The Deaf Bilingual Coalition advocates globally for Deaf babies’ and children’s rights for access to language through natural Sign Languages.
United States and Canada
Deaf Education--Brief History
American Sign Language, the visual language of the Deaf was strongly influenced in its origins by Laurent Clerc, a Deaf educator from France who co-founded the first permanent school for the Deaf in North America in Connecticut. The French were successful in using a bilingual teaching method with their Deaf children. When community leaders decided that a Deaf school in America was needed, they turned to France for assistance. Teaching Deaf children using natural sign languages proved successful, but then a resolution was adopted at an international convention of educators of the deaf in Milan, Italy in 1880 where it was decided that “the pure oral method should be preferred” Jack R. Gannon (1981).
The purported inventor of the telephone, Alexander Graham Bell, was of the opinion that sign language should be banned from schools in America. This resulted in the proliferation of the oral method, which caused isolation and frustration among Deaf children. Illiteracy rose, children became socially inept, and Deaf graduates of oral schools were unable to obtain gainful employment. While the program proved beneficial for a very small percentage of children, the vast majority had problems being educated with the oral method. Today we are advocating for bringing back the bilingual philosophy (ASL and English) of education of Deaf children.
What is Bilingual Communication?
English, the primary language in America is spoken by hearing people and written by Deaf people. ASL, used as a first language by Deaf people in the US and most of Canada, is a visual language using the hands, body and face, which conveys complex sentences in signs. When a Deaf person learns English, they are learning a second language and they become bilingual. Being bilingual (or multilingual) is actually more common than being monolingual, as is seen when looking at the entire world's population.
In the 1960’s American Sign Language first become recognized as an authentic human language as the result of the research of William Stokoe of Gallaudet University. Until that time, people were unaware that the gestures Deaf people made were systematic, rule-governed, and predictable and, that indeed, they met all the requirements of being part of a full-fledged language.
- I. What is the Deaf Bilingual Coalition?
- A. The Deaf Bilingual Coalition (DBC) is a community of Deaf and hearing people whose goals are to promote language acquisition, social justice, and quality education through the awareness of ASL and its excellence in cultivating the critical intellect of Deaf infants and young Deaf children.
- B. The DBC’s mission is two-fold: We emphasize the importance of the social, emotional, linguistic, and cognitive aspects (of ASL and all natural sign languages) pertaining to early visual-language acquisition for all Deaf infants and young children; and to make the general public aware of the prevalence of misconceptions and misinformation that devalues ASL.
- C. Since its inception, the DBC has empowered people to set up state chapters to research and explore early intervention programs, the Deaf education system, and to mentor hearing parents of Deaf babies to help equip them with critical information on language acquisition and development.
- D. The DBC's original core committee was composed of volunteers who had all experienced bilingualism in their upbringing or been impacted by bilingual education. John Egbert of Minnesota founded the DBC in the summer of 2007.
- DBC's Board of Directors:
- The members of the Executive Committee are the chairs of the committees indicated, and are considered Officers of the Board:
- David Kerr, Organizing Chair
- Tami Hossler, Outreach & Public Relations
- Chriz Dally, Finance Chair
- Leslie Riggs, Documents & Records
- The Board Members are:
- Kevin Clark
- Chriz Daily
- Barbara DiGiovanni
- David Eberwein
- John Egbert
- Tami Hossler
- David Kerr
- Ella Mae Lentz
- Liann Osborne
- David O. Reynolds
- Leslie Riggs
- Brian Riley
- Linda Slovick
- E. The DBC is driven by the philosophy that all children have a right to experience full access to language and early language development:
- 1. Early sign language development will not deter the later acquisition of English; rather, it encourages communication and full access to communication.
- 2. It is time that ASL be viewed as being not merely an “option”, but a human right for all Deaf babies and children. Those who are opposed to bilingual education who attempt to portray themselves as being open-minded by saying that ASL is one of many “options,” but then only promote the “options” that do not include ASL, are engaging in a deceptive form of contradictory rhetoric which is harmful to the well-being of Deaf children.
- 3. A visual language is the most natural and accessible form of language in the absence of auditory input. The development of language through the eyes, as it can be done with ASL, does not hinder the acquisition of speech for those Deaf babies and children that have some residual hearing.
- 4. With full access to communication, children can express needs, desires, wants, thoughts and perceptions with parents and caregivers, and be rewarded by full responses from those they love, rather than be subjected to the harmful effects of having only partial access to language.
