Friday, August 12, 2011

In which I call out the National Association of the Deaf


This article is cross-posted at Daily Kos.

I am very disturbed by the news that the National Association of the Deaf has decided to ally with Audism Free America, a militant deaf organization that has defaced private property belonging to the Alexander Graham Bell for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. Audism Free America is a militant deaf organization that does not support the right of hearing parents to choose the right communication mode for their deaf children. They also do not support the rights of hearing parents to implant their deaf children.

They think hearing parents are so wholly uninformed about ASL , and that they believe that ASL is a natural language for ALL deaf children, and they want ALL deaf children to learn ASL regardless of the parents' wishes for their deaf child's education. They do not support parental choice to make the best decisions for their deaf child.

This is the kind of advocacy that Audism Free America does against organizations like the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, simply because AGBell favors the oral approach for deaf and hard of hearing children and is not against cochlear implants. I am not denying the history behind the eugenic approach of its founder, Alexander Graham Bell, but I am pointing out that this sort of militant approach in defacing private property and insisting that hearing parents should teach their children ASL only is the sort of approach that does them no favors in their mission of promoting ASL, and instead turns off hearing parents from wanting to learn about ASL.

This sort of militancy and anger towards hearing parents is what drove my mother away from the Deaf community. Here is my earlier post which was a response to one of my Deaf friends for thinking that Jamaican skin bleaching was like cochlear implantation:

Those making those kind of arguments are the ones I find to be ignorant, fearful, and unaware of what really goes into a hearing parent's decision to implant their deaf child. To be sure, there are a few hearing parents that think it's a miracle cure and their deaf child won't need accommodations, but on the whole, these hearing parents, just like my mother, consulted extensively with doctors, went to schools for the deaf, and even approached the deaf community for advice.

My mother saw insularism, ignorance, and anger in the ASL Deaf community when she reached out for help. She didn't want to expose me to that kind of environment if I was implanted because she saw the discrimination against those who were orally deaf and wore implants. She wanted me to have all the tools available to succeed in what is a world that is made for and designed by hearing people. She knew just having the cochlear implant wasn't enough for me. I would need extensive speech therapy, and to have access to the best resources for me to succeed academically. She made sure of that with help from my grandparents while she worked through the aftermath of a very nasty divorce.

I want every deaf child to have the best access to resources, whether it be the cochlear implant, hearing aids, ASL, Total Communication, SEE, and oral speech. I want these parents, whether they are deaf or hearing, not to be ostracized for the choices they make. I don't think it's wrong to implant your deaf child as it is to address a medical condition---deafness. I don't think it's wrong for Deaf parents to refuse to implant their deaf children as long as these deaf children have access to hearing aids, ASL, speech, and other communication modes with a strong support system in place that helps them out academically.

Why bash those who wear cochlear implants, and prefer to speak orally, or use other communication methods? In using these sort of tactics against the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf, the Deaf community, instead of gaining members, are losing potential members of the deaf community. It is rather insane to be angry with AGBell, whose stated mission is to promote oralism and cochlear implants, and to expect them to change that mission. Over the long term, the Deaf community is going to become obsolete if they keep using these tactics. Some groups, as I understand it, are beginning to understand this and are revising their tactics to talk up ASL and the benefits of bilingualism and the acceptance of those with CIs, whether they be adults or children, into the deaf community. Instead of attacking and protesting a rival organization, they should be promoting ASL and the benefits of bilingualism at the local, state, and national level, and asking for it to be included in ALL communication modes in legislation.

I hope more people in the Deaf community will come to understand this, and to save deaf culture, to positively promote ASL and acceptance of those who don't use ASL. It works to their benefit to have more supporters of ASL, whether they be hearing, oral, CI, deaf, even if many of those supporters don't use ASL.

And the National Association of the Deaf should be careful about who they ally with, like the founders of the Audism Free America, who see cochlear implants as evil and akin to genocide. Audism Free America is not a credible organization, and in supporting the protests of AGBell, NAD is damaging its own credibility as an organization that is supposed to be inclusive for all deaf and hard of hearing Americans. The founders and members of AFA forget that at the end of the day, when hearing aids and cochlear implants are turned off, we are all deaf, oral and ASL alike.

If you agree that the National Association for the Deaf should keep on being inclusive for all deaf and hard of hearing Americans, instead of allying with an anti-oralism, anti-cochlear implant organization, please contact the National Association for the Deaf here at @NADTweets.

