Youtube link, click here (Part II)
In response to a recent press release put out by HEAR Indiana--a chapter of the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf, which is hosting an education conference in Indianapolis, Indiana--the Deaf Bilingual Coalition expresses its dismay in regard to the wording of the headline which shows great disrespect to the Deaf Community by using the phrase: "Doing Deaf Differently." The Deaf Bilingual Coalition is a national grassroots organization supporting Deaf babies' rights to accessible language through American Sign Language.
The theme of the conference is "Building Partnerships," and a list of medical organizations and companies involved as sponsors of the event is included in the press release. The list of presenters includes one oral deaf presenter, but excludes Deaf organizations, well-known research specialists who are themselves Deaf, and also excludes Deaf bilingual-bicultural educators, and Deaf professionals.
While the organizers of the conference boast that they are "Building Partnerships," they are excluding creating partnerships with the very people who are most greatly impacted by what they propose to parents. Were their calls for abstracts, keynote speaker presentations, or applications for exhibits sent to Deaf educators, Deaf researchers, ASL users and Deaf organizations? If so, were any of them accepted? Which specific "partnerships" is HEAR Indiana building? When will Deaf adults--the people who are children of hearing parents, many of whom were raised orally but were later able to find ASL and who also fell in love with their language--be invited to be a part of this type of conference?
Even more important, when will parents get full and accurate information regarding the cognitive, linguistic, social and emotional importance of their child's access to American Sign Language and their child's right to a natural sign language as a primary language regardless of whatever hearing devices their parents might select for their Deaf child? The use of ASL does not hinder Deaf children's ability to acquire spoken language skills, and it actually increases their general language skills by allowing them to be bilingual in two languages, ASL and English (written or spoken).
"Doing Deaf Differently" is clearly a statement of disrespect toward the Deaf community. It is a false concept that is created by and implemented by mostly hearing people, without any input from the bilingual Deaf community (those who are fluent in ASL and English--written and/or spoken). The "Building Partnerships" concept, as stated in the HEAR Indiana press release, is very misleading and does not reflect on or include input and participation from Deaf individuals who live the Deaf experience every day.
Over the past 128 years, proponents of the philosophy of Oralism have unfairly and unethically cornered the market in Deaf education and related services for Deaf children and their families. In reviewing the HEAR Indiana conference program, we do not see anything new in this pathological approach which focuses on "fixing" an "impaired" baby or child. The result is that Deaf children are deprived of the use of a natural and fully accessible sign language, deprived of the opportunity of being bilingual, deprived of the ability to experience normal cognitive development, and deprived of the ability to achieve socio-emotional contentment. This misguided "speaking and listening" or "oral-only" focus, which excludes the use of sign language, does not reflect the best thinking of scholars or experts in the fields of Deaf education and early childhood development, and only builds up false hopes, all in the pursuit of raising a pseudo-hearing child.
At this late date, when HEARING babies are taught to sign and the benefits of signing are recognized for hearing children, educated people should no longer tolerate the ignorance perpetrated by organizations and programs which deny DEAF babies access to natural sign language.
The Deaf community in the US and Canada embraces ASL, the cultural connection that accompanies its use, and the access to a vibrant, clear, and accessible language that it provides. Deaf children of hearing families are thankful to their hearing parents who recognize them as being whole human beings deserving of visual language as well as other communication opportunities, and who do not regard them as being disabled or impaired children who need to be repaired.
The press release quotes Ms. Horton, the executive director of Hear Indiana, as saying:
"It truly is amazing how far we've come. It wasn't that long ago that some cultures relegated the deaf to mental institutions because they didn't know what to do with people who had this disability. Today, modern technology and oral deaf education allow deaf and hard of hearing people to hear, speak, and communicate with their family, friends, and co-workers. That means that a child born today with hearing loss can grow up as part of the hearing world. We truly are doing deaf differently in the 21st century."
Let it be known that Deaf children who grow up with access to American Sign Language from the start, whose parents embrace the learning of ASL, and who attend Deaf Schools, will also "grow up as part of the hearing world." Not only will such children acquire a primary language that is visual, and not only will they develop bilingual fluency more easily (in ASL and also in written, and sometimes even spoken English), but they will have access to BOTH their family's culture AND the culture of the Deaf community that comes with American Sign Language. They will always be proud, independent individuals who have a place in society.
While HEAR Indiana claims to be "building bridges," what they are actually doing is dismantling bridges of social partnership. By continuing to avoid the creation of new partnerships with Deaf experts in the fields of linguistics and Deaf education, more generations of Deaf children will continue to grow up without real fluency in ANY language.
It is time that Deaf people be key players in advising on the decisions that are made for Deaf children, so that they can provide input on questions of language and education, be mentors to hearing parents, and also be respected when they address general issues on behalf of Deaf babies who are not able to speak for themselves.
No one would ever, for example, have the effrontery to attempt to speak for Native American Indians by using the phrase "Doing Native American Differently." By the same token, we cannot grant sanction to attempts to "Do Deaf Differently"--attempts which blatantly and flagrantly exclude the participation of Deaf people themselves.
The Deaf Bilingual Coalition, as well as members of organizations which support this coalition, would like to express how proud we all are of the heritage of American Sign Language and being bilingual. It is our goal to educate the public so that those who are in positions to influence parents and have a positive impact on Deaf babies' lives will become aware that now is the time to build partnerships with Deaf experts and Deaf professionals, so that we will all be able to work for the betterment of Deaf babies’ lives, including promoting their right to be bilingual in ASL and English.
The Deaf Bilingual Coalition, www.dbcusa.org
More information about the upcoming rally, click here.
Hear Indiana on Doing Deaf Differently
Parents’ Testimony about Purdue’s Speech and Hearing Clinic (scroll down to “A Hearing Family’s Story, November 2007)
Other blogs talking about this topic:
ASL and Early Intervention.pdf by Kristen Snoddon
Cognitive Development in Deaf Children.pdf by Rachel Mayberry
ASL-Bilingual Classroom: The Families Perspective.pdf by Bobbie M. Allen
Where does Speech Fit in? Spoken English in a Bilingual Context.pdf by Sharon Graney