Alexander Graham Bell, Audism, and Associations for the Deaf

I am not big on reality TV. So if it wasn’t for social media and one of my good friends, I probably wouldn’t even know about Nyle DiMarco.

NyleDiMarco

Nyle

In just about every other sentence as she tells me about Nyle, my friend says, “He’s hot!” I won’t lie; he is.

He’s also deaf. And, most importantly, Deaf. He’s played a role in Switched at Birth, won the final cycle of America’s Next Top Model, and is currently doing well in Dancing with the Stars.

He is a true beacon of pride for Deaf people worldwide! He really shows that Deaf people can achieve! They can be great!

Last week, I came upon this petition on change.org. In explaining his request for signature, Joshua M. writes:

“Meredith Sugar, president of the Alexander Graham Bell Association wrote a response to a Washington Post article. In her response she makes audist and xenophobic attacks against Nyle Dimarco and the Deaf community at large…”

Meredith Sugar

Sugar

In her response subtitled “Dispelling Myths About Deafness“, she does indeed promote speech for deaf children, referring to technological advancements and to recent studies.

I’m not going to discuss much of the contents of her article, but, honestly, it is beyond me why any organisation would use Alexander Graham Bell’s name and follow his legacy considering what he did to the Deaf in the West.

We hearing people know him as the inventor of the telephone. But, with the money he got from this, he pushed an incredibly audist agenda, betraying the Deaf community (his wife and mother were both deaf!) by establishing the oralist method of teaching deaf children. Under oralism, deaf children were forbidden from signing, and all their education focused solely on teaching them to speak and lipread.

No math.

No science.

No civics.

Just speech.

Not only that. “Bell believed deaf adults should be sterilised so as not to produce deaf children.” (“Book Review: Far From the Tree“, emphasis added.) He had xenophobic views about American Sign Language (which is, actually far more American than English, by the way!), stating that “the use of sign language ‘in our public schools is contrary to the spirit and practice of American Institutions’.” (“Signing, Alexander Graham Bell and the NAD“)

Bell did so much damage to the Western education of the Deaf that we are still recovering from it. Here in Jamaica, there are precious few teachers who sign well enough that they can be efficient teachers of the Deaf, and it took a long time for the education system to commit (through lip service, anyway) to using JSL (as a natural language) and not just Signed English in its education of the Deaf.

So, it’s no surprise at all that the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing would promote audism.

Sugar writes in her article, “The reality is that most deaf children – more than 95 percent – are born to parents with typical hearing, and 90 percent of these families are choosing listening and spoken language for their deaf child.”

But what she does not mention is the failure rate of the technologies that she is banking on to help these children acquire speech, how expensive they are, how many parents don’t bother with, or cannot even afford them, and how many Deaf people have poor relationships with their families because they do not choose to learn to sign.

Every time I read things like this, I think of my cousin, and his mother always cussing and yelling at him to put in his hearing aid. Why do we hearing people always want to make the deaf “fit” into our mould? If my family had learnt to sign growing up, he would have access to what was happening around him even when he felt he did not want to wear his hearing aid.

As Joshua M. wrote on his patition: “Meredith Sugar is NOT deaf nor is she hard of hearing.” That’s why she runs an association for the deaf, not of the deaf; meaning an association run by hearing people rather than one run by deaf people. Joshua continues that she is “therefore UNQUALIFIED to make assumptions or opinions regarding the deaf community.”

I’m tired of hearing people thinking they know what is best for the deaf/Deaf. At least in America they have the National Association of the Deaf (NAD). I hope I live to see an association of the Deaf started in Jamaica to deal with the issues the community has, and take a stand against audism here, as they are doing in the US.

One day last year, I doodled with Paint.NET and came up with this:

NADJ

I shared it with my friend (the same one who says Nyle is hot) and she said that it’s not just a dream. It will happen.

I do hope so.

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