There is Unity in This Beautiful Word, "AND"
Nyle DiMarco’s recent victories with America's Next Top Model and Dancing With the Stars ignited an important dialogue about the importance of Deaf schools, language acquisition with ASL and English, and the legislative movement with LEAD-K. A Deaf blogger, Mark Drolsbaugh, calls this phenomenon, "The Nyle DiMarco Effect." Those important dialogues have brought forth today's shortfalls of Deaf Education policies on language acquisition.
The Nyle DiMarco Effect is also fueling a new level of debate among Deaf people and the parents of Deaf children: What is language acquisition? What is language deprivation? Should all Deaf children learn both ASL and English to avoid the pitfalls of language deprivation? If the families choose ASL and English, where are the resources? Why are the medical and oral only organizations investing so much time and money in listening and speaking ONLY methods and withholding ASL resources?
New topics also arose about whether we want our Deaf children to overcome their deafness or to embrace their Deaf Identity: "overcoming" vs "being." Those questions and discussions became more heated as the Deaf community's researchers and allies have developed sound scientific findings that all Deaf children greatly benefit from signed languages boosting their cognitive skill, critical thinking skills, self-esteem, and core identity.
"Delicate balance between respecting parents' choice vs. Deaf baby's human right to language. Choice is an illusion." -- Amy Cohen Efron (Image description: a makeshift seesaw supported by a stone. The left side is one large stone and the right side is a stack of three stones.)
During the past ten years, after experiencing trials under fire by fighting against surprise legislative pulls such as AB 2072 (California) and HB 1367 (Indiana) sponsored by AGBell's affiliations, Deaf community had become more savvy with educational issues, political and legislative strategies, and media. The more savvy the Deaf community becomes, the greater the backlash by AGBell Association and its affiliates.
(image description: At the right is a photo of a yellow t-shirt with the iconic red circle with slash over AB2072 on a t-shirt. At the left is a graphic design of HB1367 with the same red circle with slash over the bill number).
The Deaf community mobilizes with "Nothing About Us Without Us" while the AGBell Association mobilizes with "Parents' Choices" along with the (hearing) medical community. Who is right about language acquisition, the Deaf community or the medical people of AGBell Association working with the families? The underlying heated discussion between both entities is actually about language rights of Deaf children vs. Parents choice.
Those questions become more urgent as everyday we are witnessing Deaf children growing up without adequate language skills. Who is responsible for the epidemic of language-deprived Deaf children growing up with dismal academic achievement? There is only one answer: AGBell Association needs to be held responsible for causing this epidemic of language deprivation.
And the Deaf community -- especially the survivors of language deprivation-- wants accountability to prevent more Deaf children from the atrocity of language deprivation syndrome, which has been happening for over 136 years now. The Deaf community is also pushing for government accountability for our nation's crisis of language deprived Deaf children.
Someone has to hold Alexander Graham Bell Association accountable. Many of the Deaf people involved in Deaf education are byproducts of AGBell, and they now are speaking out against Oral-only education. The backlash they get from AGBell is "Those people are militants and extremists." The irony of this is that they taught us to speak by withholding ASL, then they try to silence us when we discover and embrace ASL. What is wrong with this picture?
The ironies of Oralism is hurting the Deaf children. (Image description: Moe Klusza iconic satire cartoon art titled The Greatest Irony: At the left is a Deaf baby handcuffed. At the right is a hearing baby signing ILY.)
Our state governments have both moral obligations and legal responsibilities to provide resources and tools for language development and acquisition to ensure that each Deaf child, from birth until the age of five, is acquiring a language ready for Kindergarten. This is what language acquisition accountability is all about. Is this asking for too much?
There’s no doubt that, yes, this is a basic human right issue, which has been overlooked for too many years. As Dr. Roz Rosen would say, "Time for ignorance is OVER.”
Matthew Moore, the founder and editor of DeafLife magazine, has proclaimed, “2016 is the year of Deaf people", and it is only the beginning.” Thanks to Nyle DiMarco, the person born to debunk the myths about Deaf people and signed languages. Nyle cannot possibly have gained this platform without the support from the entire Deaf community and our allies. This historical collectivistic media movement with Nyle, which had created the paradigm shift. This is something we all can celebrate. Once again, it is only the beginning.
"I CANT BELIEVE IT! WE WON! WE WON THE MIRROR BALL!!! This is for 70 million Deaf people in the world! Thank you all for your CONTINUING SUPPORT," said Nyle DiMarco. (Image description: At Dancing with the Stars, Nyle and Peta are holding the mirror ball and they are surrounded by their fans giving them a standing ovation).
And one more thing ... always remember that we have many Oral education failures and ZERO ASL and English education failures. What I am asking for... is for all of us to have the audacity to create the path where all Deaf children can succeed and not a single Deaf child is left behind. This path is ASL AND English (bilingualism/multilingualism/tactile signed languages), not ASL OR English.There is unity in this beautiful word, "and".
"Friends" LEAD-K photo taken by Clare Cassidy (image description: photo of three preschool and kindergarten-aged boys huddled together at a table. The boy in the middle has his arm wrapped around the boy at the right while signing "friends" and smiling at the camera. The smiling boy at the left is leaning on the table-he seems connected with both boys by looking at them.)
Let's embrace the "and" and remove the usage of "or". Why? Because all Deaf children deserve to be Kindergarten-ready.
Julie Rems-Smario, President
California Association of the Deaf.