To PC or not PC?

I attended the Australian Sign Language Interpreters Association awards of the Victorian branch on Saturday. As always it was a lavish affair and a great time was had by all.  I am not much for the awards part, though I have enormous respect for all the winners, but I love the floor show and catching up with everyone. On Saturday there was an 8 inch comedienne telling disability jokes. OK! Stella Young is slightly taller than 8 inches but she is very short and gets about in a wheelchair. She also pokes fun at societies attitude towards disability. Some of us thought it was hilarious others cringed and let their jaws drop. In particular Ms Young poked fun at labels – you know special needs, differently-abled, handicapped – all these labels, largely made up by non disabled, that are designed to take the stigma out of disability and paradoxically do the exact opposite.  

Ms Young told an hilarious story about how she had never been asked for a ticket on a bus  or a train. She would get on trains and ticket inspectors would just walk past her. Being 8 inches tall and in a wheelchair it is very hard not to notice her. She claimed it was her lifelong ambition to get a fine. She wanted to be fined just like everyone else who gets caught for not buying a ticket. One day the inspector passed her by so she called out, hoping to draw attention to the fact, that she didn’t have a ticket. The inspector came back and gave her one. It is Ms Young’s ability to poke fun at society attitudes and her self that makes her so very funny. Incredibly UN-PC, but extremely funny.

For me the fascination with coming up with PC labels for disability groups is one of my pet gripes. If people spent half as much time focusing on changing perceptions, promoting the skill-set that people with a disability have or explaining just how much the disability economy contributes financially to Australia as they do trying to come up with a non-offensive labels then  people with disabilities might make progress. Instead they debate, ad-infinitum, whether to put the person before the disability, or to take the dis out of disability, whether to say differently-abled or my all time un-favourite – people with differing abilities. These attempts at political correctness make me cringe.

I am reminded of a wonderful old man that had lost his hearing. A group of us were discussing whether to use the terms deaf, hearing impaired or hard of hearing. Of course we all know Deaf with a capital D refers to members of the Deaf community, which is fine as it refers to their identity. But what of the others who largely see their hearing loss as a pain in the proverbial. My view is pick one and be done with it. But of course people have different views. By and large, later deafened adults (another label) in Australia  prefer the term hearing impaired. The Deaf community in Australia are trying to impose the term hard of hearing on them because this is what is recognised by the World federation of the Deaf. The old man who I referred to was having none of it – “Look!”, he said, “I don’t know about you but my hearing loss in no way arouses me.”  There was a stunned silence as people in the room tried to make sense of what he had just said. The penny dropped and, as one, the room cracked up laughing . What this highlights is that one persons PC is often another’s UN-PC. It is an un-winnable debate and takes up far too much time and energy.

I am writing this because someone on Saturday, at the awards, described The Rebuttal as UN-PC. It made me wonder if we actually are. Is it UN-PC to want to create debate and challenge or institutions? Granted some of what we write has the potential to be divisive but is talking about it UN-PC? Is using humour and satire UN-PC? Should we worry too much about sensibilities and tone it down? Would doing so create as much discussion if we did?  That is the crux of the matter, what we write, we write because we view what others are doing as being UN-PC. The hush, hush way things are done and the way decisions are made without community input is something WE view as UN-PC. But because we try, deliberately so, to be controversial and create debate it is us that is viewed as UN-PC. Confused? Me too!

Lets look at it this way. One of the most controversial articles we have written is From the Slums of Mumbiah. In this article we examined the charity mentality of fundraising. We described how a deafblind man was  raising money for an organisation that supported the deaf. He was in a shopping centre, not really able to see anyone around him,  just waving a huge cup hoping that people would drop money in his cup. We questioned whether this was a slur on his dignity and whether a deafblind man frantically waving a cup around to people he could not see or communicate with was an image that deaf or, indeed, Deafblind people wanted portrayed to the public.

