon the arm or some other gesture conveying the importance of the car. A pat on the back is a sign that the person is here. As a more formal way of communicating Protactile was developed about 15 years ago by Jelica Nuccio a deaf blind person at the center in Seattle. She is now aided by one of her co-founder Aj Granda and was later joined by John Clark and together they founded the Deafblind Interpreting National Training and Resource Center through which they teach this new language which has attracted the attention of linguists who are beginning to think of it as a language all its own. Having had a sister who was a quadriplegic and could not move at all I am familiar with the handicaps humans can conquer and still thrive. Protactile is not only a reminder it stands as a testament to that conquering and thriving.
The pandemic has accelerated something that began a long while ago, something that could be called the ethos of work. Back in the 50’s and 60’s one did what the employer wanted. Award winning movies of that era like The Man in The Grey Flannel Suit or The Apartment depict the personal sacrifices an employee had to make in order to climb the corporate ladder or even in some instances keep their job. Slowly the balance has shifted and selling out to the corporation or company that employs you in some circles has become a taboo. People want a job that fits within their ethical views, a job that has meaning. The pandemic contributed to a change in the 9 to 5 model being outdated, but it also accelerated the meaning of work. People are earning more and they are demanding more, they want better work conditions, but also they want all this within a job that fits their values and sometimes personalities. Instead of fitting themselves to the demands of the job, they expect the job to fit withing their demands and expectations. This is particularly so of millennials and the younger generation Z. There are no studies as yet that document this, yet researchers are noticing the shift. What I think is relevant is that whereas work was something one had to do and which was usually outside the main of one’s life, work now has to be more a part of oneself, has to reflect who one is. The word passion is used a lot by those describing the change, people want to feel passionate about the job they have. There are exceptions of course, compromises one willingly makes, or perhaps even people who have to accept the work there is whether or not they are passionate about it, but it does not change the trend, the movement forward that equality between employee and employer is gaining momentum.
Spain as we know is a conservative Catholic country. Yet in 1985 it decriminalized abortion in the case of rape, an abnormal fetus or harm to the physical or psychological health of the mother. In 2014 the law was widened to be abortion on demand for the first 14 weeks of pregnancy. In practice the law worked mainly for doctors working in private clinics, those working in public hospitals often refused to perform the procedure. The legality of abortion didn’t of course stop anti-abortion activists, including right to life groups there. 89% of women seeking an abortion reported that they had felt harassed and 66% felt they had been threatened. Now Spain has criminalized harassment or intimidation of women seeking an abortion. It means that anti-abortion activists who try to convince women not to have abortions could face up to a year in jail. The law applies mainly to protests outside abortion clinics but also to the harassment or intimidation of the health care professionals who work there. The legislation was proposed by the prime minister who now plans to go further, making sure that public hospitals are able to practice abortion and also go still further, making it possible for 16- and 17-year-olds to have an abortion without parental consent, something that is possible in France and the UK.
Abortion is a divisive issue in the United States, and the example of deeply religious countries is instructive and encouraging. When abortion is legal in countries like Spain and Mexico, it suggests that somehow, down the road, however far down, the right and freedom to choose in the United States will have to prevail.
It is now a norm that women either keep their own names when they marry or hyphenate their own names with that of their spouse. And yet this norm does not yet apply to the children. But the Constitutional court in Italy is changing that. It just overturned the tradition that a child is only given the father’s name and ruled that they should be given that of both parents. It said that the current practice was detrimental to the identity of the child. In its statement however the court said that both parents need to make the decision. They can decide the order in which the names appear or even decide on only one name. The court’s decision though is only a beginning. Parliament now needs to take it up and legislation needs to be passed in order to implement it. But the Family minister is taking up the issue and said that it should be a high priority and an urgent tasks for politicians to be involved.
Italy’s constitutional court’s decision is a first. No one else has so openly decreed that a child ought to have both his parents surnames. While it does look like the parliament will indeed take it up, in a way it no longer matters what happens. It’s like putting toothpaste back in a tube. It’s surprising that it took so long for the issue to be officially raised and be declared a part of a child’s identity. It’s so logical. I don’t know which country will take it up next, but I do know that many parents have begun to give their children both surnames, or some combinations that acknowledges both sides. It may be that whether or not it is ever made into law anywhere will be secondary if not superfluous.