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All my best,
~ A Deaf Pundit
This blog has moved to a new domain: http://thedeafedge.org
Be sure to update your bookmark and RSS feeds!
All my best,
~ A Deaf Pundit
Barry Strassler, the owner of DeafDigest, an email newsletter, is notorious for adding people to his email newsletter against their will. He has been doing this for years, and there are multitudes of people who have complained about his conduct. In fact, FakeDeafDigest on Twitter (likely a victim of the DeafDigest spam) mocks the email newsletter because of this.
I personally have attempted to unsubscribe repeatedly via two ways: clicking on the unsubscribe link in his emails, and contacting him personally to remove me. All unsubscribing attempts have failed.
Therefore, I have now taken the step of contacting all of his advertisers and requested that they cease their sponsorship of DeafDigest. I strongly encourage all of you to do the same. Spam is unacceptable and you do not sign up people to email lists without their permission!
DeafDigest’s advertisers are:
Please take the time to contact these companies and request they cease their sponsorship of the spam email newsletter, DeafDigest.
Yesterday afternoon, incredible events unfolded in my city, Grand Rapids, Michigan. A man went on an unprecedented murderous rampage, shooting and killing 7 people. After murdering these 7 individuals, he fled by car and at one point, had over 20 police cars and a helicopter pursuing him on the major highways. After his car was no longer drivable, (after his tires were blown and crashing into several police cars), the gunman ended up fleeing on foot and broke into a home. He subsequently took 3 individuals inside, hostage. One hostage was freed during negotiations. The standoff ended several hours later, near midnight, where he committed suicide. All of the remaining hostages were able to safely evacuate afterwards.
I was first alerted by this when I was emailed by the local television station with the headline, “Breaking News!” … I turned on the television to watch this situation, but captions were spotty in the beginning, and the media was being kept at a distance throughout the crisis. So there wasn’t very much information being shared, and this was all happening just over a couple of miles away from me.
Hoping to get more information on this unfolding situation, I hopped on Twitter and Facebook. One friend on Facebook both had a police scanner and lived a couple of houses over from where the gunman was holding the 3 hostages. Another friend on Twitter was retweeting one of his friend’s police scanner updates.
As a Deaf person, I was not able to follow the police scanner and keep closely apprised on this situation. I deeply appreciated the fact that Twitter and Facebook were there for me because if not for these two sites, I would not have been able to also keep my local Deaf friends and I updated as quickly on the situation. Not only were the captions spotty in the beginning, but throughout the entire crisis, the media was approximately 5-10 minutes behind. This could have been dangerous in some instances because multiple roads, highways, and even some businesses were shut down and barricaded.
Twitter (and Facebook to some extent), in emergency situations such as this, truly served as a radio for us Deaf. In my opinion, every deaf person should get a Twitter account for one reason – to keep abreast as much as possible when emergency situations arise. The only drawback to this scenario is that you have to be following the right people on Twitter in order to keep updated, which can be sometimes difficult to predict in advance.
But it worked out well in my case. Not only was I able to keep my local Deaf friends apprised, but also for several hours I was being the central news source on this crisis, for my entire network on Twitter. Social media for the win!
Today, if one asked the average hearing person how they would picture a deaf person, odds are they would either think of the elderly, Marlee Matlin, or a baby with cochlear implants. It is very likely that they would not picture a regular, everyday person who speaks American Sign Language [ASL]. And it is also probable, prior to Marlee Matlin and cochlear implants, that they would have pictured one much like the photo shown here.
It is an incontrovertible truth that for the majority, the concept of deafness centers upon the ear and one’s ability to articulate speech well. It is also a given for the majority, that being deaf is unacceptable. It is this very concept that has sparked a 130+ year long ideological and pedagogical war, (infamously kicked off at the 1880 Milan Conference), that continues to this day.
However, there are some who claim that this war does not truly exist today. They deny that there is an active opposition of ASL, nor a concerted effort to eliminate it and other signed languages from the field of Deaf Education and elsewhere. A few even claim that while favoring the majority’s concept of deafness, they accept & support ASL for others. They also make heavy insinuations and sometimes, outright claims, that there is merely a one-sided war, coming from the signing Deaf Community. They accuse us of being in denial about the “miracle” of technological advancements, and today’s and the future realities of educating deaf and hard of hearing children.
All of these claims have been used in response in the wake of outcries over recent events in Deaf Education, and particularly to the protests over the recent Indiana School of the Deaf board appointments.