The CEO of the organisation, who has since moved on, posted an angry response. He called the author of the article (me) arrogant and asked whether it was for us to tell the Deafblind person in question how he should use his time. It was, said the CEO – the Deafblind mans choice and that we were sensationalising the situation. It is debatable whether the Deafblind guy in question did, indeed, have a choice and we asked, and were not answered, about whether other options had been offered to him for employment. The CEO, in fact, wiped his hands of the matter saying that they actually contracted out their fundraising and were not responsible for how the Contractor chose to raise money for them. Were we UN-PC or was the method of fundraising UN-PC – It is a matter of conjunction. But certainly, judging by the responses to the article, most people thought the method of fundraising was offensive and abhorrent.

Recently we have had the Dimity debates. Dimity, of course, won Queenslander of the Year and her network of  Hear Say Centres were granted $4 million from the Queensland Government to continue their method of education for the deaf. A method that explicitly forbids sign language. “Deaf is not deaf” any more she announced in an emotional acceptance speech. Referring to herself she made the astonishing claim, “I speak for all deaf children.” Predictably the Deaf community saw red.

CODA Australia President,   Julie Judd, was particularly vocal.  She wrote a stinging article challenging Dimity for having the arrogance to claim she spoke for all deaf children  (click here to read article). Ms Judd used everything within her power to protest. She wrote and published numerous research quotes on Facebook, she encouraged the Deaf community and its advocates to respond. She made it clear that Dimity and her politics are wrong.

Of course in doing so she upset the people on the other side of the debate. She was fearless. The Deaf community and Ms Judd, who is a proud CODA,   had been slurred, the public had been misinformed – and the world had to know. But was Ms Judd UN-PC? – Would it have been better to do things quietly, behind doors and in a less divisive way? My view is that the methods of Ms Judd were absolutely correct. The Dimity’s of the world have resources and contacts and they use the might of these resources to take the moral high-ground – they must be challenged. The truth is that it was Dimity who was UN-PC – But convincing the world, a world that seeks to fix, that she was misleading them is an uphill battle. To accept and be quiet would be to reinforce that all Dimity stands for is right – This is not an option. 

To PC or not to PC ? It is not a question that can be answered. One persons PC is another’s not PC. But to remain silent and to not challenge is not an option. If we do, then we only have ourselves to blame when decisions are made that are not in our best interest. Silence and meekness is the real UN-PC!

Queensland MP David Gibson responds to Queenslander of tyhe Year Award – Taken from CODA Australia website.

Please see below the Budget in Reply speech given last Friday morning by Gympie MP, David Gibson in the Queensland Parliament which addresses the issues raised by members of  the Deaf community and CODA Australia in some part:

David Gibson

MEMBER FOR GYMPIE

2010 BUDGET IN REPLY

Mr GIBSON (Gympie—LNP) …It is now appropriate for me to turn my remarks

to the funding provided in the budget for Queensland children suffering from hearing

loss. As many in this chamber would be aware, as a child of deaf parents I am

intimately aware of the challenges deaf people face. Any funding that is provided for

early detection and intervention of hearing loss for infants and children is welcome as

it is an important step towards giving our kids the best start in life. As elected

representatives, however, we must remember that deafness is more than just a

medical condition that requires a techno-fix. It is recognised that cochlear implants are

an important advancement in assisting deaf people to be able to communicate in a

hearing dominated world, but we must also accept that individuals who are deaf do not

simply have damaged ears. Any government that does not accept this will be

implementing a flawed policy direction.

Deaf people belong to a community, a culture. In this sense deafness is unique

amongst disability types. A sense of culture is strongest amongst those for whom sign

language is their primary language, but it extends to all who use sign language

regardless of their level of proficiency. It is this linguistic bond perhaps more than any

other factor that binds the deaf community together. In many ways the social character

of the deaf culture can be compared to that of any immigrant culture. Just as there is a

strong sense of pride amongst the Sudanese or the Greek in their heritage and their

societies there is a strong sense of pride amongst the deaf and they enjoy the status

of a cultural and linguistic minority. Deafness is much more than just a physiological

disability; it is a way of life.

