Category Archives: American Sign Language

Death to Deafness: Part 1


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 The author aged 5, wearing massive earphonesalso 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?

Next – Today & the Future’s Realities on Educating the Deaf


Death to Deafness: Part 2


(Continuation from Part 1)

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: TribTown.com IBJ.com).

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


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