The AG Bell Association and the LSL Doctrine
Now, before we even begin to address these claims, it is important to understand precisely what the controversial 3 ISD board members stand for. They are members of Hear Indiana, a state chapter of the AG Bell Association. The national organization is the namesake of Alexander Graham Bell, a man who advocated for the sterilization of the deaf, and for a ban on deaf inter-marriages. And, last but not least, he is the one who spearheaded the elimination of ASL from the field of deaf education in the United States, in the aftermath of the 1880 Milan Conference.
Clearly, today the AG Bell Assoc. and its chapters no longer advocates for these two former ideals, since they are held to be in violation of human rights. However, it should be noted that to this day, the AG Bell Association and its chapters have not denounced nor disavowed these ideals held by this man.
And still to this day, these organizations uphold the doctrine that speech is superior to signed languages, in educating the deaf. This doctrine is best known today as the Listening and Spoken Language [LSL] philosophy. [Note: this was formerly known as the Audio-Verbal Therapy (AVT)]. AG Bell Assoc. and its chapters clearly and openly support and promote the LSL doctrine, as evidenced here on their ‘For Parents’ section. On that page, AG Bell offers a link for parents to find a local Listening and Spoken Language Specialist. The AG Bell Assoc. is also hosting a LSL symposium July 21-23, 2011 in Washington, D.C.
So what exactly is the Listening and Spoken Language doctrine? A synopsis of this doctrine is provided here:
“It is truly integrating hearing into the child’s personality so that the child becomes assimilated into our community. It is both embracing and fostering a lifestyle that enables children, in spite of their deafness, to achieve their rightful places in our society. It is a means by which children with significant hearing loss are taught how to hear, how to listen, how to understand the language of their normally hearing parents, and how to effectively speak that same language.”
It is clear from this description that LSL proponents reject signed languages and a positive identity of a Deaf person. After all, signed languages do not conform to the concept of assimilating into the hearing community. Nor does signed languages help with the “integrating hearing into the child’s personality.” But that’s not all what their doctrine encompasses. On the very same website, it proclaims the following:
“Today, there is no need for our children to be deaf. Today, with all the hearing technology available to us, implementing the Auditory Verbal Approach should be the first option for our children.”
It cannot be overstated how integral technological advancements i.e., hearing aids and cochlear implants, are to the LSL doctrine. And so, this is what the 3 recent ISD board appointees stand for. This doesn’t appear to be very accepting of ASL and a positive identity of a Deaf person, does it?
Today’s and the Future’s Realities on Educating the Deaf
This now leads us into the matter of the accusations made against us Deaf Community members of being in denial about today’s and the future realities of Deaf Education.
So, let’s look at some statistics regarding today’s reality in Deaf Education. It’s reported that as of April 2009, approximately 25,500 children in the country have cochlear implants.
Now, there is a specific claim regarding cochlear implants, where it is said that “profoundly deaf kids can hear and discriminate all the sounds of spoken language.” It is true for some – it is undeniable that for some profoundly deaf children, the cochlear implant does succeed in this regard.
However, if this claim was universally true, then the CI surgeons wouldn’t have a problem guaranteeing this for all who receive it. But that does not happen. Why? Because just like any other surgery, there are going to be variables in the results. This Medical Today News article indirectly acknowledges that reality. And if the CI was universally successful in this regard, then the majority of the implanted children would not be receiving special education services under IDEA. But the majority still are today.
Onwards to deaf education itself, it is reported that 52% of the deaf and hard of hearing children are taught via the speech only method. This conversely means that 46% of the deaf and hard of hearing children use signed languages and/or sign systems.
Interestingly enough, the educational environment statistic conflicts with LSL proponents’ claim that 89% of the deaf and hard of hearing children do not use signed languages or sign systems. This claim has been one method, out of several methods, in convincing naïve parents that it isn’t worth using signed languages with their deaf children.
Another method in convincing the naïve parents to favor the LSL doctrine is the argument that the State Schools of the Deaf do not perform very well on testing scores, therefore ASL must not be very good in educating deaf and hard of hearing children.
They ignore experts in the Deaf Education field, such as the superintendent of ISD’s letter to the Indy Star, citing the reason for the drag on testing scores as the result of “parents who chose only a spoken-English approach and then waited until their child failed to show progress before introducing a visual language forces a school like ISD to play catch-up.”