It was therefore extremely unfortunate that in accepting the Queenslander of

the Year award last week, Dimity Dornan from the Hear and Say Centre said—

I stand here to represent all the children who are deaf and all who haven’t been born yet who are deaf.

She further stated—

Deaf is not deaf anymore.

 

I would hope that these remarks were not scripted but rather spoken in the

exuberance of the moment and are now regretted, for they have caused concern

amongst the deaf community throughout Australia. The funding provided by this Labor

government for the Hear and Say Centre is significant, but we must recognise that the

auditory verbal approach is only suitable for some deaf children. This government

must show respect for the broader deaf community and recognise the worth and

benefits of sign language as a valid communication choice for parents of deaf children.

It is unfortunate that the media statements from the Bligh Labor government on this

budget announcement do not reflect that respect to the deaf community.

The inference in media statements that future funding would be cut by a Labor

government from Education Queensland programs for hearing impaired students as a

result of this budget funding announcement is of deep concern. Further, the media

statements imply that the only way deaf children are able to communicate is with a

cochlear implant. This is simply not true and does not recognise the value of sign

language known as Auslan. Auslan is an integral part of the richness of culture that is

valued in the deaf community. No government should support the view that the deaf

should be forced to assimilate into the dominant culture of spoken English. But from

the wording of the media statements it appears that this is Labor’s position.

We must recognise that a combination of communication strategies and options

need to be funded and offered to all deaf children and their parents if we are to be

serious about providing the strongest foundation for deaf children to have the best start in life.

Media Release from CODA Australia (Printed with permission.)

The recent budget announcement by the Queensland State Government to award over four million dollars to the “Hear and Say” Centre in Brisbane perpetuates and reinforces the view that deaf children should be educated in a manner that has proven to be unsuccessful and denies deaf children the opportunity to acquire Auslan (Australian Sign Language). The type of methodology and practice promoted by the Hear and Say Centre is in breach of the UN Convention on the Human Rights of people who are Deaf.

The Queensland government has deeply offended and angered members of the Australian Deaf Community and members of CODA Australia by awarding the Hear and Say Centre’s Managing Director Ms. Dimity Dornan with the Queenslander of the Year Award. Her exclusive support of the auditory-verbal approach at the Hear and Say Centre and strict prohibition of the use of Auslan insults our organisation and the signing Deaf Community throughout Australia. The Deaf community have suffered enough with the appalling educational opportunities afforded to them in this country. The attempt to ‘normalise’ a deaf child to the detriment of their cognitive development is tantamount to criminal activity.

Historically, the deaf community has endured oppression from those who belong to the majority hearing population. This has been born primarily due to ignorance regarding issues that impact the communication needs of deaf people. In efforts to ‘normalise’ deaf children, the practice of teaching them how to speak and read lips prevailed over instruction in reading, writing, mathematics and learning of life skills. This has created a lack of awareness surrounding the value of sign language and the benefits it provides when teaching deaf children the same skills as their hearing counterparts. A negative attitude towards the use of Auslan has persisted until recently, when sign language was officially recognised as a true, living and complete language with its own syntax, grammar and lexicon[1].

Positively, changes are taking place due to the Australian Government’s ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2008. Deaf people now have the freedom and right to use a language of their choice[2]. Specifically, Article 30 in the optional protocol states: “Persons with disabilities shall be entitled, on an equal basis with others, to recognition and support of their specific cultural and linguistic identity, including sign languages and deaf culture.”

Extensive research in the area of linguistics and neurological language learning has proven that sign language is the most easily accessible language for people who are deaf[3]. This is due to the fact that spoken English requires a functioning auditory-verbal loop in order to facilitate comprehension (in the developmental years), an attribute that most deaf people do not have.

In light of service provision inequities servicing the Queensland deaf population it is immoral that such a large amount of additional funds have been allocated to the Hear and Say Centre promoting the speech of deaf children. In contrast, a minimal amount of funding is allocated to adults whose lives have been disadvantaged by inadequate and ineffective educational opportunities. Consequently, this segment of the Australian community require ongoing support services in order to live independently and have equal access to generic services. These support services in many parts of Queensland are non – existent.

