Sunday, November 9, 2008

A Letter to Hear Indiana, a chapter of A. G. Bell

November 9, 2008
Ms. Naomi Horton
Executive Director
Hear Indiana

Ms. Horton,

This letter is a response to the article that has been circulated on the web and dated October 23, 2008 (Indianapolis, PR Newswire via COMTEX). The title of the article indicates that the booth space has been sold out for Hear Indiana’s 26th Annual Educational Conference, the theme of which is “Building Partnerships.”

We share in your excitement that over 20 agencies and companies have partnered with Hear Indiana to support Deaf and hard-of-hearing children. We are, however, concerned about the statement that “we are ‘Doing Deaf Differently’” in the 21st Century. The term itself creates division. In meeting the needs of all Deaf and hard-of-hearing children, we do need to focus on “building partnerships” and be sensitive about statements that can cause unnecessary fear or misunderstanding.

The comment “Doing Deaf Differently” creates unnecessary division among parents and professionals. As a minority culture that is rich linguistically and historically, being deaf does not have to be considered a disability any more than being an immigrant whose second language is English. Deaf individuals are capable of signing, developing speech, reading and writing in English. Many Deaf adults in the community are capable people who are proud of who they are --- hearing ability included --- and have a good self-esteem and a strong identity, something all those who work with children envision for them. And we know that there are members of the A.G. Bell Association who would be distressed to learn of such divisive language. Some members of the Deaf community are A.G. Bell members and have worked with hearing members of the organization who are eager to “build partnerships.”

As you mentioned, many of us are aware of the misguided things that have happened to Deaf individuals, as when some people were placed in mental institutions for simply being deaf. Historically, however, there have been many more positive things happening in the Deaf community that have often been overlooked. Intelligent Deaf people have had good jobs, been members of supportive families, used signs and speech to communicate and enjoyed life as productive citizens. By suggesting that there have not been successful Deaf people prior to the 21st century, people are being provided incorrect information.

We applaud your efforts to provide current information to professionals working with Deaf and hard-of-hearing children as well as to those adults who are interested in technological trends. And we are especially glad to see that parents are not prohibited from attending the conference due to financial concerns.

Our goal is to work together with organizations, such as Hear Indiana, and various agencies throughout the state to provide hope and a positive outlook to newly identified Deaf and hard-of-hearing babies and their families. By avoiding issues that foster fear and prejudice, we would like to work towards “building partnerships” in order to provide what those children and those families need.


Jill Lestina, Advocate
Deaf Bilingual Coalition of Indiana


The Deaf Community Organizations of Indiana

• Indiana Association of the Deaf, Beatrice Pfaff

• Indiana Chapter Black Deaf Advocates, Walter Griffin Jr.

• Indiana School for the Deaf Alumni Association, Robert Downing Jr.

• Archibald Memorial Home, Tabitha Byrum

• Indiana Blind Deaf Association, Donald Allis

• Willard American Sign Language Teacher Association, Raymond Olson

• Senior Silent Hoosiers, Larry Baker

• Hoosier Outdoors Club of the Deaf, Steven D. Stultz

• D.E.A.F Network, Bob Canty

• Indiana Deaf Heritage, Gale F. Walker

• Deaf Exceptional Chef, Matt Krueger

• Jr. National Association of the Deaf, Garrett Wooten

• Miss Deaf Indiana Pageant, Joanna Witulski

• Indiana Chapter Register Interpreter for the Deaf, Ronda Jo Bilz

• Indiana Deaf News (Agency-Publisher), Bob Canty

• Indiana Chapter Gallaudet University Alumni Association, Davina Brimmer

• Indiana National Technical Institute of the Deaf Alumni Chapter, Jeanne Peters

• Indiana School for the Deaf Parent Teacher Counselor Organization, Mich Bignell

• Deaf Community Services, Mary Jane Herema Olson

• Greater Indianapolis Deaf Club, Jonas Fenicle

• Vincennes University American Sign Language Program, Ann Reifel

1 comment:

Jo @ NW Indiana said...

I agree on the partnership points that you present. It seems that the wording is a hollow concept for people who do not usually work with deaf people of all ages.

I've been thinking for a while, 'Doing Deaf Differently in the 21st Century', those words are not from deaf people themselves, it comes from people who have no idea of what kind of hearing loss a child/adult has but living through them.

I can think of many things that were done differently for deaf children/adults in the past century that allowed for independence, interaction, diversity and multi-lingual/cultural avenues.

One example is enlightened parents who knew deep down that doctors don't know everything and they set forth to make a difference in their child's life...not only that, to encourage the child/adult to become successful adults. Parents who knew that the education system was inadequate in meeting their children's needs and took action to bring in IDEA and enforce the law for equal access or pushed for the residential schools in providing improved and equal educational opportunities. Parents who understood the use of sign language and its impact upon spoken language (enhancing it rather than losing the skill) and accepted that their child grew up with one preferred language - sign language, yet is capable of communicating with others. Parents who made a difference, encouraged their children to make a difference in breaking barriers, advocating for change that positively impacts all children, participate in their community activities and the opportunities are countless.

A rare thing happens from time to time, teachers who break the 'stereotypical' behaviors of educating deaf children. It is very rare to have a teacher and a team who actually looked at each of us as children with different skills, learning styles, communication skills and so forth. Those teachers are the joys of education, bringing knowledge and the experience that each child needs.

The interesting thing is that the oralists continue to ignore the past, the past that showed an obvious decline in the education and employment of deaf people, post 1880-Milan Conference and pre-ASL as a language as stated by William Stokoe. The attitudes changed against deaf people because of the ideas of AG Bell and the proponent of eugenics.

Doing Deaf Differently for me would be sacrificing control, listening to the biological (not medical) definition of what a human is, bringing balance to the whole and strip the ego aside and work with deaf people.

The world continues to listen to those who are 'living' through deaf people without understanding or knowing who they whole human beings.