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Home » Advocacy for Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Current Articles

AG Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Denounces Demonstrations

Submitted by Paula Rosenthal on April 3, 2009 – 12:03 pm21 Comments

Young Asian GirlProtest group’s latest call distracts public from the real issues impacting individuals who are deaf and hard of hearing

WASHINGTON, D.C. – April 3, 2009 – The Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (AG Bell)  today denounced repeated demonstrations against the association and its members by several groups claiming that AG Bell discriminates against individuals who are deaf who use sign language, specifically American Sign Language (ASL).

Founded in 1890, AG Bell is the only national organization dedicated to supporting children and adults who are deaf or hard of hearing that use spoken language and hearing technology to communicate.

A demonstration at AG Bell’s national headquarters is scheduled for today by supporters of a recently formed group called “Audism Free America” (AFA) to “direct attention to the audism that is promoted by institutions like AG Bell,” and that AG Bell “has been an active force in the denial of linguistic and human rights of Deaf citizens through its practices of audism,” according to a March 6 press release. AFA claims that the “American public is indoctrinated with attitudes of paternalism, bias and discrimination toward Deaf people” as a result of AG Bell’s advocacy efforts.

In response, AG Bell Executive Director Alexander T. Graham stated, “AG Bell has a long history and tradition of supporting civil rights for individuals who are deaf and hard of hearing by working in cooperation with other national organizations to ensure that our legal, health care and education systems, entertainment industry, and places of employment are free of discrimination. It is absolutely not true that AG Bell discriminates against individuals who are deaf and use sign language, and that it works to ban sign language. Such demonstrations only serve to distract the public’s attention away from critical issues such early hearing detection and intervention for children with hearing loss and meeting the educational needs of those hearing detection and intervention for children with hearing loss and meeting the educational needs of those children regardless of the communication outcome they seek.”

Since July 2007, another group affiliated with AFA has been staging demonstrations at AG Bell national conferences and state chapter meetings claiming that AG Bell is against sign language. In an effort to clarify its position on this issue, the AG Bell Board of Directors approved an official position statement on ASL which states, in part, “AG Bell acknowledges that a chosen approach depends on culture, family interests and desired communication outcome. AG Bell believes that the language and communication  approach chosen should be based on an informed decision made by the child’s parents/family and based on
their own unique circumstances. AG Bell does not believe that ASL should be prohibited or restricted as a choice, nor does AG Bell advocate against learning ASL as part of a child’s overall development if that is what the child’s parents desire.”

Regardless, AFA initiated this most recent demonstration at AG Bell headquarters and issued a call to action for supporters to demonstrate at oral/aural only programs in their local areas; in other words, to demonstrate at local pre-schools that offer a listening and spoken language educational approach for children who are deaf.

“This latest effort to target pre-schools and pre-school children I can only describe as unconscionable,” stated Graham. “To protest and criticize families who choose a particular communication and language approach is the height of intolerance.”

“For nearly 120 years, AG Bell has served as a resource for parents, professionals, and deaf and hard of hearing individuals who wish to pursue the listening and spoken language outcome and it will continue to do so,” said John R. “Jay” Wyant, president of the AG Bell board of directors. “It is time for this community to finally put to rest long-standing grudges and work together on issues of mutual interest. Now, more than ever, we must have a united message as we address opportunities to reshape public policy related to communication access, health care, education and job training, and other vital needs of this community. And that is what we are – we are part of a community that includes all individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing regardless of their chosen mode of communication – and that is our larger responsibility.”

The Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing helps families, health care providers and education professionals understand childhood hearing loss and the importance of early diagnosis and intervention. Through advocacy, education, research and financial aid, AG Bell helps to ensure that every child and adult with hearing loss has the opportunity to listen, talk and thrive. With chapters located in the United States and a network of international affiliates, AG Bell supports its mission: Advocating Independence through Listening and Talking!

Editor’s note: Yesterday, AG Bell met with AFA in good faith to hear their list of “demands.” At the adjournment of the meeting, members of the AFA refused to leave the premises until police were called and until AG Bell agreed to present the AFA’s demands to the AB Bell Board of Directors.

Today, approximately 50 protesters bearing signs showed up to demonstrate outside of AG Bell’s Volta Bureau headquarters. A deaf and hard of hearing unit of DC Police are standing by.

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21 Comments »

  • Ugh, I can’t stand all of this crap! I feel like if people put their efforts into showing parents the benefits of ASL instead od fighting with AG Bell, things might actually change! Parents go to AG Bell because the org. supports their decisions, not because the other way around.

  • Joseph Pietro Riolo says:

    The part where the members of AFA (Audism Free America) refused to leave the meeting until AGBADHH agreed to present their demands to the board of directors is really embarrassing and only hurt (or destroyed) the goodwill that the association showed to them. The association may start having the second thoughts about meeting with them again in the future.

    I am wondering about this for few days. Is the AFA against cochlear implant (anti-cochlear implant) for deaf children and babies? I sent the following message to AFA last Wednesday in response to the video but the video apparently was removed.

    [Start of message]

    Date: Wed, 1 Apr 2009 18:59:34 -0400
    Subject: What is the purpose of Kim’s story at your blog?
    From: Joseph Pietro Riolo josephpietrojeungriolo@gmail.com
    To: AudismFreeAmerica@gmail.com

    Hi…

    I watched Kim telling her story about her experience with cochlear implant at your blog (video at http://audismfreeamerica.blogspot.com/2009/03/journey-of-annex-kims-story.html ).