Further to this, Ms. Dornan’s comment that “Deaf is not deaf anymore”[4] is pure conjecture, she does not represent or serve parents (of deaf children) or deaf children themselves throughout their lifelong journey as deaf people. A deaf child’s hearing will not magically reappear because that child learns how to speak or read lips. The practice at the Hear and Say Centre is both disturbing and discriminatory. A deaf child, who has a Cochlear Implant even though it may be successful, does not hear perfectly. When the technology is not functioning the child continues to be deaf.  In addition, only about one third of all deaf children are suitable candidates for an implant. This leaves two thirds of deaf children unsupported and disregarded by the Hear and Say Centre. How is this practice worthy of such an award?

The majority of deaf adults in our community have been denied access to Auslan in their formative years. Many of these individuals did not have opportunities to meet other deaf people until adulthood. This has resulted in a high proportion of mental health conditions amongst the deaf population. The flawed theoretical view dismissing the use of sign language has regained support in recent times and widely promoted by the Hear and Say Centre. This narrow minded approach is applauded by the state government by awarding the Hear and Say’s Managing Director with accolades, when she does not have the support of the community with which she is supposedly serving. The government has, in addition, provided substantial financial support (in excess of 4 million dollars) towards the Hear and Say Centre who do not subscribe to thorough research methodologies or apply modern research findings related to language learning and the cognitive development of deaf children.

CODA (Children of Deaf Adults) Australia is a national voluntary organisation that aims to foster confident relationships with deaf parents and their children throughout the journey of life. We aim to promote awareness of the cultural and linguistic dynamics within families where one or more family members are deaf. CODA Australia supports Codas (Children of Deaf Adults) regardless of their age, or their parent’s mode of communication. Membership to CODA Australia offers support to adults (who are not deaf) who have been raised by deaf parents. Our organisation promotes the inclusion of Auslan (Australian Sign Language) the language of the deaf community within Australia as an integral part of the range of communication skills taught to all Deaf children.

This press release outlines the deprivation of language and cultural identity that deaf Australians have had to endure for decades. The language eradication that was endured through the period of “assimilation” for the indigenous Australian population demonstrates a chilling example of how a minority group can so easily be abused by those in power.

Auslan is the native language of the majority of our members who are not deaf themselves.

Contact:

Julie Judd

President

CODA Australia

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An AUSLAN version of this media release can be found at:     http://www.codaaustralia.com/

Stand Up and Be Counted

Well, well, well – It is now public. the Cinema’s have made their offer and the consultation has begun. Deafness Forum have got the ball rolling and have put a poll on their website to see if people are happy with the offer.  I for one must say I am EXTREMELY impressed. Having said that this is just the first step on the way to fair and reasonable access for deaf and blind people at the cinema.

Below is the substance of what the cinemas are offering. This has been taken from the Deafness Forum website.

  • By the end of 2014 captions and audio description would be available in at least one screen in every one of the 132 cinema complex run by these operators.

What this means is that every cinema owned by the major cinema companies will have at least one cinema that can show captioning for the deaf and also provide audio description for the blind. Keep in mind that some cinemas have more than one cinema in a cinema complex. However under the offer from the cinemas they have committed to ensuring AT LEAST ONE MOVIE THEATRE in the complex will be able to provide access.

But THERE IS MORE!!

  • In addition captions and audio description would be available in:

– one screen for every complex with 6 or less screens

– two screens for every complex with 7 to 12 screens

– three screens for every complex with 13 or more screens

This would equate to captions and audio description being provided at 242 screens in 132 complexes compared to the current situation where only 12 screens in 12 complexes provide captioning. AND I believe none of these twelve screens provide audio description for the blind. It is a vast improvement.

The cinemas have proposed a roll-out of their proposal. This is what they are suggesting.