- 5. Most infants have the ability to acquire and communicate in ASL. It is actually easier for an infant to use ASL rather than try to speak. A baby has underdeveloped vocal chords at birth, but their hands are fully functioning, making it easier to use ASL for communication.
- II. The DBC provides information and resources, in the way of articles, printable tip-sheets, and real contact with successful Deaf individuals who will encourage and empower parents of Deaf babies and children, and help them create healthy family relationships.
- A. The DBC believes that parents should be informed that there are resources to support them in their lives of raising a Deaf child.
- B. Parents have a right to accurate information before making decisions regarding their Deaf baby.
- 1. Information regarding ASL should be provided to all parents, regardless of their ultimate decision to use or not use hearing devices.
- C. Parents should have access to information about the variety of educational opportunities available and about the instructors’ credentials.
- D. Parents need to develop healthy relationships with their children in order to become their first and best teachers.
- III. Exposing the motives of the AGBell Association
- A. Alexander Graham Bell’s personal history
- B. Most people don’t understand that Alexander Graham Bell had a longstanding, negative relationship with the Deaf community and Deaf culture.
- C. Several people in AG Bell’s family were actually deaf.
- 1. Bell’s father, Alexander Melville Bell, was the founder of a method called “Visible Speech,” which included the use of the throat, tongue and lips in uttering various sounds. Visible Speech was taught as a new educational system for deaf children.
- 2. Bell's mother, Eliza Grace Symonds, began losing her hearing when she was 12 years old. As an adult she used an ear trumpet in order to hear.
- 3. Bell’s wife, Mabel Gardiner Hubbard, had become deaf from scarlet fever at the age 5. He taught his wife to speak using the oral method that he taught at school.
- D. Alexander Graham Bell harbored a pathological view of Deaf people and was an early promoter and originator of eugenics. He was ardently opposed to Deaf people marrying each other and was opposed to Deaf people becoming teachers. He favored the attempt to achieve the total integration of Deaf people into mainstream society, regardless of the harmful consequences involved, with the eradication of natural sign language being a long-term goal.
- IV. The Alexander Graham Bell Association
- A. In 1890, Bell founded an organization to promote the Oral method of educating deaf students. This organization is now known as the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (AG Bell). Today the AG Bell Association has largely abandoned the pure-oral method and instead promotes “Auditory-Verbal Therapy” (AVT), an extreme method originally developed for hard-of-hearing children in the 1950's, which excludes the use of sign language and any visual cues.
- 1. “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.” (Alexander Graham Bell Association, 2005)
- B. What is AVT?
- 1. “Auditory-Verbal Therapy is a specialized type of therapy designed to teach a child to use the hearing provided by a hearing aid or a cochlear implant for understanding speech and learning to talk. ”(Stith)
- 2. “Parents in AVT programs do not need to learn sign language.” (Stith)
- 3. “Auditory-verbal practice encourages the maximum use of hearing...and stresses listening rather than watching.” (Waltzman and Cohen, 2000)
- V. Views of Being Deaf
- A. Pathological (Medical) Perspective on being Deaf
- 1. “In the pathological point of view, the focus is on the amount of hearing loss and how to correct it. This correction is done through using cochlear implants and hearing aids, and learning speech and lipreading. The emphasis is on making the deaf person appear as 'normal' as possible, with the perspective that being hearing is to be considered "normal," and deaf people are assumed not to be 'normal.'” (Berke, 2007)
- B. Cultural Perspective on being Deaf
- 1. The cultural perspective on being Deaf places the emphasis, appropriately, on the positive aspects of the Deaf experience, i.e., visual language and the cultural mores and standards that arise naturally among visual beings who live in a visual world.
