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My Letter to Parents of Deaf Children

No ASL is not in decline and will always be around as long as there are Deaf people. What it means to be Deaf has not changed for the thousands and thousands of us who are.
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Mother yelling at daughter (10-11 years) through megaphone
Mother yelling at daughter (10-11 years) through megaphone

There was a huge uproar on Social Media over the weekend among the Deaf Community.

You might be familiar with Nyle DiMarco, the Deaf winner of "America's Next Top Model" and currently competing on "Dancing With The Stars."

The Deaf Community has been strongly supportive of him and his successes and are proud of him representing Deaf Culture and ASL.

Recently the Washington Post featured an article on him and his Foundation that aims at improving Deaf infants' access to sign language education. Nyle got an invitation to the White House Correspondents' Dinner where he plans to promote his principles of improving Deaf children's lives.

Great story and great goals eh?

Well....The Alexander Graham Bell Association of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing got wind of it and just HAD to post a rebuttal article called "Dispelling Myths about Deafness"

Sure they "applaud" Nyles' accomplishments, but turn around and criticize something the Deaf Community cherishes -- American Sign Language.

Here's some excerpts that has the Deaf Community enraged:

"[ASL] use is declining."

"DiMarco's statements perpetuate the misconception that deaf children cannot listen and speak well. Deaf children growing up today have unprecedented opportunities to develop listening and spoken language, thanks to newborn screening, early identification and intervention, and the latest technology, such as advanced hearing aids and cochlear implants."

"It is our hope to dispel the myths about deafness and spread the word that deaf children can hear and talk. What it means to be "deaf" has changed."

I'm not going to go on about why the Deaf Community is hurt and offended, you can read all about it all across social media - #ASLStrong #AGBell #AGBellLies, from NAD, from Gaulladet and various other blogging sites.

To me this article basically states that ASL is NOT viable and is a waste of time. Oralism is the way to go and will make your child "a successful part of hearing culture".

​*Raises hand* Uh?? I beg to differ.

I was born deaf to hearing parents, one of the 95% AGBell quoted. Of course doctors back then pushed the misconceived notion (but one that AGBell still advocates and pushes) that I never be taught sign language as "she'll never learn to speak". I was fitted with hearing aids and then had years and years of speech and aural therapy, some fun ones initiated by my folks, some not so fun oones from the school system.

So, speech therapy from 2 years old until I was about 15 years old, my speech should be pretty damn good by now? Sure, people tell me I that speak "very well", But I still wonder why no one can understand my' name when I introduce myself? They hear "T C" "Radee," "CeeCee" "ChiChi." I've given up and have to say "It's Tracy... like Spencer Tracy" (or Tracy Morgan if you're too young to know who's the first).

I've also had aural therapy those years too, with powerful Phonic Ear hearing aids, listening to words and sounds over and over again and repeating them. I excelled at this, BUT all that work does NOT imitate "real life." No one in their right mind has one word sentences like "popcorn," "cowboy," "hot dog," "baseball" in a conversation!

I was mainstreamed in public school where there were other deaf or hard of hearing students and I had a few friends, but I was alone in the hearing classroom because there were no other deaf students my age. I suffered intense bullying from the other hearing kids. I was never part of any hearing kid's birthday party, outing or did after school activities. I holed up in my room with my pile of library books and shut the rest of the world out. I then begged my parents to start High School at the Deaf Institute because "they're the same as me".

I got a Cochlear Implant at 35 years old, I've been tested to have a "mild hearing loss." I can hear and identify a lot of environmental sounds, I've been tested for speech discrimination at about 70 - 80% in the booth. Which again I think is unrealistic because it's a completely quiet environment with a one word list or very simple sentences. It does not imitate reality at all. In the real world, my speech discrimination is pretty much 0%. I cannot understand you unless I'm facing you to lipread, and in a bright, quiet room.

If I'm one-on-one with a Hearing person I can manage pretty well, talking, lipreading and understanding. But, throw in a second person or a group, a noisy dark restaurant, noisy car, traffic, mall noise, or any other real-world situations and I'm lost.

I've been out of the work force since 2005, with sporadic work before that mainly due to headhunters' inability to look past my disabilities.

So is that being "a successful part of hearing culture"? I don't think so.

​Now let's flip the coin...

I went to a Deaf Institute for High School. I slowly learned ASL through those years. I attended a University that had a strong support services system for Deaf students with plenty of interpreters and notetakers and the like. I had a lot of Deaf friends and attended social events. I could be in a noisy bar with a group of Deaf people signing and still understand what was going on.

After University I joined a Deaf Club, where I was a member for over 15 years until I moved away. I held various positions on their Board of Directors. I was also on the Deaf Dart League and was part of several Provincial and National Deaf Dart Tournament teams.

I have a hearing husband and have 2 hearing kids who are teenagers now. They know how to sign, the kids have been signing since they were 8 months old. Because of ASL at an early age, they were way ahead in their speech, language and reading levels than their peers throughout their school years.

Nowadays when I go to doctor's appointments, meetings, and such, I prefer to use an ASL interpreter. Mainly because I feel comfortable and more at ease with Sign Language than dealing with the stress of misunderstandings, impatient and frustrated people, the headache and eyestrain of having to listen and lipread.

I'm now a freelance writer, and currently in the process of a job interview to be an ASL tutor.

Now, I'm not going to criticize your choice for your child, that's a very personal and private matter.

I just wanted to show you the two sides -- Oralism vs. ASL, that AGBell is not revealing to you.

​Be willing to look past the "inspiration porn" of cochlear implant activations and AGBell's Youtube videos of "successful" kids and seek out the dark side, there are videos out there to watch that counteract AGBell's stance.

Look for #WhyISign on Facebook filled with stories from hearing parents, hearing grandparents, deaf people, and deaf children showing why they chose ASL.

No ASL is not in decline and will always be around as long as there are Deaf people.

What it means to be Deaf has not changed for the thousands and thousands of us who are.

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