A timetable for achieving this goal might be:

  1. By the end of 2010 access would be provided in 24 screens (10% of proposed total)
  2. By the end of 2011 access would be provided in 73 screens (30% of proposed total)
  3. By the end of 2012 access would be provided in 145 screens (60% of proposed total)
  4. By the end of 2013 access would be provided in 194 screens (80% of proposed total)
  5. By the end of 2014 access would be provided in 242 screens (100% of proposed total)

    One must remember that initially the cinemas were offering JUST 35 cinemas for a two and a half year exemption to discrimination complaints WITH NO PLAN as to how to improve things at the end of this two and a half year exemption.

    With the roll-out that has been suggested by the cinemas they calculate that the following levels of access will be provided.

    • Captions and audio description would be available at every session of a movie that had captions or audio description showing on those screens. For example, the initial roll-out of 10% of the screens would result in 840 shows per week of closed captioning and audio description content (ie. 24 screens at 35 sessions per week).
    • Industry proposed that the technology used to deliver captioning and audio description would initially be CaptiView, but noted that like in other areas of technological change, improvements would occur and alternative improved technologies would develop over time. Industry acknowledged that the implementation of CaptiView would not preclude the adoption of improved technology in the future.

    This means that every cinema that has the technology to provide captioning and audio description will provide captioning and audio description FOR EVERY MOVIE that is shown in that particular movie theatre. That wont be every movie because, for example, some cinemas have up to ten movie theatres in a complex.  Under this proposal by the cinemas, if a cinema complex had ten theatres at least two of these will provide captioning and audio description for the movies shown at those two movie theatres. BUT access will be provided at every session shown at those theatres – everyday and at every session.

    Considering that  the initial proposal was only offering access at 35 cinemas with no suggestion as to how many sessions would be available this is an enormous increase in what the cinemas were offering.

    But why has there been this dramatic change of heart. Part of this has been the introduction of the CaptiView system.  This is technology that the user has to set up at their seat … it means they watch the captions at their seat and not on the screen. There will not be open captions. The cinemas have been very opposed to open captioning stating that it takes away from the cinema enjoyment of those patrons that don’t require captioning.

    Their are mixed reviews of the CaptiView system.  Some believe that it takes away from the enjoyment for the deaf person. They say that watching a movie with the system means the watcher must coordinate looking at the captions and the screen and that this can be difficult. To try and reassure people the cinemas have agreed to a consultative process so that patrons can provide feedback about the system. I believe they cinemas have also agreed to regular reviews of the technology and upgrades of the technology when appropriate.

    Perhaps at this stage it is a bit premature to celebrate because we do not yet know how deaf people will react to the CaptiView system. The same will not apply to blind patrons because they will have a headset where they listen to the audio description direct to their ear. Blind patrons will not have to coordinate watching the movie and captions at the same time.

    So there we have it. The first step to better cinema access. There is one lesson that we have learned from all this and that is that we must always CHALLENGE decisions that are made for us. If we had sat back and accepted what was on offer, if we had accepted what our advocates had agreed to and if we had not made a protest we would not be in this situation.  Having said this we must also appreciate the work of people that managed to negotiate the original proposal.  Weak as it was they battled hard on our behalf. The cinemas played hard ball but they kept the cinemas at the negotiation table.  Their part in this process should not be underestimated.  BUT still we must challenge if we do not agree we must say so – If we do not change never happens.

    There are cynics that claim that the Cinema protest is a small fish. People who claim that there are bigger issues and more important issues. All of this is very true but one needs to remember that the cinema protest has set a PRECEDENT. It brought the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) to the table. It provided the AHRC with ammunition to hold the cinemas to account. The benchmark has been set – The cinemas were told, that based on their profits, what they were offering was not acceptable and that they were not meeting their responsibilities. If the cinemas can be held to account, what then of the Government that doesn’t provide proper access to education? What then of big multinationals like Telstra  who charge through the nose for data plans that for many deaf people are the only means to access telecommunications to an equitable level of their hearing peers?

    Do not underestimate the impact of this cinema campaign. The precedent has been set.  We must now keep the fire burning!

