We here at RID HQ are committed to the communities that we serve – both the interpreter community and the Deaf community.
Interpreters are often ambassadors of the ASL community. As such, they have an innate responsibility to be aware of the issues of the ASL community and the Deaf community. Interpreters are allies and communication facilitators for the Deaf community as a whole and for Deaf people in nearly every aspect of their lives – from phone calls to job interviews to births, weddings, and funerals.
The news cycle has recently focused on a story that has far-reaching ramifications within both the Deaf and interpreter communities, and we want to provide you a highlight and synopsis of this issue to keep you informed and to make you aware of RID’s support of the Deaf Community’s response to this situation.
At the heart of this are the successes and recent advocacy efforts of Nyle DiMarco, the first Deaf person to win America’s Next Top Model (ANTM), and the reaction to his efforts by the Alexander Graham Bell Association (AG Bell).
Below, we have included some of the original articles that include quotes from Nyle, the response from the AG Bell Association, as well as many of the statements that have since been released in response to the comments made by the AG Bell.
Unlike some other Deaf people in movies or TV shows, Nyle does not use his voice, nor does he have any assistive listening devices (hearing aids or cochlear implants).
In an interview in The Times (link below), Nyle stated, “Another reason I quit speech class was because it took up so much time and I didn’t want to skip English or math. I didn’t want to be delayed in my education.”
Nyle is now a contestant on Dancing with the Stars (DWTS), and is doing very well, even though he admits that he cannot hear the music. He and his partner, Peta Murgatroyd, have worked out ways to communicate while dancing that keep Nyle on track with the music.
Nyle has leveraged his success and has become an ambassador for the Deaf community in many ways, including advocating against language deprivation of Deaf children. He became a spokesperson for LEAD-K (Language Equality and Acquisition for Deaf Kids) and did this video about the passing of California Senate Bill 210:
(The post on the LEAD-K website for this, with the English transcription, is here: http://www.asl4deafkids.org/posts/special-announcement-nyle-dimarco-lead-ks-spokesperson-senator-galgiani-author-sb-210/)
Then, on March 28, the Washington Post ran this article:
A ‘Dancing With the Stars’ contestant is vying for a White House Correspondents’ Dinner invite
In this interview, and in several previous interviews, Nyle has consistently advocated for the use of ASL for deaf children. He has never indicated that speech is a bad thing, just that it was not something that worked for him.
“There are so many Deaf kids out there being deprived of their own language (ASL),” he said in an email interview.
Last Friday, April 1, 2016, the President of AG Bell published an open letter on their website:
The letter was titled “Dispelling Myths about Deafness.” While it initially praised Nyle’s success, the letter then went on to make a number of claims that are not backed by research – but that do feed into the marketing message of the association and their sponsors.
Examples of false claims:
- the use of ASL is declining
- when technology intervention (i.e. hearing aids and cochlear implants) is performed early enough, children develop language at the same rate as their hearing peers
And one of the most egregious statements of all:
“Recent studies show that children who solely utilize listening and spoken language, rather than a combination of this with ASL, demonstrate better listening and spoken language skills than do children who follow a combination approach, and that these children frequently develop expressive and receptive language test scores similar to their typical hearing peers.”
There are other inaccurate claims within the letter. Studies to support their claims were not cited. We recommend you read the entire letter to fully understand the extent of AG Bell’s bias against ASL, bilingualism, and their sole focus on “hearing and speaking” instead of language acquisition for Deaf children.
Following are some of the responses that have been triggered by AG Bell’s letter. We have also provided links to additional resources:
The National Association of the Deaf had an excellent response.
“Numerous studies show that ASL actually enhances spoken language and auditory comprehension, even with cochlear implant users. In addition, sign language has been shown to improve academic performance. In fact, an article was recently published in the American Academy of Pediatrics’ journal outlining the clear benefits of learning sign language over an oral-only approach for any babies identified as deaf or hard of hearing.”
The NAD article includes citations to research studies, the full post is here:
Tim Albert, the President of the National Black Deaf Advocates (NBDA) wrote an impassioned letter:
“If 90% of deaf children with hearing parents are speaking the Spoken English language in their households, what percent of these children are comfortably or fluently speaking the Spoken English language and succeeding vocally, academically, intellectually, socially, emotionally, psychologically and mentally?”
Dr. Peter Hauser, Clinical Neuropsychologist, directly addressed AG Bell’s claims of the benefits of a CI-only approach:
“The majority of deaf children with cochlear implants do not achieve “listening and spoken language” skills similar to hearing peers (e.g., Lund, 2015). Children with cochlear implants who learn a sign language actually develop better speech skills than those who do not learn a sign language (e.g., Davidson et al., 2014; Hassanzadeh, 2012).”
Dr. Octavian Robinson, Ph.D., faculty member in the Department of ASL and Deaf Studies at the College of the Holy Cross, addressed the underlying eugenical roots of the AG Bell organization:
“The A.G. Bell organization continues to promote an ideology steeped in 19th century pseudoscience and xenophobia. This pseudoscience and xenophobia were driven by fear of otherness. In response to socioeconomic tumult and massive immigration, “scientists” like Bell turned to eugenics to scientifically justify the marginalization and dehumanization of non-white people, Catholics, Jews, women, the disabled and the deaf. Eugenics shaped Bell’s approach to teaching deaf children, affirming false scientific ideas about race, ethnicity, gender, and disabilities. Eugenics also drove Nazi Germany’s genocide of Jews, ethnic minorities, gays and lesbians, and many others in the Holocaust.”
- we know that early visual experience can give a deaf child very specific advantages for cognition, especially for visual processing, and brain function
- we know that early bilingual exposure to a natural signed language and a spoken language gives the deaf child cognitive and linguistic advantages
- we know from our studies that young deaf readers are remarkably skilled at learning language, and we know that young deaf readers draw upon their language foundation when they learn English print
Meanwhile, the discussion continues…
…on social media, on the internet at large, and person-to-person.
We hope that YOU will participate in the discussions. We hope that you will openly support the position of the NAD, NBDA, and others posted here, as does RID. RID is proud to stand united with the Deaf Community in drawing attention to the inaccuracies and bias being promoted in AG Bell’s April 1st open letter. We hope that the information we are sharing with you (above) helps frame your thinking and helps you to accurately inform those around you who ask you for more information.