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.


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 )


8 thoughts on “A Communities Wrath.

  1. Anyone who wants deaf out of the communal straitjacket most seem to accept is inevitable, deserves our thanks. Quite right communication is all, it always was. As an holistic advocate of communication teaching, I’d go a lot further in removing lip-reading and BSL teachings as sole systems and forcing them both to amalgamate and include any and other means to get deaf OUT THERE. Deaf should be part of society, not occasional visitors. This dogma of D and d has to go for good too.

  2. Dr S as appalling as some of his view are does not deserve that sort of abuse. I leave the comment only to show that this sort of thing does noone any favours. In fact it belittles all the efforts of the Deaf community to be taken seriously. And MM Deaf are out there already. Always have been always will be. Working, playing, living and loving. Everyday everywhere. Noone should be forced to follow norms simply cos others think its better, especially if those choices are causing no harm to anyone.

  3. 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.

  4. I came into sign language in my late teen eg. 19 years old… I come from an oral background and I looked back and I knew I was in a very depressed state.. frustrated at my inability to acquire knowledge and relying on broken ears that did not always grasp what was happening. I came into the Deaf Community with a bit of shock. I was told that the signing that I was using was widely accepted by the Deaf Community it was called Signed English. I arrived at a Deaf function and spent most of my time sitting in a corner looking at this onmass fluently signing with smattering of signs that I recognised as Signed English (I learnt that alot of Auslan was borrowed by Signed English)… and a year later I was at that same function but that time I was in the middle, chatting away in signs.

    What did I learn from Auslan?

    – I learnt humour, my mother would comment that since I have been involved in Deaf Community, I’ve become good at jokes and being funny and being able to quickly spread humour…

    – I actually experienced a rapid increase in understanding english and was able to produce superb high level of english in my essays and assignment as a result of being able to communicate via Auslan

    – signing actually made me beocme more passionate about learning and acquiring knowledge

    – enabled me to converse quite rapidly with others and able to visually see what is being said to be able to absorb informaiton at a faster rate than just relying on listening with broken ears

    – the clarity that comes with sign language can never be underestimated, there is room to reiterate or to further explain or illustrate with more finer details – you don’t get that with oralism.

    – very highly communicative and highly expressive of emotions and its like music to the soul just to sign and express what happend, laugh hard at something funny and its all in the visual means

    – I pick up more information via Auslan than I do with my hearing… the clarity is there… there’s a story I wanted to share and that was I worked as a community worker within a large organisation… we have team meeting and I would go and listen to them… in my team I was impressed with factual knowledge and wisdom, my team was the most sophicated team… so I thought… one day I was having problems with my hearing aids and I was experiencing high level of stress and my team leader asked what can he do to help and I joked that I could with a sign language interpeter and he said book em… I thought shit that’s about $199 for the three hours meeting… but I did book interpreter and my interpreter arrived… I sat in the team and I was a bit disturbed… the interpreter left as I sign off the paperwork, I was a little upset with the interpreter and my team leader looked at me and he said to me what wrong… I said I never want to hire that interpreter again and proceeded to tell my team leader what the interpreter said throughout the meeting… I thought was very unprofessional of the interpreter and that the interpreter put down my rather sophiscated team. We don’t make jokes about people with disabilities or make fun of management, or comment about various program… and I felt that 85% of the time the team was joking and being silly… my team leader was looking downward like he was amused and then he looked at me and said we do that every team meeting… I was shocked at the same time my innocent bubble bursted… oh my goodness… oh… opps… he was so amused that I had such a very different image of the team as being the more pure and highly effective team, efficient and smart … that’s because I could not access information… my team leader make it permanent that I had interpreter every team meeting and training.

    Hmmmm Craig.

  5. Michael and Craig … your comments should be required reading for every teacher of the deaf, for every professional that works with the deaf and every parent who has a deaf child. That is the reality … Listening and speaking are but a small part of the equation.

  6. http://www.deafeducation.org.uk/ we have the same thing here, it’s about giving deaf more choices than just sign language and no speech. It’s not about denying them a culture, it’s about improving their communication options. I really feel the politics of culture is a drawback to communication options. The other thing (Mostly ignored by cultural advocates), is this is a thought out and preferred parental choice. It’s not perfect yet because they pitch orals against sign, I’d want them mutually inclusive, to cut the ground from under the politics of negativity and confrontation. If you are going to say deaf children must only speak that is asking for trouble, but if you say they can speak AND sign that’s fine.. There is only one bottom line, HAS the child benefited ? Not has culture lost a potential member.

  7. I cannot understand what the society is doing to the Deaf children. If they born Deaf then let them be. There is no point of turning them into normal “hearing” life, because they are still Deaf inside.

    Doctors, teachers, cochlear PR people and the likes who are currently professionally working with limited knowledge Deaf kids and adults… I called them the money machine people. They are politically fortunate enough to take out of Deafies’ lives in the last 100 years and sadly, it is still happening today. They made the Deaf people into “limited” people, inability to make decisions which is a pure gold mine to the money machine people. Remember, they are professional and the people are really listening to them which is a problem for us; obviously, I am sure you have seen the key words “communication barrier”. I live with those key words in all my life and try to understand what that %#@$ mean to me. Now I understand why.

    Look, I have seen Deaf children and adults can hear things well and do speak very well too, no doubt! But this doesn’t mean they are being normal like hearing people. I don’t blame them.

    I strongly believe that we, the Deaf people have been affected by the political driven caused by deafness sectors in Australia. I don’t want to talk about it coz it will go forever.

    I beg the question to the money machine people and to the parents of the deaf children; have you ever seek advices from the very core people who are currently working in neuroscience education and research activities?

    I am sure that you will be shocked by them, the facts.

    Here one of my best quotes; the best quote of all times.

    “What matters deafness of the ear when the mind hears? The true deafness, the incurable deafness, is deafness of the mind.” Victor Hugo, 1845

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