- 2. As part of the cultural perspective, the precise degree of ones hearing level is not relevant. Hard-of-hearing people can take full part and identify themselves as being culturally Deaf and also identify with the concepts of “Deaf pride” and “Deafhood.” Cochlear implants are viewed in proper context, in that they are not a panacea and do not represent a “cure for deafness.” They are simply tools which some people have found useful in some situations. (See Berke, 2007)
- VI. Benefits of ASL
- A. Research Proves
- 1. “'The ability to learn language is innate. Every child born, no matter where, has the ability to learn language. In fact, any child at birth has the ability to learn any language. Ultimately they will learn to produce the sounds of the given language of their culture,' says Dr. Irma Woods, child development specialist and associate professor at Del Mar College in Corpus Christi, Texas.” (Thomas, 2000)
- 2. “Signing is not an instructional exercise as much as it is a communication exercise. ” indicated.” (Thomas, 2000, characterizing the work of Drs. Linda Acredolo and Susan Goodwyn)
- 3. “Acredolo's research indicates that signing 'literally builds connections in the kids' brains,' and aids with associating cognitive and physical abilities like memory, motor, and attention skills. Indeed, studies show that children who signed at an early age actually have an average IQ of 114 compared with 102 for others after 2nd grade, according to a recent USA Weekend article. Research funded by the National Institutes of Child Health and Human Development has also documented the advantages of using signs with preverbal children.” (Thomas,
- 4. “Steve Kokette, in an essay entitled 'Why All Kids Should Be Exposed to Sign,' reports that enhanced vocabulary most likely accounts for the high reading abilities of children who sign.
- When kids learn a spoken word in conjunction with its sign, they are more likely to remember the meaning of the word.” (Thomas, 2000)
- B. Benefits of Early Language Acquisition Through ASL
- • Promotes the development of language skills
- • Reinforces language skills already developed
- • Reduces frustration at not being able to express needs
- • Increase speed of spatial reasoning development
- • Develops understanding of language for communication of emotions
- • Creates feelings of satisfaction and accomplishment
- • May increase IQ
- • Increases creative thinking
- • Teaches a 2nd language that is formally recognized (ASL)
- • Reduces unexplainable emotional outbursts
- • Increases early literacy skills
- • Teaches baby how to start (and participate in) a conversation
- (Above quoting: babies-and-sign-language.com, 2008)
- 1. “Even as our laws have required that non-English-speaking children develop reading and writing skills in English, even as our courts have recognized the importance of different languages and even dialects or jargons, even as our Constitution has accepted that one’s language is so important as to be tantamount to cultural or national origin, there is no recognition of the truly unique language and communication needs of deaf and hard-of-hearing children.” (Siegel, 2006)
- 2. According to An Examination of the Evidence-Based Literacy Research in Deaf Education, literacy is essential in today's society, and the critical factors that inhibit acquisition of literacy are access, understanding, and usage of information. Deaf children who do not have a strong language base struggle with attainment of higher literacy levels. (Luckner, Sebald, et al., 2005)
- VII. Working Together
- A. Deaf Americans need to take a stand and speak out and be visual about the how American Sign Language and English can coexist in a positive, symbiotic relationship, so that we can create an educational model for other countries to replicate.
- B. Why is political mobilization powerful?
- 1. In order for DBC to make a difference, we will need chapters and a large membership to show a position of strength to politicians at different government levels.
- 2. Showing strength includes having the backing of certain powerful Deaf education programs and ASL research programs.
- C. DBC US chapters, Canadian chapters, International chapters, and all its members, and supporters are very active in spreading the word about bilingual education, as it pertains to ASL and English as a second language, as well as other natural sign languages learned as part of bilingual situations in other countries.
- VIII. Why Will DBC Succeed?
- A. Reasoning
- 1. ASL virtually guarantees cognitive, social, academic, and developmental success by serving as a full and natural language.
- 2. Too many Deaf individuals have lived through the language option experiments over the past 129 years since the Milan Convention.
- 3. Too many people have unfortunate stories to tell about language suppression.
- B. ASL can be developed early in life if:
- 1. Negative stigmas attached to sign language created by the proponents of the oral and auditory-verbal methods are eliminated and ASL continues to grow in acceptance in public schools and universities, creating a sense of positive, linguistic and cultural awareness for the general population.
- 2. Hearing parents encourage their children to communicate using ASL to create a sense of identity and inclusion.
- 3. Educational systems no longer deny full access to ASL.
- IX. What Can DBC Members Do?
- A. The Deaf Bilingual Coalition will become not only a resource for families and educators, but also serve the role of liaison between the Deaf community and governmental and private entities that serve the Deaf.
- B. Be involved in ASL rallies that promote public awareness of the right of Deaf babies and children to have access to ASL.
- • Network with legislators, educators, and medical practitioners.
- • Create awareness through community education, publications and the media in general.
- • Provide a clearinghouse and resource center for parents and professionals
- • Promote advocacy
- C. In order for the DBC to make a difference, we will need state chapters and a large membership to show strength at government levels.
- D. Set up a chapter
- To establish a chapter in your area, contact
- Chapter Coordinators:
- DBC USA: John Egbert, Tami Hossler, and Kevin Clark
- DBC Canada: David Mason
- DBC International: David Kerr, Stephanie Craig, and Nan Zhou
- E. What More Can We Do?