That is today’s reality in Deaf Education and has been for the last several decades. Same song, different verse. Why would it change anytime soon? And still, even in the face of these facts, they want us to believe their claims that technological feats will conquer all, that they accept ASL and do not actively oppose the language?
An Ideological & Pedagogical War Today – Yes or No?
Given all of this, it stands to reason that yes, indeed, the ideological & pedagogical war is still raging on today in Deaf Education. Just because the war is fought differently today, does not mean it no longer exists.
However, I must confess that I did not fully appreciate just how differently, until all of this happened. As I read up on the recent events in Deaf Education, more and more disturbing questions arose.
Such as why did the Hear Indiana executive director make this statement to the media, “… Hear Indiana does not want to eliminate sign language, she said. But ISD receives an inordinate amount of state support, Horton said, noting that it receives $18 million from the state to teach sign language to almost 350 students.”? (Source:
This statement at first puzzled me. If I were in the shoes of the Hear Indiana executive director, my response to the media would have been: “We have had no hand in the new appointments to the ISD board. Our focus is on informing and advocating for our educational philosophy. We only involve ourselves very superficially with other entities that do not share our views.”
It is highly probable that this response would’ve been well received in the media, and it has the additional bonus of not really giving the Deaf Community anything to pounce upon. It was only when I went back and looked at a PDF by Hear USA that was written several years ago, that the pieces clicked together for me.
Hear Indiana did have a hand in the selection of the new ISD board appointees. The organization knows, from witnessing the recent entanglements of the Deaf Community with like-minded organizations, to only deny when they can get away with it.
And when Hear Indiana says they do not want to eliminate sign language, they mean they aren’t going to enter the schools and outright throw out signed languages.
After all, the International Congress on the Education of the Deaf formally rejected the resolutions of the 1880 Milan Conference. And then, there’s the sticky matter of the high probability of successful lawsuits being brought against them. Parental choices reign in the matter of education, and they have the legal right to use signed language in the instruction of their deaf children.
No, they aren’t going to outright eliminate ASL. You see, in the Hear USA PDF that was passed onto me, the last page had a list of questions that they wanted to explore. “What would it mean to conquer deafness?”
“What would businesses and institutions have to do?”
“What would be the costs?”
“Who will pay for it?”
“How would the market for implants, hearing aids, and audiology and otology services grow?”
“What and how rapid would be the impact on Gallaudet University and schools and centers for the deaf?”
“What would happen to American Sign Language and Deaf Culture?” …
And in a side box, they hypothesize that in 2010 this would happen:
Gallaudet University receives Congressional approval to expand enrollment of non-US students to 80 percent, in stages, between 2010 and 2020, so that Gallaudet can serve students from countries where hearing aids and cochlear implants are not available to the bulk of the population. This shift compensates for the declining enrollment of US students due to newborn screenings and intervention via hearing aids or implants. The legislation expands the Washington campus and deploys faculty and graduates to create campuses in Africa, Latin America, China, India and Eastern Europe; and funds Gallaudet through the World Bank and the US Agency for International Development.
Obviously, this hasn’t happened yet. But it does hint extremely well at their plans for the State Schools of the Deaf and elsewhere. We only need to look at the Utah School of the Deaf for what they will attempt nationally. In the name of budget woes, they will attempt, and already successfully did at USDB, to put ALL deaf children in one school, even with differing educational doctrines.
One administrator leading a school where you have a set of parents who want their children to be immersed in a bilingual environment, and another set of parents who want their children to only use English. Only in Deaf Education would this be acceptable.
This is a war of attrition, in where the majority surrounds the minority, and leads to fighting over resources and money, until the minority is ultimately defeated through sheer numbers.
Indeed… the Hear USA PDF names their plan very aptly. And that plan is called
Death of Deafness
“Let me tell you why you’re here. You’re here because you know something. What you know you can’t explain, but you feel it. You’ve felt it your entire life, that there’s something wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is, but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad.” – Morpheus, The Matrix
This quote was in response to Neo declaring he didn’t believe in fate because he didn’t like the idea of not being in control of his life. As deaf human beings, some of us have that splinter in our minds. But what is it, exactly?
*leans in close and whispers* That splinter in our minds is … audism.
The flawed schema and social construct imposed upon us by human beings who share the notion that deaf human beings are not equal to hearing human beings, and thus are treated accordingly.
