John Egbert: Founder of the Deaf Bilingual Coalition
Although I grew up oral, I had a burning desire at the age of 19 to learn ASL in order to understand it better as a language at Gallaudet in 1966. For many years, I was under the wrong assumption that people who signed were lesser than me. I felt their language was not equal to mine. When I learned ASL, I realized I was WRONG. I also realized how important it was to educate hearing parents of Deaf children that with full visual access to language through ASL everything is possible and ASL is definitely not a lesser language. As so many Deaf children are born to hearing parents, it is important that they get accurate information about ASL and the benefits of early language acquisition.
As organizations, such as AGBell and Auditory Verbal Therapy Programs, increase their membership, more Deaf children are becoming the victims of language deprivation. AGBell in their Auditory Verbal Therapy programs do not allow ASL. See http://www.agbellacademy.org/principal-auditory.htm stating the following:
" 3. Guide and coach
parents to help their child use hearing as the primary sensory modality in developing spoken language without the use of sign language or emphasis on lipreading."
It seems most logical to partner those techniques with American Sign Language to give children greater opportunities to full language acquisition. But they continue to deny ASL to these children.
Understanding what factors influence language acquisition are very important. Data flow rate is one of those factors. Spoken English has two components that vary the meaning of sentences: verbal use of the words and tone of voice. People speak an average of 180 words per minute. American Sign Language has two equivalent components: signs and body language. People fluent in ASL can sign over 200 words per minute. ASL has so many signs for the same words that paraphrasing to educate children can be done in numerous ways.
The unfortunate situation is that hearing Deaf education teachers are typically not fluent in ASL and this is also true of many mainstream public school interpreters. They use a variety of non-language systems like Signing Exact English and Total Communication which involves talking and signing at the same time (Sim-com/ Simultaneous Communication) in which both ASL and English are mixed together. Receptive and expressive information, (data flow), goes down to 70 words per minute or less in that range. These non-language systems that are widely accepted in mainstream schools are doing great damage to language acquisition, cognitive development, and literacy and are not viable educational tools.
Because I am not a conformist, I believe it is time to stand up and educate parents and people who make decisions for Deaf infants and children about the value of ASL and early acquisition for Deaf infants and children. It is important that Deaf children have a right to be bilingual. Respect of ASL as their first language and English as their second language is vitally important for parents, educators, and the medical profession to understand. This is my passion.
Here is the story of how I grew up
and how I came to find American Sign Language
I am adventurous, a risk taker, and a common sense person. I was born in Jackson, Mississippi to hearing parents. My older brother was born Deaf as well. We went to an oral Catholic school until third grade. I was their “oral poster child”. They would take me around to show off my skills to help raise money for the school.
My family moved to New Orleans where we were put into public school without any special assistance. Then when I was in fifth grade, we moved back to Jackson. We never learned sign and we knew that the Mississippi School for the Deaf was only two miles from our home.
In high school, I was not interested in school. I felt like it was a prison and just wanted out. Then my mother told me and my brother about Gallaudet University. My brother who was older than me also passed the admission test and was enrolled a year before I did. When he came home in the spring, I wanted him to teach me ASL. He wasn't interested in doing this and just wanted to resume our adventures as brothers.
Then after High School, I enrolled at Gallaudet. I had one goal at Gallaudet and that was to learn ASL. I followed the advice of my brother and associated with signing Deaf students in order to learn ASL. I picked it up very fast, in fact, some of the upper classmen would ask me which Deaf School I had attended. I had many Deaf friends in college but because I was so mischievous and adventurous, I was thrown out of college two days before the end of the school year.
I married my Gallaudet classmate Shirley Frelich, who came from a large Deaf family. We lived in Washington, DC, then transferred to New York after my son was born. We then transferred to Michigan and then again to Minnesota where we have resided for the past 30 years. During the early years, I worked for prominent newspapers including the Washington Post and recently retired after 20 years from Star Tribune in Minneapolis. Both my son and daughter are Deaf. My daughter is a principal at a Texas School for the Deaf and my son works at the same school as a computer OS X technician.
Professional fishing is another passion of mine.