- • Establish a Team
- • Set up a Communication Network
- • Fundraise
- • Be visible and host events that celebrate ASL. ASL celebration rallies remind us of the importance of natural sign language.
- • Learn about the early intervention programs.
- • Become mentors.
- • Volunteer in local schools.
- • Reach out to hearing parents, doctors, educators, and legislators to explain the benefits of ASL
- • Gear up to attend the EHDI Conference in Chicago, in the spring of 2010
- X. Support through Donations
- A. The DBC absolutely needs your financial support.
- B. Please consider a tax-deductible donation to DBC.
- C. Make your check out to “DBC” and send your donation to:
Deaf Bilingual Coalition
PO Box 2351
Pleasant Hill, CA 94523
- Or, submit via PayPal by Clicking on “Support DBC” on www.DBCUSA.org
- XI. Highlights of the June 27-30, 2008 DBC Education Conference
- A. We made history with the Deaf Bilingual Coalition Education Conference in Milwaukee, WI, on June 27-30, 2008. The conference has been regarded as being a huge success!
- B. More than 700 people joined in to participate in the conference in order to learn the benefits of early language acquisition through ASL. The DBC Conference agenda included:
- • Workshops and Presentations
- • ASL Rallies
- • State Chapter Networking & Training
- • Entertainment
- • Children’s Activities
- C. Presenters included:
- 1. Bobbie Beth Scoggins PhD, NAD President, “Early Hearing Detection and Intervention (EHDI), Deaf Babies, and Language Development: Where Have We Been and Where Are We Going?”
- 2. Barbara Kannapell PhD, “Bilingual Education of Deaf Children: A Movement Begins”
- 3. MJ Bienvenu PhD, Gallaudet University, “Bilingualism: Theories and Practices”
- 4. Genie Gertz PhD: California State University Northridge, “The Emancipation of the Deaf-World from Audio-centric to Visual-centric Values”
- 5. Patrick Boudreault PhD: California State University Northridge
- 6. Marlon Kuntze PhD: Boston University, “The Story behind Learning To Read"
LET ALL DEAF CHILDREN SIGN!
LANGUAGE, LIFE, LIBERTY,
THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS
Beth Carlson, PhD
Brian Riley, MA
Tami Hossler, MA Ed
Alexander Graham Bell Association, “Principles of Auditory-Verbal Therapy,” 2005, <http://www.agbellacademy.org/whatISAuditoryVerbalTherapy.htm>
Armstrong, David F., “William C. Stokoe, Jr., Founder of Sign Language Linguistics 1919- 2000”, May 4, 2000, <http://gupress.gallaudet.edu/stokoe.html >
“Baby Sign Language with your Infant or Toddler,” 2008, <http://www.babies-and-sign-language.com/baby-sign-benefits.html>
Berke, Jamie “Pathological Point of View on Deafness versus Cultural Point of View on Deafness”, December 19, 2007, <http://deafness.about.com/od/deafculture/a/pathcultural.htm>
CBS News. “The Cochlear Implant Controversy Issues And Debates”, 1998 <http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/1998/06/02/sunday/main10794.shtml>
“Deaf Bilingual Coalition,” 2008, <http://www.dbcusa.org >
Gannon, Jack R, “A Narrative History of Deaf America,” in Deaf Heritage, National Association of the Deaf, 1981, pg 63
Lane, Harlan, When The Mind Hears, Vintage Books, 1984, pg. 4-16,156, 340-375
Luckner, J.L.; Sebald, A.M.; Cooney, J.; Young, J., III; Muir, S.G., “An Examination of the Evidence-Based Literacy Research in Deaf Education,” American Annals of the Deaf, 2005, volume: 150, issue: 5, 443-456
Siegel, Lawrence, “The Denial of Equal Access to Communication and Equal Protection Case Law, Sign Language Studies” Volume 6, Number 3, Spring 2006, pp. 255-272
Stith, Joanna L., PH.D CCC-Cert. AVT “What is Auditory-Verbal Therapy?” 2004 <http://www.listeningforlife.com/AVTprogram.html>
“Thomas, Lesa “Hearing or Not: Sign With Your Baby” May/June 2000 <http://www.tinyfingers.com/articlehearingornot.html>
Waltzman, Susan B. and Noel L. Cohen, Cochlear Implants, New York: Thieme, 2000.