Flawed schemata are essentially known as stereotypes and they are generally defined as “unreliable, exaggerated generalizations about all members of a group that do not take individual differences into account” (pg. 18, Schaefer). Keep in mind stereotypes can be both positive and negative. What we term as a negative stereotype is called a prejudice. *looks back and forth at audism and prejudice, then nods*
By acting upon our prejudices, this leads to what is called discrimination. “The behavior that deprives individuals and a group of certain rights and/or opportunities because of prejudice or for other arbitrary reasons” (pg 41, Schaefer). This can be on an individual basis, or on a collective basis.
When enough people share a schema, this turns into a social construct, which is necessary for a culture to exist. Let me break it down even further: individual thoughts can lead to collective thoughts, which in turn becomes part of a culture. And since thought typically leads to behavior, this means members of a culture will behave similarly.
Generally, this isn’t bad but it can lead to problems, like Morpheus explains in the first film, “The Matrix is a system, Neo. That system is our enemy. But when you’re inside, you look around, what do you see? Businessmen, teachers, lawyers, carpenters. The very minds of the people we are trying to save. But until we do, these people are still a part of that system and that makes them our enemy. You have to understand, most of these people are not ready to be unplugged. And many of them are so inured, so hopelessly dependent on the system, that they will fight to protect it.”
In short, it’s a feedback loop. Audism → institutionalized audism → internalized audism.
And if one resists the attempt to internalize audism and it in general, they become like Trinity, Morpheus and the others in the Matrix movies. The freedom fighters for the deaf people, to destroy the idea that deaf are inferior to the hearing. But just how do we destroy audism, and how do we become like Neo, the best freedom fighter of them all?
One key aspect of what made Neo the way he was, is that he understood the Matrix so well that he was able to look at a program and understand how it was constructed. Trinity, Morpheus and the others could do this, but only up to a point. But what made him able to understand the Matrix so well? The first answer is that he knew the programming language of the Matrix. Remember, he was one of the best hackers out there, and that is one of the main reasons why Morpheus contacted him. But despite being one of the best hackers out there, he still struggled to discover the full extent of his abilities.
A main portion of the film is us watching Neo discover the extent of his abilities, and starting to truly believe in himself. There are extraordinary moments where we catch glimpses of his abilities, such as the now infamous bullet-time sequence on the helicopter pad when he goes to rescue Morpheus. But it wasn’t until the end of the first film that Neo was finally able to do this.
In other words, Neo self-actualized. The brief definition of self-actualization is to fully realizeyour potential, as I mentioned in my first blog post, but this doesn’t give a full picture of the concept. So, let’s look at Maslow’s concept of self-actualization – see right for the image of the pyramid showing the hierarchy of needs. Two things happened nearly simultaneously for Neo at the end of the film. He finally believed in himself, therefore gaining the needed self-esteem, and found love and belonging when Trinity told him that she loved him.
When this happened, it led to several things – instead of denying the truth, he accepted it and ultimately, himself. Neo also stopped his prejudices from controlling him. This is significant, because he serves as an example of how even among the best of us, we can and do hold prejudices against our oppressors, and that is one major reason of what holds us back.
*leans in close and whispers with a nod* Reverse audism.
Mahatma Gandhi understood this, and this is what he meant when he declared that we had to be the change we wished to see in the world.
Now, the problem of reverse audism is also compounded by what I call reverse horizontal audism, and this is also illustrated well in the last two films of the Matrix Trilogy. In the Matrix Reloaded film, we meet Commander Lock, who is a natural born – born in Zion, the last bastion of free humans, therefore he does not have a jack in the back of his head. Lock doesn’t understand the Matrix as well as those who were born into the Matrix. He’s also quite prejudiced against Morpheus and his allies because of two main reasons: Morpheus is not natural born like Lock is, and Morpheus repeatedly flouts Zion’s rules.
*looks around innocently* I don’t know about you, but this sure does seem familiar….
Fortunately, there are wiser heads who prevail and allows Morpheus and Neo to proceed on their mission, overruling Commander Lock’s objections and wishes to take the fight completely outside of the Matrix. Because of this, ultimately, Neo and the artificial intelligence reach somewhat of a truce, because Neo’s arch-nemesis, Agent Smith (which is what we could consider to be institutional audism) is such on a rampage that he threatens to take down both the artificial intelligence and the humans. So, Neo successfully takes down Agent Smith, and both intelligences live in somewhat of a peaceful co-existence afterwards.
They finally came to the realization that neither one could exist without the other.