    It's All Happening in Queensland

    I simply couldn’t measure up as a “hearing” person. 30 years of butting my head against a brick wall in the mistaken belief that I could be a “hearing” person (when I was profoundly Deaf)!

    This is all so obviously wrong that I am somewhat ashamed of myself for letting this happen.

    MICHAEL LOCKREY

    This is one of the most profound statements that I have ever read about a deaf person and how they feel in the hearing world.  More so because I know the man. You could almost call Michael Lockrey a poster boy. He is profoundly deaf, intelligent, successful, articulate, speaks with clarity – He is everything the auditory verbal professional wants from a deaf person. He is a shining beacon of what the approach can achieve. AND YET .. he himself acknowledges that for all of the the success that the auditory verbal approach had in developing his speech and language – It wasn’t enough.  For all the efforts of the system to make Michael “hearing” the reality hit him, well into adulthood – that he is deaf, and speech alone could not provide him with the communication  he needed to achieve his full potential – socially and professionally.

    So it is with some trepidation that I read today that the Queensland Government has put in its state budget money to ensure that every Queensland kid who loses their hearing or is born deaf can be provided with a cochlear implant. Now I am not one of those anti-cochlear implant people. I fully support the right for parents to chose the implant for their kids. Parents do not make the decision lightly – they make it with much love and with only their child’s best interest at heart.

    I wish, however, that they could make this decision with all of the information they need at their finger tips. I wish that they could understand that using sign language will not impede speech and language development but actually enhance it. I wish that they could access the research that shows just how speech and signing complement each other and not the opposite as many cochlear implant advocates will have us believe. BUT I know that this is not likely to be so.

    The reality is that they are likely to receive highly biased information. Information that raises their hopes. Information that suggests that the cochlear implant will NORMALISE their child and make them as close to hearing as is possible in today’s technologically enhanced world.

    But as Michael Lockrey can attest – when they hit adulthood the reality will set in. After years of being praised for being able to HEAR so well, after years of having people gush and be amazed at what the cochlear implant has done for them, after years of believing that they are hearing they will learn that they are,  in fact, deaf. They will realise in big groups, in social situations, in work training situations or in noisy environments that they are DEAF.

    For some the reality will hit home that they have been living a lie. And like with Michael Lockrey, this realisation will hurt. There will be anger and possibly shame. For some, like Michael, they will get past this and live happy and fulfilling lives. But it is painful. Some get past it but too many do not.

    In adulthood they may even find that the technology that has been their godsend will breakdown. Like hearing aids cochlear implant processors have a life-span. After the age of 21 they will have to pay for repairs and replacements themselves. Somehow, to be “hearing” againthey will have to find many thousands of dollars to replace the technology that they have become so reliant on.  Some will be able to afford it but many will not. All those years of training to  be able to use the cochlear implant may suddenly be for nothing. Suddenly one day they will be DEAF .. And then what?

    Recently Greg Leigh from the Royal Institute  for the Deaf and the Blind gave the Libby Harricks Memorial Orientation at the Deafness Forum Summit in Sydney. He rolled out statistics that showed how kids with cochlear implants perform better in language tests, speech tests and so on. All of this is true. I would be lying if I did not admit that I had not met kids with cochlear implants that are doing fantastically well. But Mr Leigh’s research had one flaw – It did not have any data, as far as I could see, that compared results of kids who have had cochlear implants and who had been also given access to sign language. It didn’t provide any longitudinal information of the difficulties that  kids with cochlear implants confront in adulthood. It didn’t talk about how they perform in big groups, in noisy environments nor did it discuss issues of self perception of kids with cochlear implants. Mr Leigh did talk of the benefits of signing BUT not as part of the cochlear implant process. It seemed that it was either one or the other,  there was no suggestion that the two methodologies could be combined.

    You see, life as a deaf person is not just about speech and language – it is about many other social and environmental factors. Its about a the WHOLE PERSON. The WHOLE PERSON is something that the cochlear implant advocates have not yet understood. In fact I doubt it is something they even really consider. Their obsession with speech and hearing blinds them to these issues.

