Carl Schroeder and Jason Tozier Share Laughter
at Bristol Community College
Welcome to the "Uprooting Audisn for Deafhood Justice" workshop.
Why is there such emphasis today on audism, on Deafhood justice, and on hate speech against American Sign Language (ASL)? Are these terms today's new buzzwords for discourse and discussion or are they old ideas that have been put into "new-and-improved" terminology? Today, people have become increasingly aware of the state of being Deaf because the term deafness too often results in irrevocable prejudice and discrimination. In the "Uprooting Audism for Deafhood Justice" workshop, Carl Schroeder and Jason Tozier make clear the fundamental differences between audism and ASL, the language and culture of the Deaf, for Deafhood justice.
The seminal quotations below clearly demonstrate that the discrimination and prejudice against ASL is as old as the discrimination and prejudice against the Deaf. Are these quotations inherently irreconcilable, as some argue, or are they somehow complementary? More important, why do they emphasize Deafhood, the state of being Deaf?
George Veditz, Preservation of the Sign Language (1913):
"A new race of pharaohs that knew not Joseph" are taking over the land and many of our American schools. They do not understand signs, for they cannot sign. They proclaim that signs are worthless and of no help to the Deaf. Enemies of the sign language, they are enemies of the true welfare of the Deaf. As long as we have Deaf people on earth, we will have signs. It is my hope that we all will love and guard our beautiful sign language as the noblest gift God has given to Deaf people.
Helmer R. Myklebust, The Psychology of Deafness: Sensory Deprivation, Learning, and Adjustment (1957):
Carl G. Croneberg in William C. Stokoe's Dictionary of American Sign Language on Linguistic Principles (1965):
[Deafness] feminizes the male and masculizes the female.
The deaf persons who use ASL make up a minority group, that is, a group that is in some ways separated from the society around it and from the culture that is characteristic of this society. The deaf man is separated from the rest of society by a physical feature, namely his lack of hearing. But unlike physical features that usually mark minority group membership, lack of hearing cannot be seen.
Carol Padden and Tom Humphries, Deaf in America: Voices from a Culture (1988):
Deaf people must live almost entirely within the world of others. This peculiar social condition leads to a longing to live lives designed by themselves rather than those imposed by others.
Harlan Lane, The Mask of Benevolence: Disabling the Deaf Community (1992):
William C. Stokoe, Language in Hand: Why Sign Came Before Speech (2002):
In hearing society, deafness is stigmatized.
Indeed, educators of deaf students across America attacked me, sometimes violently, for thinking and saying in print that in their everyday conversation deaf people might be using a language that was obviously not English but was a language nevertheless.
John F. Egbert, Mindfield: A Novel (2006):
The good news was that the disease did not appear to be fatal. The bad news was that, after being violently ill for weeks, people were beginning to experience sensorineural hearing loss.
In the "Uprooting Audism for Deafhood Justice" workshop, Carl Schroeder and Jason Tozier will do their best to bring the seminal thoughts to life by explaining the Socratic method of discussion. Book the workshop now!
Friday, August 13, 2010, 11:10 am Eastern Time
CBC Radio Podcast
Russell: The provincial governments’ decision to close the Newfoundland and Labrador school for the Deaf has sparked debate over how to best teach children who are deaf.
The government says it’s time for change and these children should be in the public school system. The government also maintains the children will have the same supports and services as before and this change is, to quote the government, "...consistent with our inclusive approach to education and is in the best interest of students academic and social development.”
Well Barbara O’Dea is a linguist and a Newfoundlander. She’s taught deaf people across this country, including at the school for the deaf in St. John’s. She is currently a consultant with the Ontario government on Barrier-free Education. I spoke with her from Toronto.
Dr. O’Dea: Good morning Russell.
Russell: What were your thoughts on the provincial governments’ decision to close the school for the Deaf?
Dr. O’Dea: I have to say that I was not surprised at all. I was in Newfoundland for several months last year, or last school year, and everybody I met who had anything to do with Deaf education told me there would be no school for the Deaf this coming year – and they were all right.
Russell: What do you think of the upshot of these last few kids making their way into the mainstream system?
Dr. O’Dea: What do I make of it? I would consider that the government has really not come to terms with their needs - at all. I don’t know who is advising them. And from what I understood while I was there, there was nobody advising them who actually had a background in deaf education.
Russell: The provincial government though does say that for the kids that are in the system right now and these last few kids entering the system, they are going to have the full support of student assistants, they are going to be able to communicate in ASL if they so chose, have interpreters on site. Why do you think it is important that there is a school where there is some sort of segregation?