So what does this mean for us? *puts on sunglasses* I think it means you have to know thyself, and of course …
Acknowledgments: I wish to thank MishkaZena and Amy Cohen Efron for the countless hours of dialectic explorations into Deaf Culture, American Sign Language, the psychology of oppression, and Deafhood. And of course, I wish to thank all of the commenters who stop by my blog, especially those who respectfully disagree with me, thereby forcing me to understand my principles and point of views better. This would not have been possible without you. 🙂
Racial & Ethnic Groups, 11th Ed. Richard Schaefer, DePaul University. 2008.
The Matrix, 1999.
The Matrix Reloaded, 2003.
The Matrix Revolutions, 2003.
Wikipedia: Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
For those who haven’t taken the red pill yet, please see my previous blog post in this blog series. Caution: this blog post is heavily technical, but I feel it’s necessary to understand my following posts. The next blog posts will be in layman terms, I promise!
Audism as defined by Dr. Tom Humphries is “the notion that one is superior based on one’s ability to hear or behave in the manner of one who hears.”
As all other words, audism has also evolved in its definition, to reflect the institutionalization of audism. Dr. Harlan Lane wrote, “..the corporate institution for dealing with deaf people, dealing with them by making statements about them, authorizing views of them, describing them, teaching about them, governing where they go to school and, in some cases, where they live; in short, audism is the hearing way of dominating, restructuring, and exercising authority over the deaf community. It includes such professional people as administrators of schools for deaf children and of training programs for deaf adults, interpreters, and some audiologists, speech therapists, otologists, psychologists, psychiatrists, librarians, researchers, social workers, and hearing aid specialists.”
I personally believe that both definitions are accurate, and I will try to prove to you how these definitions are accurate. I am also going to put forth the radical proposition that audism is a product of the Matrix, but it also has become part of the Matrix. Not only that, but there’s more than one Matrix!
Call me crazy, but let’s look at the premises and see if enough of us can agree on these premises or not. So, what is the Matrix? Unfortunately, at this current stage of our human evolution, we cannot directly see the Matrix. But we can indirectly by stepping outside of ourselves, and looking within. More specifically, looking within our minds.
Our minds are poorly understood, but that doesn’t mean it’s not understood at all. There’s a process of our minds that is called schema (schemata is the plural), and that processing helps us collect and organize our knowledge so we can retrieve it later on. I quote from the linked wiki: Schemata are an effective tool for understanding the world. Through the use of schemata, most everyday situations do not require effortful processing— automatic processing is all that is required. People can quickly organize new perceptions into schemata and act effectively without effort. For example, most people have a stairway schema and can apply it to climb staircases they’ve never seen before.
Now, since we human beings are imperfect, our schemata is as well. Without adequate information and knowledge, our schemata takes shortcuts and lumps information into categories, without making any further distinctions, and/or making sub-categories. This is a key way of how stereotypes and prejudices come to be. Every single human being has biases and stereotypes. If they tell you that they don’t, they’re lying.
There is another factor in how our minds work, and that is the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis, also known as the Linguistic Relativity Principle. The basic concept of this theory is that our languages influence our thoughts and behavior. Hence, a person who uses English will think and behave differently than someone who uses Spanish, etc. To what extent language influences our thoughts and behavior is questioned, but nowadays academics agree it does have some effect.
This ties in well with the concept of schemata and I believe this article from Newsweek provides the perfect illustration of this: In Australia, the Aboriginal Kuuk Thaayorre use compass directions for every spatial cue rather than right or left, leading to locutions such as “there is an ant on your southeast leg.” The Kuuk Thaayorre are also much more skillful than English speakers at dead reckoning, even in unfamiliar surroundings or strange buildings. Their language “equips them to perform navigational feats once thought beyond human capabilities,” Boroditsky wrote on Edge.org.
If we have the proper words for something, a concept or an object, we understand it better and are able to react accordingly. This answers the question that was raised on the v/blogs of why the word audism should be used instead of merely using the words discrimination or oppression. Once we have a word for a specific kind of discrimination, the better we can start understanding it, therefore being better able to work around our faulty schemata that causes us to have biases and stereotypes.
Now, obviously language is not individualistic. It is a driving force of a culture, as a matter of fact. This leads to the theory of social constructionism. From Wikipedia: A social construction (social construct) is a concept or practice that is the creation (or artifact) of a particular group. … Social constructs are generally understood to be the by-products of countless human choices rather than laws resulting from divine will or nature.
