We The Deaf People

17. Self-Determination

After the 1880 Congress of Milan and the ascendance of the Oralist movement sent an ominous warning to the U.S. that a tidal wave of oralism was on the way, gradually but inexorably overtaking sign-language-based education, fewer and fewer deaf people founded or headed schools for the deaf, and were, in fact, forced out of the profession of teaching deaf students, a profession in which they had excelled. Education of the deaf was, for many years, almost completely under hearing control. Even Gallaudet College’s Normal School (graduate teacher-training department) barred deaf students. Superintendents could, and did, convert their schools from Combinist (using both signing and speech) to Oral (signing banished from the classroom) overnight.

It took time for the Deaf community stakeholders to stand up and demand a fair say in matters that concerned deaf children and adults. William C. Stokoe’s recognition that ASL was a full-fledged language had profound political ramifications for the Deaf community. Gradually, efforts to restore ASL to the classrooms and have it studied, taught, and learned in college, got underway. We have made significant progress since that time.

There is a very old and well-known slogan: “Nothing about us without us!” While initially identified with the disability-rights movement, this slogan has also been applied to the Deaf community.

A glaring example of opposition to the “plantation mentality” occurred in 2010, when the California Deaf community of California mounted a vigorous campaign against AB 2072, a bill sponsored by a coalition of oral schools, which would have benefited the auditory-oral industry. Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed the bill.

Another example: in 2012, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, in collusion with Hear Indiana, the state chapter of AGBell, approved a bill (HB 1367) removing Indiana School for the Deaf’s Outreach Services, transferring them from the oversight of the Department of Education to the Department of Health, and having it staffed with a professionals affiliated with Hear Indiana. And this despite an impassioned campaign by the Deaf community, rallies, petitions, and letters.

In both cases, these bills were drafted completely without Deaf Community input.

Deaf people are no longer willing to stand by and have hearing people, be they governmental figures, legislators, audiologists, National Institute on Deafness and Other Communicative Disorders, the Early Hearing Detection and Intervention Meeting, cochlear-implant surgeons, AGBell advocates, administrators, or teachers, making decisions about Deaf people without Deaf input. What may have seemed just and fair fifty years ago is no longer politically or ethically acceptable nowadays.

Our position:

We affirm the right of Deaf people to participate in any decision affecting Deaf children or adults. We are no longer willing to allow hearing people to make decisions without Deaf representation. We want to see the boards of any and all organizations and institutions serving a primarily Deaf clientele comprise a 51% and up Deaf majority. Schools for the deaf should have Deaf superintendents and primarily Deaf administrators.