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CAD's Open Letter to AG Bell

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January 10, 2016


Dear AG Bell Association,


California Association of the Deaf wishes to inform you how your tweet as was found in the following:

 

agbell

 

This tweet,  https://twitter.com/agbellassoc/status/677868210335649792, is thoughtless marketing. In case you cannot find it, here is a copy of what was tweeted by your organization on December 14, 2015:

http://www.agbell.org/VoltaVoices/Oct-Dec2015/Whole-Child-and-Family/?utm_content=bufferf8d7e&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

Furthermore, the article contained in the link from that tweet was professionally irresponsible, especially for professionals and families that are seeking information to work with their Deaf children.

Can AG Bell as an organization abandon its ideological bent and start telling the truth? We also ask you to let 2016 be the year AG Bell recognizes American Sign Language as a basic human right for Deaf babies and toddlers in the United States.

As you quoted in your tweet, "We need to keep in mind that bilingualism is not an option for many children; it’s a simple fact of life." We could not agree with you more, and this does include American Sign Language as a language for Deaf children. Bilingualism for Deaf children from English monolingual families means both ASL and English. However, if the families speak a different language at home, the Deaf child has trilingual benefits – the home language, English, and ASL. It is even possible that the Deaf child can learn the signed language of the home language. This is mind boggling, right?

In an “Ethics Rounds” feature in Pediatrics, Dr. Lantos, a pediatrician, summed up an answer to the question: “Should All Deaf Children Learn Sign Language?”

There are no risks to learning sign language along with spoken language, but there are well-defined benefits…this approach seems to be clearly preferable to an approach that focuses solely on oral communication…Children need to learn language. They must learn it from parents, teachers, and their community. The more languages they learn, the better these children will be able to communicate.

(Mellon, et al, 2015)

We know ALL children have the capabilities to be bilinguals. Yet, through your guidance of those families, many are told not to speak American Sign Language with their Deaf child at home, thus depriving the Deaf children of that bilingual or trilingual opportunity.

We cannot permit any more inaccurate marketing that have created generations of severely language-deprived and language-delayed Deaf children. Our real issue is keeping the focus on the Deaf child's right to FULL access to a language during their early years of life.

Language is more than speaking, and it is more than listening. Your Listening and Speaking Language (LSL) is merely a deception for what people call English. This is often where many new parents are misled or confused.

Humphries et al (2012) emphasized the importance of raising Deaf children with American Sign Language:

All children need and deserve an accessible language. This is a biological need. The medical profession must protect the health of deaf children by setting a foundational goal of prevention of linguistic deprivation, which can be achieved via sign language. Deaf children need to be given an opportunity to interact with other Deaf peers (i.e. signing children) during their childhood. This ensures that they develop social and communicative abilities. Additionally, for expanded professional and social opportunities, the medical profession can and should also recommend training in spoken language skills. However, such recommendations should never exclude sign language because sign language prevents linguistic deprivation. This is a reliable and implementable remedy to reduce the risk and the harm of linguistic deprivation.

Can you stop duping professionals who work with the families and their Deaf children?

Among many other critical topics, Alfano (2015) wrote about three issues: culturally sensitive and appropriate services, ethical responsibility, and engaging others. It was incredulous to us how he can write about the importance of these three issues without including Deaf people in the process. He needs to be more culturally sensitive not just to foreign-speaking families but to Deaf people as well. He had ethical responsibility – as does AGB – to share accurate information about ASL as a language. Finally, he discussed the concept of engaging others; how is it possible he did not once mention Deaf adults?


Dr. Julia Hecht, a retired pediatrician, has challenged us to rethink how the medical system has historically advised families to withhold American Sign Language from their Deaf children:

As human beings, we have to have a positive relationship with self and our own community as a necessity. We need the stimulation of accessible language to develop healthy brains. So can we say for deaf babies, ASL is superior to English? Please can we just say the truth?

On the behalf of Deaf Californians, please send out another tweet and announce the following:

“Bilingualism -- ASL and English -- IS the best option for Deaf babies.” AGB and CAD can share credit for the quote.

Like Alfano said in his article, we can “no longer settle for one language.” Maybe you can also tweet one of our popular chants:

Yes to ASL.
Yes to English.
Yes to Success.

 

Sincerely,

Board of Directors
California Association of the Deaf (CAD)
Julie Rems-Smario, President
Marla Hatrak, Vice President
Deanne Bray, Secretary
Dodi Ellis, Treasurer
Matthew Sampson, Director of Membership
Shelley Ann Stout, Director at Large, Northern California
Kavita Pipalia, Director at Large, Southern California

 

 

References

Alfano, A. R. (2015) Professionals supporting the whole child and family: Bilingual Children with hearing loss. Volta Voices. Retrieved from: http://www.agbell.org/VoltaVoices/Oct-Dec2015/Whole-Child-and-Family/?utm_content=bufferf801a&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

Humphries, T., Kushalnagar, P. Mathur, G., Napoli, D. J. Padden, C. Rathmann, C., and Smith, S.R. (2012). Language acquisition for deaf children: Reducing the harms of zero tolerance to the use of alternative approaches. Harm Reduction Journal
http://harmreductionjournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1477-7517-9-16

Mellon, N.K., Niparko, J.K., Rathmann, C., Mathur, G., Humphries, T., Napoli, D.J., Handley, T., Scambler, S., and Lantos, J. (2015). Should all deaf children learn sign language? PEDIATRICS. Retrieved from: http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/pediatrics/early/2015/06/09/peds.2014-1632.full.pdf

 

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