A major focus of social constructionism is to uncover the ways in which individuals and groups participate in the creation of their perceived social reality. It involves looking at the ways social phenomena are created, institutionalized, and made into tradition by humans. Socially constructed reality is seen as an ongoing, dynamic process; reality is reproduced by people acting on their interpretations and their knowledge of it.
So what does all of this mean? It means, my dear friends, essentially as Walt Kelly said in his comic strip, Pogo, “We have met the enemy … and he is us.”
We are prisoners of our own creation, the Matrixes.
In the next post, all of this is broken down in layman terms, and the issue of horizontal and reverse audism is addressed, in addition to my theory of how to free yourself from the Matrixes.
I offer you all the red pill, in order to explore Deafhood, Audism and Deaf Culture. This will be broken up in several blog posts – at the very most, 3 posts. This will, I hope, free you from the the self and other imposed constructs upon ourselves. In other words – beginning the journey of freeing yourself from the Matrix. 😉
In my previous blog post, Patti Durr left a comment stating this: i believe there is one fundalmental principle within Deafhood though and that a pathological and audist view of being deaf is not part of Deafhood.
This touches upon a main point that I want to clarify and debate on, when it comes to defining audism, but since this is also connected to Deafhood, I believe it’s important to first establish my premises here before going any further. I happen to disagree with Patti’s comment – I think you can have Deafhood, but still be an audist.
A pretty radical statement, I know. But bear with me and read me out. Being a deaf person is a biological thing. It is a statement of fact on whether a person is deaf or not. You use scientific evidence to prove whether s/he is deaf.
A similar analogy would be the color of a person’s skin. Here in the United States, a person who produces a lot of melanin is called black, and a person who doesn’t produce a lot of melanin is called a white person. This is a scientific fact. A person’s color of skin, sexual orientation, gender, hearing status … physical features that are rooted in biological fact, does not have an inherent value to it.
This is an important distinction to make. For one to have Deafhood, one first has to be physically deaf, just like a person has to be physically a woman, to have womanhood and so on. If one is going to argue that a hearing person can have Deafhood, then it can be also argued that a man can have womanhood, which to me doesn’t make sense.
When we talk about -hood, we are talking about a person’s process of coming to terms with things that are an inherent part of themselves, and striving to become a self-actualized person. This means understanding and recognizing the limitations that you have within yourself, and the limitations that society puts on you.
Paddy Ladd’s definition of Deafhood is: A process by which Deaf individuals come to actualize their Deaf identity, positing that those individuals construct that identity to their heightened forms by various factors such as nation, era and class.
This fits in with the process of self-actualization. Now, there are many, many ways to reach self-actualization. What leads one to self-actualization, will not necessarily work for another. And in the process of self-actualization in the sense of Deafhood, you are processing how various factors, such as culture, society’s view of you, your self-perception, has an effect on you and your identity.
Therefore, it can be argued and I believe this is where there is great misunderstanding…. Deafhood is the process of understanding and freeing yourself from the limitations of audism. A self-actualized deaf person will not allow audism to impinge on the maximization of their potential.
Everyone who is deaf has Deafhood. But not every deaf person is self-actualized. Therefore, you can have Deafhood, yet be an audist.
The question now is raised – just what does audism exactly mean?
I will discuss my idea of what audism means in my next blog post, which will be posted within a few days.
Copyright © Jeannette Johnson. All rights reserved.
The Link Between Cochlear Implant Online and C.A.N.
It is not precisely clear what skills C.A.N. is referring to in their FAQ, but when one looks at the Benefits section, the training aspects are outlined. Advocates share their stories, provide resources and so on. This appears to directly fit in what CIO is doing as a cochlear implant resource website. This leads one to easily think that the activities of CIO is solely for being part of the C.A.N. advocacy efforts especially considering the fact that both bloggers, Rachel and Elizabeth are C.A.N. volunteers, and Melissa, which could be arguably called the backbone of CIO, is a C.A.N. volunteer as well. This makes a total of three C.A.N. volunteers involved with CIO.
But could all of this just be a coincidence? That’s difficult to say. Note that Melissa writes, (comment #25), “Therefore, she gets absolutely no compensation from Cochlear for her volunteer work.” But she didn’t state whether CIO was part of their volunteer activities for C.A.N. or not.