    Queensland is an enigma. Not too long ago it committed $30 million over 5 years to introduce Auslan to schools. It has now introduced a program that aims to see every kid with a hearing loss provided, where possible, with a cochlear implant. It clearly recognises deafness, particularly with kids, as a vital and important state issue. For this they are to be congratulated.

    But now the challenge is to roll out the cochlear implant program in a way that parents can see the WHOLE deaf person and not just hearing and speech. The challenge is to provide parents with the REAL story. They may well still do this – I will watch the developments with interest.

    Michael Lockrey's Personal Story

    Michaels story was submitted as a comment to A Communities Wrath – Ir is worth a post on its own so we have reprinted it here. Thank you Michael!

    Just to add a personal story – I was schooled in the lipreading / auditory approach from a very young age. It was certainly effective – as I can still recall meeting my first Deaf (signing Deaf) person in my teens and I really thought that I was nothing like him and that I was really a “hearing” person!

    Obviously this was a fallacy (and a half)!

    My biggest personal regret of my life to date is that I didn’t learn Auslan until I was 30! Looking back over my life I can see countless missed opportunities – both professionally and personally – as I simply couldn’t measure up as a “hearing” person. 30 years of butting my head against a brick wall in the mistaken belief that I could be a “hearing” person (when I was profoundly Deaf)!

    This is all so obviously wrong that I am somewhat ashamed of myself for letting this happen. But the reality is that this flawed approach of focusing on lipreading and active listening (without a similar level of focus on Auslan) simply will not work effectively. To this day I still pretend to have heard what people have said! I truly hope that we can prevent more “Michael Lockrey’s” in the future…..I simply can’t see how focusing on non-sign language communication methods equips you with the self confidence and understanding necessary to survive in our society.

    A Communities Wrath.

    “I stand here to represent all the children who are deaf, and all who haven’t been born yet who are deaf,” she told the audience.

    “I think the changes we can make in (deaf) children’s lives are so huge you can’t believe them until you see them.

    “Deaf is not deaf anymore,”

    Dimiti Dorman, accepting her Queenslander of the year award.

    http://www.couriermail.com.au/news/queensland/dimity-dornan-awarded-queenslander-of-the-year/story-e6freoof-1225874183350

    And in so saying this Ms Dorman earned the wrath of the Deaf community. But is it deserved?

    Ms Dorman is a well known advocate for the Auditory Verbal approach for teaching deaf kids to speak and listen.  She and her fellow professionals believe that the auditory pathway to the brain needs to be stimulated to the point that there can be no distraction from the process of listening. Sign language is one of those distractions. if the child is more inclined to sign they will be less inclined to listen. If they do not learn to listen early and prefer to sign their auditory pathways to the brain will be impaired.

    This in itself is fine. In our democratic society we are allowed to express a view. BUT when we express a view or an opinion we should at least do so truthfully. Dimiti Dorman distorts the truth. She and her cohorts, which include Dr Bruce Shepherd, are not so much advocates for the Auditory Verbal approach, but zealots.

    Ms Dorman’s network of professionals includes some prestigious centres that focus on the Auditory Verbal approach. They include the Shepherd Centre in NSW, Taryle in Melbourne and the Cora Barclay Centre in South Australia. All of these centres provide world class service in the provision of the Auditory Verbal approach to deaf kids. Not only that, they have some excellent outcomes as well. No one is doubting this.

    BUT they have a problem. They lack respect for the Deaf community and sign language. They think it is a lesser form of communication. They think that speech is far superior and that sign language cannot provide deaf kids with the same level of access as speech. If you do not believe me, consider this quote from Dr Bruce Shepherd, it was taken from a radio debate on deafness with Phillip Adams in 2006 – “… But especially we wanted our children to develop language. Because it’s not well known that the average profoundly deaf person who signs generally doesn’t develop terribly good language and they often can’t understand a great deal of what they read and they can’t make other people understand what they’re thinking.”

