I read something today. What I read took me back to the 1880’s. It made me think of the Milan conference. This is a famous conference held in Italy where some arty farty, know nothing hearing experts decreed that deaf people should never be given access to sign language. They were to be educated orally forever after. Signing was sin, almost akin to murder and was bound to send them all to hell. I mean, god forbid, how do you sign things to do with sex. It would just be way, way too RUUUUUDDDE. If you want to know more about Milan read this link – https://www.verywell.com/deaf-history-milan-1880-1046547
That dreadful conference was to put the lives of deaf people back a thousand years. It took over a century to undo the damage that the recommendations from this conference did to deaf people. It led to generations of deaf people who became virtually language-less and illiterate. We in the deaf community have all heard the horror stories where deaf kids were caned for signing or for using gestures. We have all heard of the stories where deaf kids were made to sit on their hands. If you want to see what it was like, and is often still like, watch this video. (Note the anti-sign language bias.)
I really thought that today, in 2017, we were over it. I thought we had moved into an age where we had learnt from our mistakes of the past. I thought we understood that we had screwed up the lives of generations of deaf people and that we would never go back there and then I read this:
“The cultural resistance definitely stems from low expectations that teachers have of students with disability and that stems from a lack of teacher training. That is probably one of the most critical areas. We all talk about training as a broad concept but there are some really specific things that I think teachers need training around and they may seem obvious at first to teachers but they are actually very specific around students’ disabilities. A lot of teachers do not know that for students who are deaf, for example, those students actually do not really need visual materials to support their learning because it disenables that student from focusing on what the teacher is actually saying and it is quite distracting. There are specific types of training the teachers need around different types of disabilities that are imperative. As I said, without a knowledge of those sorts of things teachers do not expect much of students with disability because they do not understand disability.”
I had to read this several times before the reality of this statement actually sank in. It is fair to say that I spat out my coffee. I thought it was from some ignoramus who had no clue. Indeed the person is an ignoramus. In fact ignoramus is too kind a word. What is worse is that this person, an aptly named Ms Lobo (have fun with that one), was representing the National Disability Services (NDS) in a submission to the GENERAL PURPOSE STANDING COMMITTEE NO. 3 STUDENTS WITH A DISABILITY OR SPECIAL NEEDS IN NEW SOUTH WALES SCHOOLS.
Statements like this scare the shit out of me. They scare the shit out of me because the NDS are a peak body that have much standing with the Government. They represent service providers and provide the government with high level policy advice on the service and support needs of people with a disability. And they said this ….
Let us for a moment dissect that statement. Deaf students …. “ …. actually do not really need visual materials to support their learning because it disenables that student from focusing on what the teacher is actually saying and it is quite distracting.”
Now “visual materials” – What are they? Auslan interpreters? Sign language? Captioning? One assumes that Ms Lobo- – – – is referring to these things. And these things are the very things that people who are deaf need to be able to communicate, understand and participate. Not only in education but the whole of the community.
Ms Lobo—- has said, to a high ranking enquiry, while representing a highly influential organisation, that these things, “disenable that student from focusing on what the teacher is actually saying and it is quite distracting.”
What Ms Lobo _ _ _ _ is saying, in essence, is that deaf people just need to watch very closely the speaker, without support, learn and participate. So they have to listen with limited hearing, lip-read and somehow be equal participants. Because if they have any visual assistance then it is, in her words, “..quite distracting.” Well thanks Lobo.
So pardon me if I am seeming to be over dramatic but isn’t this exactly what the Milan conference recommended? That visual means like sign language be eliminated and that deaf people were to communicate and receive instruction only orally and be expected to lipread everything. And that by doing so they would all become better listeners and lipreaders. Was that not the gist of it? Ms Lobo- – – – wants us to go back there even though generations of deaf people were destroyed through these methods.
And then somehow teachers that use visual means like captioning or sign language do so because – “ .. teachers do not expect much of students with disability because they do not understand disability.” In short, teachers that use visual communication means do so because they have no clue. OK! Now that makes complete sense!
Now people go forth and let people who support clueless statements like this know and let the NDS and Ms Lobo know just how clueless that they really are!
If you want to see the comment in all its shining glory its on page 71 – https://www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/committees/DBAssets/InquiryEventTranscript/Transcript/9901/Transcript%20-%203%20April%202017%20-%20UNCORRECTED.pdf