Melissa in her comment (#151) writes, “My hope is that Rachel’s generation forward will be able to transcend this bitterness. She put her blog up on DeafRead to show others what is possible today. Whether or not DeafRead reinstates her blog, she’ll still be online just as she was for 7 years before she put her website on DeafRead. Parents will find her, and then they will find only her and so will only hear what she has to say. By booting her from DeafRead, the editors have shot themselves in the foot, for when parents found Rachel’s blog on DeafRead, they found all points of view in one place. Now, instead, they will only find Rachel’s.” [Emphasis added]
There is no way to pinpoint just how active CIO was active before 2006, since like stated previously, the archives only go back to 2006. When one looks through the archives, there is only one entry in the year of 2006.
Then in the year of 2007 there are only four posts. That brings the total of CIO’s entries prior to joining DeafRead in January 2008, to a grand total of five posts. Now, after joining DeafRead, and before being forcibly inactivated by DeafRead, CIO had one hundred three posts on DeafRead in the span of almost five months. That averages to seventeen posts per month.
Just a mere coincidence there?
The Question of Companies and Their Marketing Ethics
Now, there are some who argue that everyone who read CIO and the DR Team should have known C.A.N. was owned by Cochlear Americas because it’s obvious to them. However, if one looks at the C.A.N. website, in my opinion, it is not immediately apparent that this is owned by Cochlear Americas. The website has a garish background, cheap formatting and numerous typos within the FAQ and elsewhere. While there is a link to Cochlear Americas, there is no statement on C.A.N’s website that they are owned by Cochlear Americas. One has to go to the Cochlear website to see that in fact, Cochlear Americas owns C.A.N. The network happens to be also mentioned in Cochlear Americas’ 2007 annual report.
It goes without saying that C.A.N. being managed by a for-profit company that sells the very product that the network advocates for, Cochlear Americas and the rest of the cochlear implant industry can only stand to benefit from it. It is highly dubious that C.A.N. advocates would present any facts that would cast nothing more than a positive light on CI products.
These actions lead to the question of whether CIO and C.A.N. are engaging in the practice of stealth marketing, which is generally considered to be unethical. From the Advertising and Marketing Bulletin, Stealth marketing, a subset of word-of-mouth marketing (“WOMM”) strategies, is marketing that promotes a product without disclosing any direct connection between the advertiser and the message. [Emphasis added]
Not Only Stealth Marketing but Astroturfing?
And this also leads to the question of whether C.A.N. is engaging in not only stealth marketing, but also what is known as astroturfing. Wikipedia defines astroturfing as: The goal of such a campaign is to disguise the efforts of a political or commercial entity as an independent public reaction to some political entity—a politician, political group, product, service or event. Astroturfers attempt to orchestrate the actions of apparently diverse and geographically distributed individuals, by both overt (“outreach”, “awareness”, etc.) and covert (disinformation) means. Astroturfing may be undertaken by anything from an individual pushing one’s own personal agenda through to highly organized professional groups with financial backing from large corporations, non-profits, or activist organizations.
One would think that C.A.N. should know about the ethics of marketing, when their director, Jeff Graunke, clearly stated on his LinkedIn page – which now apparently is no longer available, but here’s a screenshot of it: that clearly states he was a former Regional Sales Manager for Cochlear Americas.
This information is especially disturbing in light of the Federal Trade Commission’s statement, which was published by the Washington Post in 2006, about word of mouth marketing. In the first paragraph of the article, it states: The Federal Trade Commission yesterday said that companies engaging in word-of-mouth marketing, in which people are compensated to promote products to their peers, must disclose those relationships.
How can C.A.N. not know marketing ethics? How can Cochlear Americas and other cochlear implant companies not know this either? How can Melissa, considering her C.A.N. training and her magazine writing/editorial background, not have any problems with this?
In light of all of this information, which I never anticipated to just be several mouse clicks away, I feel quite comfortable in saying that DeafRead was fully justified in removing Cochlear Implant Online from their subscriptions. This appears to go far beyond Cochlear Implant Online and all the way up to Cochlear Americas itself. With each mouse click, I uncover more and more information like this. The connections, links and information seems to be never-ending, and I’ve worked on this for long enough. And I’m pretty sure people who are reading this will take it upon themselves to verify the information, and uncover more information. Who knows what we will find next? I am just left standing here, completely staggered…
Where Is the Full Disclosure?
