Mass shooting in Maine affects deaf community

The downtown area of Lewiston, Maine. Photo credit: Kenneth C. Zirkel, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 DEED

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The mass shooting in Lewiston, Maine on Oct. 25 left 18 people dead, and had a disproportionate effect on Maine’s Deaf* community. CBS News reported that four of the 18 killed were Deaf. The Maine Educational Center for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing and the Governor Baxter School for the Deaf are located nearby, on Mackworth Island. 

The New York Times article on the same subject contained additional background information on Maine’s Deaf community. Since it may be behind a paywall, I’ll summarize what I learned. There is a small Deaf community in Maine. Unfortunately, these Deaf people have been traumatized by years of physical and sexual abuse at state institutions — pain that was compounded by a delayed apology and compensation from the state. In addition to the four Deaf people killed, three of the 13 people injured in the mass shooting were also Deaf. They were all friends enjoying a bowling outing.

Among those killed were American Sign Language interpreter Joshua Seal, who had become well-known when he signed beside the state’s public health director during COVID briefings. Seal also established Maine’s only summer camp for Deaf children two years ago. Seal’s widow said he would often say, “if you want it to be different, then change it.” That’s reminiscent of the statement often attributed to Mahatma Gandhi: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

That resonated with me. When I became a noise activist about nine years ago, I realized that reducing noise wouldn’t happen by itself. If I wanted it to be quieter, I would have to work at it. Fortunately, I found peers at The Quiet Coalition and Quiet Communities, Inc. and contacts in other cities and countries who were also concerned about noise and its adverse effects on people, animals and the environment. The world is still too noisy, but thanks to advances in technology that make battery-powered landcare equipment, electric vehicles and even electric airplanes possible, progress is being made.

*Deaf is spelled with a capital “D” by many deaf people to signify their Deafness as a source of pride and identity.

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