IAD Releases a Letter of Response to AGBell

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April 6, 2016

Response to Alexander Graham Bell Association:

The recent “Response to Washington Post article about Nyle DiMarco” from Meredith Sugar, Esq. of the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (AG Bell) sadly is what we have come to expect from this organization. It is a continuation of a policy of misinformation, disinformation and preying on a world that is ignorant with respect to the realities of Deaf people. It is our responsibility to not let their words blindly be taken for any more than they are, a sales pitch that conjures up the worst images of a used car salesman.

The National Association of the Deaf has smartly weighed in on this topic. NAD Response

Generations of deaf children have been steered towards listening and spoken language and away from utilizing signed languages. Generation after generation they have failed to acquire listening and spoken language skills. This comes at a catastrophic cost. It is unfortunate that a few success stories seems to validate an approach that has left behind a Grand Canyon filled with people who have not had success with developing listening and spoken language skills.

This article claims that deaf children can always pick up American Sign Language (ASL) later when they are not able to succeed as a “hearing” person. Nothing could be further than the truth. The critical language acquisition years are true for ALL children, no matter what the mode of the language. Mayberry

We live in a world full of our brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, grandparents, aunts, uncles and children that have been irreparably harmed by the deprivation of language in the hopes that they might learn how to speak. Had these harms perpetrated on any virtually any other group of people they would have faced demands of reparations and would ring synonymous with the “trail of tears,” or worse.

Research has, time and time again, clearly demonstrated the benefits of using sign language as early as possible and has equally demonstrated the harms that come from not using it early. Sanders, Malloy, Baker

In just a few short paragraphs, upon careful review, it is hard to find any truths. Here are just a few of the challengeable claims.

False claim: ASL exists as a communication option for deaf children.

Truth: ASL (and other signed languages) is a language, rich and complex that has clear benefits for ALL deaf children and is most critical from the ages of birth-3. In fact the White House published in 2013 that “ASL is a vital language for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.” Wikipedia

Speech, however, is a communication option, not a language. Parents should never be forced into choosing one mode of communication and rejecting others. ASDC

False claim: It (ASL) is just one such option and its use is declining.

Truth: ASL fits well into a variety of options, in fact many educational programs that utilized ASL also include other options including speech. It is a fact that ASL use is growing in many areas and is the one “foreign language” option that is actually growing in popularity in schools and colleges across the country.

Misleading claim: 90% of the families with parents with typical hearing and deaf children are choosing listening and spoken language for their deaf child.

Truth: a thorough search of the web found no solid statistics for this. In fact, we are seeing a growth in the number of children with cochlear implants who are embracing the use of sign language and participation in the deaf community. ASDC

False claim: DiMarco’s statements perpetuate the misconception that deaf children cannot listen and speak well.

Truth: DiMarco’s statements are absolutely absent of any connotation that deaf children cannot listen and speak well. It simply is not mentioned or implied in any way. What he does challenge is the myth that one must be able to hear and speak in order to be successful.

Misleading claim: Deaf children growing up today have unprecedented opportunities to develop listening and spoken language.

Truth:  Numerous independent studies have shown that efforts to teach deaf children speech and listening skills as a primary method for communication rarely achieves more than 25% success rates, leaving 75% of the children severely delayed in many areas including language development. Patkin, Lund

Misleading claim: Recent studies show that children who solely utilize listening and spoken language, rather than in combination with ASL, demonstrate better listening and spoken language skills than do children who follow a combination approach.

Truth: A web search for this did not yield any results. Without references it is impossible to verify or discuss the validity of any such research. Numerous studies have shown no harm and actually benefits to learning speech by combining it with ASL. NAD Position Statement, Davidson, Hassanzadeh

Additionally, the evidence from decades of research is clear that early exposure to ASL leads to better academic achievement, reading scores, cognitive development, social skills and self-esteem. They are battling the reality that ASL offers nothing but benefits to children, including the children whose families have chosen to try to maximize listening and spoken language skills. There is absolutely no scientifically valid reason for depriving deaf children of signed language on the gamble, at odds none of us would choose for ourselves, that they may be able to develop listening and speech skills good enough to function in limited settings as an adult.

We agree that when informing parents about educational options that current and emerging evidence should be considered. There is a serious lack of research on the long-term results of deaf children who have cochlear implants. This research article is the only one we have seen and raises serious questions as to the real success of this approach over time. It also delves past speech and listening abilities to dig into deeper communication, psychosocial issues and actual educational outcomes. One of the sobering issues raised is that when family makes decisions, they are often based on hopes and aspirations for their children rather than the information they receive.  The article emphasizes that professionals need to be diligent in working with families to ensure they are making informed decisions. Punch

We are concerned that the numerous risks associated with listening and spoken language options are not accurately conveyed to parents in order to make truly informed decisions. FDA

You can check the IAD Facebook Page for other thoughtful pieces on this topic.

Nyle DiMarco is the ultimate threat to their ideology. Young, successful, intelligent and just one of the great many success stories that bilingual, ASL-English education that places the highest priority on the overall development of the person and especially the maximization of their cognitive development, not an over emphasized prioritization on hearing and speaking robs the majority of Deaf children of their critical language and cognitive development years. It seems that when faced with being cornered with the truth, they will stoop to the lowest of lows in order to kill the truth.

We, the Deaf community, are here to stay and are essential to any discussion regarding deaf children. We are here to make sure the truth is told about the way we have been poked, prodded, and made to endure hardship after hardship because others who have never walked a day in our shoes “know what is best for us.” The reality is that even with all the advances in treatment, therapies, invasive surgeries and focus on our ears and our mouths the evidence is clear that there are no miracles. Historically and today, the number of deaf people who succeed in such a manner that they can function near the levels of hearing people in most settings is not anywhere near a majority, rather it hovers around 25%. This means that the majority of deaf people have been subjected to these treatments and therapies at a cost that can never be recouped. They have been deprived of the most critical years for developing the whole person, including language, cognitive and social development.

Demand better. Demand the truth. We ask that AG Bell issue a formal apology to Nyle DiMarco, to the Deaf community and to the thousands of families that have been misled by their biased conduct in the name of salesmanship and that they cease-and-desist in belittling the importance of American Sign Language for deaf children.

Bert Pickell, President
Ronelle Johnson, Vice President
Colleen Baird, Secretary
Lisa Wilson, Treasurer
Board Members
James Carr
Bonita Ewan
Kathy Hill
Laura Smith
Norman Wilson

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