So, how can the information presented in the previous post be central to this controversy? I’ll tell you what it is: It is reasonable to expect that Melissa and Rachel understand about full disclosure – more so than the average person does. But until CIO’s boot from DeafRead, Melissa and Rachel never disclosed that C.A.N. was owned by Cochlear Americas, which is a for-profit company.
Then there’s the matter of whether Rachel herself benefits in any way from Cochlear Americas, aside from her cochlear implant. While there is no evidence to indicate that Rachel gets compensated for volunteering with C.A.N., it does appear that she indirectly benefits financially from Cochlear Americas itself.
Rachel won a Graeme Clark Scholarship in February 2007 as shown here, which is funded by Cochlear Americas. It is not known how much the scholarship covers her college tuition. While Rachel did disclose that she won this scholarship, she did not make it explicit to the readers that this scholarship was funded by Cochlear Americas.
With CIO, Rachel makes it extremely clear that CIO is solely a cochlear implant resource website. While she does shares about her two C.I. failures in the blog post “Am I Hiding? No…“, she mainly writes about how the CI company handled the failures and how they are researching to improve the product. Rachel then ends the post with this, “The fact is that failure rates for CIs overall are very low. For my brand, Cochlear, it’s about 1%, and there are many people with 15 to 20 – year old Nucleus 22s that are still going strong.”
Would an independent cochlear implant resource website post statistics like the aforementioned one Rachel did?
Then there’s the matter of how extensive are the training and compensation the C.A.N. advocates get and whether they were fully disclosed to the public.
Melissa writes on the CIO blog (comment #25) on June 3, 2008, about compensation: Cochlear volunteers have the option of collecting points which we can use towards Cochlear merchandise, such as batteries, earhooks, etc., but then we have to report this as volunteer income to the IRS. The other option is to simply be a volunteer and not get the points. While I have opted to get the points, Rachel has opted out of receiving points. Therefore, she gets absolutely no compensation from Cochlear for her volunteer work.
Robyn from The Ambling Rambler in the #12 comment, then provides more details: I am not paid for speaking at these events. Occasionally the event manager will give me a cheque as a thank you for speaking, which I in turn donate to The Pindrop Foundation to raise money for Cochlear Implants in New Zealand. They might give me a petrol voucher, and I will gladly use that.
Cochlear will pay any out of pocket expenses, for example, if a talk is a long way out of town, they will pay for a hotel room and a meal, and mileage to get there, but that is all. That covers expenses, but it is still in no way profiteering from it.
It is interesting to note that C.A.N. itself does not discuss compensation in the web pages accessible to the public. So the public does not necessarily know the extent of the compensation the advocates receive.
In the matter of the training the advocates receive from C.A.N., Melissa on June 3, 2008 stated on DeafRead’s Official Blog, regarding the job of the volunteer manager. She writes: The volunteers’ relationship to the manager consists of the following: We email our activities to the manager each month, and she sends out a newsletter periodically containing news such as positive stories from a recent bilateral CI recipient. Rarely is direct guidance contained in the newsletters. In fact, the only such guidance that I can specifically remember was telling us not to get into “brand wars” and telling us not to reply directly to medical questions but, instead, to refer these questions to the physicians. Our regional manager has never instructed us on what to post on blogs or listservs. That is not her function. [Emphasis added]
This appears to be incongruent with the statement made by Melissa on the CIO blog, comment #37 where she states: The only support I’ve gotten from Cochlear is online training in presenting accurate information, which also included strongly worded guidance that we were not to push brand choice. [Emphasis added]
However, both of those statements also appear to be incongruent with Rachel’s manager, Brandy Harvey’s job description. Rachel wrote about Brandy in her June 2, 2008 post, and linked to the article about Brandy. In the article, it explains about what Brandy does in her job. “Brandy joined Cochlear Americas as an Awareness Manager in October of 2006. Brandy recruits, develops & trains volunteers to spread awareness about treatment options for hearing loss and the Cochlear and Baha implants. [Emphasis added]
If what Melissa said is true about volunteers barely getting any guidance, then why did she receive online training and why is Brandy being paid to train volunteers? Then one has to consider C.A.N.’s statement about training in their FAQ on their website: “Cochlear values its Advocates and wants to make sure each has the skills they need. Cochlear regularly takes advocates to their head office in Sydney where a couple of days training takes place. Regular information is provided and soon training will be available to advocates in a members only section of this web-site.”
This, at the very least, appears to make Melissa’s statements appear very inconsistent and raises many questions.