The story I'm thinking of is from the 80s, and it's set in a world where the Great Depression never ended, and so in the "present day" the main character, a wanderer, stumbles upon a society of deaf-mutes. This all came to pass because of a drug that created deformities in children when ingested by pregnant women (like the thalidomide controversy) and so years ago a group of these people set out to create their own society in the middle of nowhere - I think it was in the desert. This man approaches the outskirts of the village and sees a man approaching on a cart. The wanderer only realizes belatedly that the man can't see or hear him. I think the man on the cart might have used a pole so he could feel where the road's boundaries were by whacking it against the fence posts on either side. The wanderer follows the man and encounters a strange sight: braille paths to different buildings. The paths had different patterns that corresponded to particular locations. I believe as a consequence the inhabitants walked barefoot, and I believe they communicated by "writing" in each others' palms. I think the wanderer befriended a little girl, who took him to a cafeteria of sorts in a pitch-black building. That's all I remember.

marked as duplicate by FuzzyBoots story-identification Jan 5 at 17:45

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To quote my prior answer:

This is John Varley's The Persistence of Vision where the original founders of the community of Keller are blind, deaf, and mute as a result of an outbreak of German Measles. Their children are not hereditarily disabled, but it is suggested by the end that they may choose to eliminate their senses of sight and hearing.

A keen drifter describes the dismal political state of the world following a general collapse. He comes upon a commune of people who are blind, deaf, and mute. Much of the story details the culture and personal habits of the people. As their main cultural activity the commune uses different levels of touch-based communication on a regular basis, perhaps 3-4 times a week, in group sessions. These occur after work done during the days. Through these sensory communication encounters the protagonist develops strong bonds with several of the members.

The commune members emphasize mutual understanding to overcome their physical limitations. Their rich use of unspoken/unseen tactile language is used to establish intense clarity about others, a depth of clarity unobtainable using the senses of hearing and vision conventionally. Sex is part of their communication language.

Varley carefully steers clear of representing the blind/deaf commune as a Utopia; they have financial problems, crop failures, criminal justice enigmas, etc. Nevertheless, the commune is clearly free of most of the evils pervading the rest of society. The supposition is this is owed to the unusual high level of communication and sensitivity toward each people achieved on a regular basis. The novella progresses to suggest a higher level of interpersonal clarity and communication is achievable without conventional seeing and hearing; that, being blind and deaf offers unforeseen advantages in interpersonal and even spiritual clarity. The story raises the question, "Is being blind and deaf a handicap, or is it a blessing?" The reader is left to judge.

I found an audiobook version of the story. It ends with the drifter returning to the commune of Keller, which is largely deserted, and he is told by one of the remaining residents that "they're gone", that they have "***ed" and that it "was glorious". She then gifts him with deafness and blindness so that he might learn to also "live in the lovely quiet and dark".

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    It was a story I very much enjoyed. – FuzzyBoots Jan 5 at 4:13
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    That's it for sure. – Organic Marble Jan 5 at 4:26
  • Thanks! This is it. – user109599 Jan 5 at 17:45
  • ^_^ I hope you enjoy it. It's a good story. – FuzzyBoots Jan 5 at 17:45

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