Disclaimer: All views contained within this post are those of the author's, and they are not representative of anyone else, and this is not considered an endorsement.

Noelle Bell is a graduate of Smith College with a B.A. in Government, and was named as a Netroots Nation ’09 Scholar by Democracy For America. She is a former congressional staffer, and is the New Media Director for the Back to Basics PAC. She enjoys the use of social media on domestic policy issues, and can be followed on Twitter.


  1. Well said, Noelle. NAD's stance on cochlear implants is as follows: "The NAD recognizes the rights of parents to make informed choices for their deaf and hard of hearing children, respects their choice to use cochlear implants and all other assistive devices, and strongly supports the development of the whole child and of language and literacy." I agree that NAD made a poor and contradictory choice in joining up with AFA.

    The organizational goal should be to promote American Sign Language, full stop. To demonize another mode of communication will not win hearts and minds. ASL is a wonderful language that should be celebrated to attract those who are interested. Hostility, especially through the very language the organization wants others to learn, will drive them away.


  2. NAD's decision to stand up for ASL instruction does not indicate full support for everything that Audism Free America does and has ever done--your ad-hominim attack painting them as villains by association is cheap and missing the larger picture.

    The AG Bell association has never attempted to support a comprehensive education method for Deaf people, preferring instead to erode, ignore, or deride sign instruction at nearly every level (including their strange letter written against the Pepsi Super Bowl Ad that was recorded in ASL). NAD's press release supporting CIs as a tool is further proof that the NAD takes a holistic approach in stark contract to the AG Bell association which never has.

    (Also, your link that alleges

  3. Great article!

    NAD supports AFA yet, they made a statement that they don't condone the defacing of the Volta building. This has caused an uproar in the online deaf community demanding that NAD apologize to AFA, NAD ended up only apologizing for using the word "desecrating" instead of defacing or whatever..

    NAD need to consider the ramifications of aligning with a militant organization, no doubt about that.

    AG bell promotes Listening and Spoken Language (LSL) via tools such as cochlear implant and hearing aid. AG Bell obviously acknowledge that sign language is an option that parents may choose for their child which is why they have a statement on sign language on their site with a link to refer parents to NAD and/or ASDC (American Society for Deaf Children).

    However AFA and DBC openly attacks AG Bell, hence, they are scaring parents away.

    Currently there are some folks upset with NAD for having AG Bell as an ally. I am not sure where that is coming from. However, if it is true that NAD is working with AG Bell, then this is good news.

    Respect means not having to agree, with that said, organizations that have respect for other organizations helps foster dialogue which results in everyone winning.

  4. See this?

    I am borrowing from Anonymous (8/12/11 5:02 PM)
    "The AG Bell association has never attempted to support a comprehensive education method for Deaf people, preferring instead to erode, ignore, or deride sign instruction at nearly every level (including their strange letter written against the Pepsi Super Bowl Ad that was recorded in ASL). NAD's press release supporting CIs as a tool is further proof that the NAD takes a holistic approach in stark contract to the AG Bell association which never has."

    NAD was founded in 1880 to fight oppression caused by Bell and his cronies. The infamous Milan conference had destroyed the true Deaf education and the system laid out by Laurent Clerc in 1816.

    Please respect AFA as it is a truth squad to help shine truth on Bell's lies and his audism practices.

    Thank you!

  5. Well done, Noelle. I believe the question we really must continue to ask is: what support does my child need to be the most successful learner? Every child is unique, and as noted in my blog: we must teach to these unique learning styles. We can't put our students into a single category and force them to learn the same way. A child who is deaf but appears to learn best through both hearing and visual supports should be given every opportunity to do so. A child who learns best with visual supports should be taught in a visually stimulating environment.

    The motto of Hands and Voices is "What works for your child is what makes the choice right." Organizations that are proponents for one single method of communication would do well to remember at the end of the day we want our children to be able to learn in the "least restrictive environment." And what works for one child may not work for another.

  6. The concept of promoting ASL for all babies and reducing audism is a good one.The approaches taken by the AFA and the DBC are inefficient and self destructive. How do we stop audism in America and encourage parents of all deaf children to sign? Protesting at the Volta building is not the answer. Demanding AGB to apologize for the last century is going to work as well as black people demanding all white people to apologize for slavery.