Dr. O’Dea: Ok, I was in the province last year living in St. John’s and I can guarantee you that the children in St. John’s, did not have, all of the children who were in the public school system did not have interpreters. They did not have interpreters who were trained to be interpreters, or interpreters that were fully fluent in American Sign Language, interpreters that understood the educational needs of children. Those children will not hear the teacher, they will not hear the students, so they are in fact isolated in their schools. Now one school had a couple of full time people who signed in the classroom for the children. And another two kids had someone who went to the class and signed for half of the time. So they kind of had half time people - I don’t know what they did the rest of the time. That’s in St. John’s. If St. John’s cannot provide the service – this service will not be provided throughout Newfoundland and Labrador. Apparently Newfoundland does not even have enough interpreters to deal with the community, the adult deaf community needs. So you know, to put interpreters who are not trained or prepared to work in school settings…we don’t have them in Newfoundland, we simply don’t have them.
Russell: The government at this point is stating that parents and students have made the decision together to go to these community schools (I guess in some respects they are following their lead). So if there isn’t the enrollment to justify keeping open a full school for the Deaf why keep it open and what’s wrong with the parents and the students making that decision?
Dr. O’Dea: I would suggest if you decided to deny your child language, social services would be called in and you would be charged with neglect. So to provide information to parents telling them it’s okay for their child to be in a public school system where they cannot access education and to convince parents that this is better? I’m not sure how the parents were convinced of this, but to convince them that this is better than getting an education. I would say to you that they did not make an informed decision. And as to having a school open that provides an education to this group of children – the school was there, the school was running, the school provided a service. I would suggest that the schools service to the whole province could have been extended to really working with hard of hearing children as well as deaf children. Now that’s what many schools for the Deaf have done throughout Canada. They are the centre, the hub of education of Deaf and hard of hearing children. That way the government would have gotten a lot of bang for its buck.
Russell: I supposed in some respects, technology has played a role in some of this because a lot of kids are in a position now where they have cochlear implants and ASL isn’t as necessary to their lives as it might have been once upon a time.
Dr. O’Dea: Well we have to be very careful about cochlear implants. Cochlear implants are great – I mean what a technology – they’re wonderful. And when they succeed for the child, or should I say when they give the child enough access to language that they actually learn the spoken language of the community, they are wonderful. However, when they fail to provide that to the child, then the child is at high risk. And what we say, what the research says, is that if a child has a first language, such as American Sign Language, the brain has been developing the language centers and cochlear implants are more successful. The outcome of that would be that the child would have two languages; they would be bilingual by the time they hit five years old. If they get ASL and at the same time the cochlear implant does not kick in, at five years old they still have a first language. And what we’ve been finding is that people that only see deaf children as two ears and the doctors fix the ears by giving them cochlear implant...that doesn’t mean that they will acquire English. And people really need to understand that. If it fails those children are five years behind in their language development. You know the school for the Deaf has had so much success with its students it’s hard to believe that that alone didn’t bring praise from the government to the teachers and the children...[Russell interrupts to say]
Russell: But at the same time those numbers did drop to four kids either living or learning there...
Dr. O’Dea: Well when you don’t admit children, of course the numbers are going to drop. Like the decision to admit children to the school for the deaf was taken out of people who understand deaf children and put in the hands of bureaucrats at the department who didn’t.
Russell: What do educators and parents do now moving forward to make sure the kids have translation that they need and language skills that they need.
Dr. O’Dea: The parents that can have left the province, most of them to Ontario, to get access to full education for their children. For those who have to stay in the province, right now if the department of education doesn’t hire someone who understands the needs of deaf children, they will not get an education. And I cannot solve that problem throughout the whole of Newfoundland right here on the telephone. It will take energy, knowledge, information. Yes, coordinate with the parents. But coordinate with people who understand the issues of not having a first language. Most children entered the school for the deaf without a first language. Those children will now enter the public school system without a first language. Is there anybody in the department who can describe to a school what a child needs if they show up without a first language. And within a setting where the teacher does not understand them, the children do not understand them, they probably have someone flicking their hands around who do not understand them. Exactly how would a child like that achieve social and emotional development? I would say in that type of isolation they won’t have the social and emotional development we would hope for most children in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Russell: Barbara O’Dea we appreciate your perspective on this…thank you so much for joining us on the program.
Dr. O’Dea: You are very welcome Russell.Barbara O‘Dea is a linguist and has taught people who are deaf across the country, including in St. John’s.