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?