    I am wondering what is your purpose for presenting her story. What kind of statement are you making about Kim’s story? Is it to make a statement that AFA opposes cochlear implant for young deaf children and deaf babies? It is not clear to me how Kim’s story relates to the purpose of AFA.

    Thanks,

    Joseph Pietro Riolo
    josephpietrojeungriolo@gmail.com

    [End of message]

    I have not received any response. I can understand how the members of AFA can be busy due to various activities but I thought I should share what I sent to AFA last Wednesday.

    Although I personally have my own (pretty strong) opinion about cochlear implant, I fear that AFA is alienating parents who decide to have cochlear implant for their deaf children and babies and these children who continue using cochlear implant while they are growing up, if AFA turns out to have strong opposition to cochlear implant.

    If anyone can shed any accurate information on where AFA actually stands in respect to cochlear implant for deaf children and babies, this will be nice but if it can’t be found or provided, I will just wait for AFA to respond to my email.

    Joseph Pietro Riolo
    josephpietrojeungriolo@gmail.com

    Public domain notice: I put all of my expressions in this post in the public domain.

  • My position, as stated repeatedly, is that parents have the RIGHT to make decisions about cochlear implants and communication methodology for their own children. Organizing protests against AG Bell, demanding things, disrupting the peace, etc. are scare tactics that will drive parents farther away from considering sign language and immersion in the Deaf Culture for their children. Organizations like this are wasting time and money on divisive activities rather than looking for ways to give all people with hearing loss the ability to achieve their dreams, whatever they may be.

  • DR Hocokan says:

    I agree with all three comments above. The arm-twisting tactic that was exercised by Ruthie Jordan was the final blow for any possible working relationship with AG Bell. The ego-manic face I saw on Ruthie’s face stuck on my mind ever since I watched the video. I created a new vlog tonight in response to the letter and will post it in deafvideo.tv for everybody to see.

  • White Ghost says:

    yes, the way Ruthie Jordan and few members of AFA’s refusal to leave the AG Bell table made the huge blow. It’s the kind of example that would not work for both of them to build up the working relationship after all.

    I am not surprised about the AG Bell’s letter.

    If AFA continues to push the demands ahead, I think it’s waste. It’s the parent’s job to make the decision for the best of the child/children and its future, why would AFA pursue the demands from AG Bell? I think it’s a long term and such a waste.

    I agree with all four comments above.

  • Candy says:

    JPR, I was thinking the same thing too. What does AFA have to do with C.I.? Turns out, a lot. Looking at one of the AFA blue ribbon videos, one person appeared to state that implanting a child is considered audist. Well, I believe parental rights supersedes all, regardless. Truth be told, the demands only serve to make them look silly. I believe this is just a small group of deaf people that never bothered to get a feel of what the majority deaf in the USA feels about it. They don’t speak for me and for many others.

  • Joseph Pietro Riolo says:

    Hi Candy, It is your comment at DR Hocokan’s blog named “Hocokan, the Center” (as well as several comments there) that propelled me to watch Kim’s story at AFA’s blog. Instead of guessing what is really AFA’s purpose for placing Kim’s story at its blog, I thought I would send email to AFA. Now that the video was removed, I am wondering what is the rationale for removing the video.

    There are several unknowns about AFA in respect to cochlear implant. If I conjecture correctly that AFA is under the influence of Deafhood, it is probably that AFA sees cochlear implant as an audistic technology. This is because Dr. Paddy Ladd placed oralism, mainstreaming, cochlear implant and genetics under the category of scientific, medical and educational oppression (page 165 in “Understanding Deaf Culture: In Search of Deafhood” by Paddy Ladd; it can be found through Google Book Search). The wording of the third demand that AFA presented to AGBADHH seems to favor this interpretation but it is still uncertain.

    Other unknown that I have with AFA is whether it attempts to eliminate the oral-only methods from the continuum of choices. The language of AFA’s mission statement seems to suggest that it does not recognize the oral-only methods. If my observation turns out to be accurate, I am afraid that I will see AFA as anti-parental choice, instead of pro-parental choice. This will create a conflict with AGBADHH, which according to its website recognizes all parental choices.

    It is sometimes frustrating that I have to deal with unknowns but with time and patience, these unknowns will be known.

    Joseph Pietro Riolo
    josephpietrojeungriolo@gmail.com

  • White Ghost says:

    Good work, JPR. I am not surprised about the AFA’s outcome. This definitely will hurt the DBC’s reputation.

    Apparently, John Egbert, a founder of DBC appeared at Gally’s rally per the AFA’s blog. He still represents AFA. Will not do any good. This is not going to be a good example. Many hearing parents of deaf child/children will turn themselves away from the DBC/AFA.

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  • Thank you for all of your comments. I’m glad to see that I’m not the only one who thought that this organization’s tactics were inappropriate and not a good way to accomplish any goals they may have.

  • Time, effort and resources should be spent on either figuring out how to work together or reaching toward individual organization’s goals. What this group did was disruptive, divisive and reflected poorly on them.

  • Apparently, John Egbert, a founder of DBC appeared at Gally’s rally per the AFA’s blog. He still represents AFA. Will not do any good. This is not going to be a good example. Many hearing parents of deaf child/children will turn themselves away from the DBC/AFA.

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