    As a member of NAD, I was disappointed to see that NAD sent a representative to the AFA rally. The NAD should have never sent Gerlis to that event. I doubt that a majority of NAD members are not fully on board with the methods employed by the AFA and the DBC. The NAD did not exactly align itself with all the goals of the AFA, but they should not get involved with the AFA and the DBC at all unless the NAD supports everything both organizations represent.

  7. Noelle, your article is misleading filled with misinformation, to say the least. Shame on you, Noelle.


  8. Noelle..

    You have really inspired someone to start a new blog. And her first post is about this article. Just an FYI

  9. Noelle, you are totally misinformed! The AFA is an organization that supports the rights for every Deaf, Hard of Hearing and those CI individuals to have access to sign language, speech therapy and etc. The AFA is against AGBell for one specific reason - denying the rights of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing and those CI individuals to choose, learn and know sign language. The AFA is against AGBell for oppressing the Deaf, HoH and those CI individuals because the Hearing world wants to fix the Deaf and HoH so they can talk and hear like they do. All AGBell is focusing on - the ears and the mouth. That's wrong! The AGBell refused to recognize the freedom that the Deaf can choose what language to convey. Sign language is a language that everyone can learn just like Spanish, French and etc. Sign language is a language and a tool to help Deaf people to understand. Why should we the Hard of Hearing and the Deaf have to do it for the Hearing World? Whose benefit? For the Hearing world or for the Deaf? The majority of the Deaf and the HoH choose sign language bec it help us to UNDERSTAND. I am hard of hearing, grew up in hearing world and I didn't enjoy it. My mother wanted to fix me by putting me in a mainstreamed school. My mother wanted to fix me by putting me in speech therapy (yes - it helped but it was not enough). Did I receive a good education in NY? No, because I was having "trouble understanding". NY education was supposed to be the top notch in the usa in those early days. Just recently, I looked through my old report cards. I was stunned that I made C's and D's. My mother thought I was smart. I looked at her as if she was crazy. Your 'hearing' education did nothing for me. I had trouble understanding what the teachers were saying. I got lost in translation. It was not until I was 15 years old that I learned sign language. I finally woke up!!! I finally saw the light!!!! I finally spoke up!! I finally no longer have to struggle to UNDERSTAND. I learned sign language - it saved my life! Please do not take away my sign language like AGBell organization is trying to do. I know this topic is a sensitive issue and I urge you to be considerate of our needs. DO NOT TAKE AWAY OUR SIGN LANGUAGE.

  10. Noelle,

    I don't have much time this morning but wanted to say that I think you made some very important points that I agree with. I'm jumping into the fray here because as an historian, there's some misinformation in the comments that should be cleared up.

    The NAD was NOT founded to fight AG Bell and his cronies. Yes, the Milan Conference and the NAD's founding both happened in 1880. But the NAD was a natural consequence of the growth of the deaf community starting with the establishment of ASD in 1817 and Gallaudet in 1864- and we already had regional, local, and state associations in place, starting with NEGA in 1864 and the NAD was a natural outgrowth of deaf community's organizing efforts as we developed a larger educated, politically conscious populace. From the NAD's inception, leaders within the NAD have always been pro-sign language and has consistently rejected oralism as a pedagogical approach BUT the NAD's focus was not exclusively on education- and if it had been established as a direct consequence of the Milan Conference and had the primary objective of battling AGBell and his cronies, then the NAD's focus would have been exclusively on pedagogy but it wasn't and isn't.

  11. Deaf school with speech classes, ASL, audiology etc is now considered exclusive-

    Oral program with only one of these methods now considered inclusive-

    Nobody needs to bring logic to this party!

  12. Well Said, Noelle.

    Those extremists are pushing parents of the deaf children away. I am myself from deaf families, I respected the parent's wish the improvements for their children until the later in the life. This outgrown child can change or choose whatever they want. This will show that they will extincted if they continued this type of behaviors. Look carefully at CNIB (for Blind people and association), they would do anything to gain the eyesights. And they are doing very well with many signification donations and many huge buildings. It is no way for us to stop them for trying to improve their eyesights. Shame on those extremists who considered themselves uneducated.