    And of course this utterance from Dr Shepherd is absolute poppycock. Ms Dorman believes this also, as do the other centres in her network of Hear and Speak centres. They use emotional language like, “Giving our Deaf Kids a Voice” or “To hear is to speak.”  Or they put out insulting advertisements like the horrendous Cora Barclay advertisement which has a young deaf lad  who started of the advertisement signing. The dialogue of the advertisement went something like this, (Boy signing) ” Not long ago the only way I could communicate was like this” (Boy breaks into clear and  fluent speech) “But now there is a better way..” Thus implying that speech is far superior to sign language. Make no mistake, this is what Ms Dormanand her cohorts believe. ( The Rebuttal has written of the Cora Barclay advertisement before, re visit the article at – http://the-rebuttal.com/?p=65 )

    The issue that I, and many others, have with the tactics of Ms Dorman and her colleagues is not so much the method,  (it works for many kids just as it fails many) but the fact that they continue to mislead. They continue to put out misleading information such as Dr Shepherd did in his radio interview,  as the Cora Barclay Centre did with their television advertisement and as did Ms Dormann with her emotional acceptance of the Queenslander of the Year Award. Since when has she “represented all children who are deaf? – She doesnt. What gives her the right to spout misleading claptrap like “Deaf isnt Deaf anymore” – all this does is set deaf kids up to fail and make society think that deafness is a lesser kind of existance.

    Now lets look at things from a different point of view. Let us discuss sign language in a different light.  Let us state a few home truths:

    1) Sign language can help develop stronger literacy.

    2) Kids that sign and have poor literacy, often have poor literacy because their language development was delayed by zealots that insisted on the Auditory Verbal approach long after it was clear that it wasn’t working. Sign language was not the reason.

    3) That sign language actually HELPS with speech acquisition – it does not hinder it!

    4) Deaf kids,  unless their hearing loss is conductive, WILL ALWAYS BE DEAF – even with a cochlear implant!

    Now here is the research.  For ease – all of this is cut and pasted –

    ” ..IT WILL NOT DELAY SPEECH. Actually it will facilitate it with higher chances of earlier acquisition of speech. 103 eleven month olds were divided into three groups, one test group and two control groups (Goodwyn, Acredolo, & Brown, 2000). One group of parents knew nothing of the research intent and the other control group was instructed to make an effort to model verbal labels. The test group’s parents were to teach the infants sign. All groups of infants were tested in language proficiency at 15, 19, 24, 30, and 36 months. Results showed that the sign group had the advantage on the vast majority of language tests suggesting that sign does not hamper language development but may actually facilitate it.” (Goodwyn et al.).

    and ….

    “…Researchers in another article tying symbolic gesturing to speech development conclude, “it may even be the case that successful communication with gestures as object labels adds to the child’s overall conviction that he or she is on to something’ with this labeling business and thus speeds along the naming process in the verbal modality”  (Acredolo & Goodwyn, 1988, p. 464).

    There is another side to every coin. All that the Deaf community and its advocates ask of Ms Dorman and her colleagues is that they provide both sides of the story to parents of deaf kids. They need to provide the pros and the cons for what ever decision that the parents may make. Is that too much to ask?

    Yes, without doubt, Ms Dorman and her colleagues, through their continued lack of respect and misinformation, have earned the wrath of the Deaf community.  They should know better and THEY DO!  Its not hard – I close this article with a quote from Grace Fox;

    “… It must be concluded, then, that any type of communication-signing, speaking, pictures-can be beneficial for a child not only intellectually and developmentally, but also emotionally. It is my opinion that all parents ought to teach some kind of early communication that the child can use early on, to reduce frustration. Every parent has their choice, and those who choose not to sign ought not to look down upon those who do, and vice-versa. Differences in opinion should be respectfully given in such discussions. Communication, after all, is the key.”

    Nuff said.

    (To read Grace Fox’s article in full go to: http://www.helium.com/debates/140836-infant-sign-language-beneficial-or-delays-speech/side_by_side )