Monday, May 23, 2011

The impotency of the National Association of the Deaf


A response to Joey Baer's open letter

Joey Baer recently created an open letter to the NAD regarding Governor Daniels’ appointees to the Board of the Indiana School for the Deaf. In short, he wondered what action the NAD was going to take. So far, on Twitter, Facebook, and the NAD website, there has been no response.

In the past, Bobbie Beth Scoggins, President of the NAD, has commented that the NAD could not be all things to everyone and that the states [organizations] would have to take the lead in effecting change rather than rely upon the NAD to do the ‘work.’

To address Scoggins’ comment that the NAD could not be all things to everyone: I imagine I understand why the NAD has not responded. Pedagogical methods in deaf education is a highly polarizing issue and the NAD seems reluctant to take a position that might favor a particular method above another. However, I believe that the NAD can and should have responded to Governor Daniels’ appointments by framing their response in a way that highlighted the issue as one of exclusion. The exclusion of input from the very population that Governor Daniels’ decision affects the most is simply inexcusable. The exclusion of the deaf and hard of hearing community in this decision making process reeks of paternalism and political cronyism. These two points can be used effectively to appeal Governor Daniels’ appointments without wading into a pedagogical debate.

The second portion of Scoggins’ comment centers on the most effective sites of deaf activism. History supports Scoggins’ position. The majority of changes throughout the 20th century that benefited deaf people came from state and local action, not national action. Preserving deaf people’s right to marry; the right to drive; the right to insurance; the right to education for deaf children, the right to an interpreter in court; protections from employment discrimination; labor bureaus; and so on forth happened because of the activism of state organizations. To continue to gain greater rights and access to citizenship for deaf people, it is crucial that state and local organizations remain vigorously active and to be proactive about creating opportunities to act for change rather than reacting to circumstances. State organizations, especially in Pennsylvania, Minnesota, and California were largely responsible for expanding deaf people’s access to citizenship and equality during the first half of the 20th century. States have been, for a long time, and continue to be where change takes place. States serve as laboratories for social policy for the federal government (and not just in terms of deaf-related legislation). For this reason, it is important that state organizations be powerful, active, and engaged in any and all political processes available.

Although state and local action are the primary drivers of legislative successes, this early activism happened because of effective leadership on part of the NAD. The NAD took advantage of correspondence and the silent press [deaf newspapers] to mobilize the rank and file, coordinate state and local activism, tie the activism of state and local organizations to the goals of the NAD, and provided crucial resources to local and state activists. The NAD may not have had its officers ‘on the ground’ and at the scene of every legislative fight but it acted as a leader. That leadership is absent today. Part of this is because the NAD has backed away from divisive political rhetoric that shaped the NAD during its early history. Part of this is because the NAD is poorly organized and is not structured in a way that encourages a cohesive approach to achieving the changes we desperately want to see take place: especially in the arenas of employment, education, and communication.

In terms of leadership, one of the most important strengths of the NAD throughout most of its history were its Calls to Action. Those Calls to Action mobilized the rank and file across the country, motivated hundreds of local and state leaders to take action, guided those leaders in creating effective strategies, and developed a coherent agenda that best served the interests of the deaf community as a whole. Those Calls to Action also served as models of success to state and local organizations that wanted to emulate the legislative successes achieved in other communities and states across the country.

The NAD has failed miserably in this regard. Most glaring is its failure to use social media efficiently. Their Twitter and Facebook accounts are filled with pretty bits of public relations and self-laudatory remarks. There are no CALLS TO ACTION. There is no clear sense of leadership—no clear sense of agenda, objectives, bringing issues to our attention, and so on forth.

Readers, compare the NAD’s Twitter account to those of the ACLU, NAACP, and other premier civil rights organizations. When something goes down in a state or a locality, those organizations tweet about it-without necessarily taking a political position. When things went down in Indiana regarding the ISD board, the NAD didn’t peep although it could have done so without taking a political position. In this day and age, timeliness and efficient use of technology matters more than ever. We shouldn’t wait so long for the NAD to respond.

The NAD’s resources are admittedly limited. They may not be able to take on all campaigns for expanding our access to citizenship in all localities but it is their job to lead, direct, mobilize, and inspire.

Octavian Robinson graduated from Gallaudet and is currently a Ph.D candidate at Ohio State. He lives in Ohio with his Weimaraner and three angry felines.


  1. Being the quiet advocate, NAD has done a wonderful job.

  2. One solution I see to this problem (I did *not* come up with this solution. Wish I could remember whose idea it was - saw it somewhere when I was interning at NAD).

    Anyway, NAD needs a State Associations Coordinator. That would go a long way in mobilizing the State Associations and make the communication channels better as well. As things stand, from my perspective, there's poor communication and collaboration between NAD and the State Associations. I'm not sure of ALL reasons why that's happening, but I'm pretty sure that a S.A. coordinator at NAD would be able to precisely identify these problems and fix 'em.

  3. I agree that it would have been nice to see NAD at least tweet about the events at ISD or make a formal announcement of some sort. However, they seem very well organized at ISD..but that is not the point anyway. I wouldn't characterize NAD as impotent, but rather understaffed.

    I hate to say it, but I do wonder about the future of NAD with it's membership/funding inevitably decreasing year by year. Will the NAD be a viable organization in say 50 years? The truth is that the NAD primarily serves the ASL signing deaf community. For the NAD to be viable in 50 years, they would need to start to encourage ASL using deaf kids under the age of 20 today to get involved and I am unsure how many ASL using deaf children there are under 20 in the U.S.? Can't be too many compared to previous generations. Therefore, the problem lies with the survival of ASL itself....

    Just my scattered thoughts...

  4. Thanks for the follow up and this is important issue for us to look into this issue further and find solutions on what we should do.

    I continue to have problem with the statement that NAD should be dealing with so called "national" issues rather than pulling themselves into state's issues, Indiana School for the Deaf for example. Whatever
    happens on state level do have an impact on national level.

    I continue to believe strongly that NAD needs to be more proactive and give support and guidance to their own state associations. Deaf Pundit offered one good possible solution that NAD should create a position (or whatever) that will focus on state associations. That definitely will help NAD to become more aware of what is going on on state level.

    In my second vlog, I urged NAD to consider seriously to expand their Media exposure. You hit the nail that NAD failed miserably for not taking advantage of Facebook and Twitter. No need to elaborate more but I just felt that NAD's focus and priorities are not in right place. I just hope that the new CEO, Howard, will think out of box and come up with with new and creative ideas on how NAD can be more attractive.

    I will just continue and pay my membership to NAD with hopes they will wake up very soon.

  5. ANONYMOUS: Hmmm. I'm not sure a quiet advocate is an actual advocate. It seems to me advocates are there to be heard and be voices for those who have none.

    OCTAVIAN: Excellently-written piece. I hope you've sent this to someone at NAD; I think they genuinely care about people, and are understaffed and underfunded. Suggestions about the proper use of technology to save money and increase effectiveness ought to be heard.

  6. State Government = State Deaf Association (not the responsibility of NAD). Therefore, concerned state association of the deaf should take necessary step to resolve the deaf issues within the State Government.

    Federal Government = National Association of the Deaf (not State Deaf Association)