We The Deaf People

14. Parental Choice

“Parental choice” is a buzzword employed by AGBell advocates to affirm their right to their own choice—in their case, their commitment to the oral-only option. We are left to question on what basis these parents made their commitment, whether they truly understood the many options (or opportunities, as Beth Benedict would put it) available, and the fact that choosing early-intervention approaches need not be a “one or the other” situation—a family can “have it all.” Spoken English, written English, ASL, and Cued Speech too, yes, one can have it all, if that benefits the child and enhances communication and language development.

Unfortunately, AGBell endorses, promotes, publicizes, and campaigns for the oral-only approach. It has lucrative ties to the cochlear-implant, oral-school, and Auditory-Verbal (“Listening and Spoken Language”) Therapy industries.

We believe that parents deserve an opportunity to explore and understand the many opportunities for enhancing communication and language—that ASL should be presented as a desirable and life-enriching choice, but is all too often ignored or rejected. And why? Because the audiologists who identify deaf newborns and inform the parents are medical professionals who may or may not have any understanding of the crucial importance of ASL. Their backgrounds are in audiology, not language development, not cognition, not education. And members of the medical profession have traditionally had tremendous bias against ASL because of their medical training. They are trained to see deaf people in terms of deficit, a disability that has to be fixed, not as members of a linguistic community. So how can they encourage parents to explore the ASL opportunity if they are inherently biased towards AVT or another auditory-oral option?

We feel that deaf babies are healthy. They are not in need of medical intervention, but immediate access to visual language. It’s high time that society reframes its thinking and the way that deaf babies are treated.

Supposing parents say, “We have studied the options carefully and have reached the conclusion that the auditory-oral approach is the best for us because we want our child to grow up in our family’s culture and speak our family’s language,” we cannot support that choice. And why? Because it leads to language deprivation and delay. Parents should respect a deaf child’s need for an immediately-accessible language—to prevent language deprivation instead of encouraging it.

The traditional medical-intervention model, as exemplified by AGBell and the oral schools, is, on the whole, a catastrophic failure. We stand firm after 150 years of this failure. ASL should be accessible to all deaf children.

Our position:

We support “parental choice” as long as the parents are fully informed. We endorse parental choice if and only if it includes a fair presentation of ASL as a desirable opportunity.