  13. Noelle,

    I admire your blog because it takes lot of guts to deal with irrational folks. Every organization have the right to process their viewpoints without enforcing and imposing as what AFA has done. AG Bell has contributed deaf and hard of hearing positively for the last 50 years. They have their own private education and they are extremely successful. Currently, deaf of the deaf cannot deal with people who obtain Cochlear Implant and Digital Hearing Aids that are equivalent to hearing peers with their earliest hearing detection under the age of 5. NAD does not realize that the demographics in the deaf of the deaf is depleted rapidly. Majority of CI and Digital Hearing Aid users in 20 years from now will not need the interpreter or close captioning services.
    Get used to it when the deaf of the deaf gets smaller and smaller.

  14. Candy

    Dawn Schriver was at the AFA rally. She was one of the AFA supporters. Check out twitter. Be careful about sharing wrong information on internet. Dawn was not inspired by Noelle.

  15. I really don't see anything new this opinion, it is the same old type of argument I see all the time over the years.

    And I don't see anything wrong with what NAD is doing or what AFA is doing. AFA is pretty much trying to get AGBell as a professional to stop negative attitude toward deaf and sign language. Same thing when people tried to get rid of the negative attitude of Black Americans or Gay and Lesbian (do you really want professionals be negative toward them?)
    yes, people want ci and oral only, but that should be a personal choice by the person and sometimes family, but they should not be making that choice based on professionals opinion.

    And Noelle, why do you want to support an organization who supported a NAME of a person who didn't believe you should not marry other deaf or have babies because you are deaf?

    So no, I won't call out NAD for this.

  16. Anonymous..

    Dawn wrote her blog in response to this article, so yes, when one writes about something, one is inspired to. Ergo, this post inspired Dawn to blog bout Noelle's article. I do follow Dawn's twitter. I don't know why there's such a big deal about it. :o)

    There's more important things for the deaf community to be focusing on. One of the biggest issue for those who advocate for deaf schools & ASL/English, one would need to use better strategy to attract parents to that particular approach and so far parents are leery of what's coming out of the deaf cultured community. Some of the biggest turn off for parents are how advocacy is done. Noelle's article points out to some of these things. You want results? State your argument, make your point, refrain from attacking organizations with different philosophy and refrain from attacking parents who choose a different approach. Time's a wastin folks. Chop! Chop!

  17. Noelle,

    As always, most cases with CI's, the technology does not work miracles, as well with hearing aid technology, too as well do not always work miracles most cases! Many a deaf have tried and knew their failures, and even their peer's own failures. Great many failed together or alone to become hearing, and this is oppression and a humiliating and a degrading form of mental and physical abuse by BELL or by the audists. Yet, all this is ignored and shame on you. CI's Oralism, AVT, and Cued Speech and all modes and forms of terror Deaf have gone through, it's ugly, and very demeaning! This had gone too far on your part! Enough is enough!.

    Stop twisting the facts, and promoting the curse, especially taking advantage of the stigma of stereotyping! You are blatantly terrorizing the Deaf Communities with your your lies! You are being mythical, and sprouting falsehoods! Specially being a sponsor of anti-Deaf terrorism, This is very wrong! Don't you see we all suffered enough!


  18. I'm a parent with no previous exposure to the Deaf community, and I have very recently learned that my newborn has profound hearing loss. This post reflects a lot of truth about what I've been seeing. I've found this blog while trying to figure out what the research says about different modes of communication. What I keep seeing is calm rational advocates (including our medical professionals) for oral-only presenting studies, versus emotional cries against oppression and abuse from very-loud very-opinionated advocates for signing (or less frequently, TC). It's taken me some time to realize that there actually is a strong argument to be made for including visual language in our child's education. That discovery is in spite of the militancy I've seeing, and certainly in no way thanks to it. I keep hearing that I must including signing or my child will grow up to resent me or that they'll develop psychological issues. But I've met oral deaf who are nice, happy, and well adjusted, and it only takes one encounter like that to make a parent write off the entire argument for visual language as scare-tactics. Ultimately, I think parents will inevitably consider ASL as part of understanding their child's hearing loss. The message we need is to hear is that ASL isn't going to hurt our children, and that they will enjoy it. That's it.

  19. As a hearing parent, I would never expose my child to the lost list of risks that come with the CI. Especially for such a short list of POSSIBLE benefits which happens to seem quite shallow. There are planty of opportunities out there for people of all types, the only necessary tool is perseverance. For me, a childs health will always be the first priority. Unfortunately there will always be some who are interested in their child being normal.