18. Language Deprivation
It is now well known that children need to acquire language at an early age to ensure optimum learning. For Deaf children, the most crucial need is for an immediately-accessible visual language, since we are, as the great leader George W. Veditz noted, “the people of the eye.” Given immediate access to ASL, Deaf children acquire language more rapidly, and learn faster and learn more. This is why, traditionally, Deaf children of Deaf parents (DODAs) have done better than Deaf children of hearing parents (DOHAs) at school. They had access to ASL from the start; there was no language delay.
Talking (vocally) to deaf babies and schoolchildren doesn’t work well. Seeing a speaker’s lips moving is not equivalent to seeing language.
Ever since the advent of Oralism and the banishment of sign language from the classroom, we have been coping with a destructive epidemic: deaf children starting school with no real language at all. And, since oral schools and programs typically weed out students who fail to make satisfactory progress, schools for the deaf and public schools have received in influx of these students with abysmal language skills. The schools do what they can to help get language to these children. In some cases, it’s a “too little, too late” situation. Schools for the deaf have traditionally been used as a last resort, even as a dumping ground, for the failures of Oralism. It is not the children themselves who have failed; Oralism has failed them.
Because of the priority traditionally given to speech above literacy, many deaf people have received massive doses of speech therapy, with poor to mediocre results, and have received substandard, deplorable educations and have found themselves poorly equipped to function in the work world.
We call this “language deprivation.”
The boom in pediatric cochlear implants, far from solving this problem, has only exacerbated it.
Not all deaf people who are products of an Oral education are language deprived, but many of them have assuredly experienced language deprivation. AGBell and its allies continue to deny this reality, acting instead as though it doesn’t exist, and choosing to denigrate and the Deaf community for raising the issue. (AGBell’s public slamming of Deaf advocate Nyle DiMarco is a blatant but by no means unique example of this.)
We believe that getting language to deaf babies without delay is a challenge of crucial importance. Immediate access to ASL, a complete visual language, benefits all deaf children, no matter what audiological/technological choices their parents decide on.
We also believe that schools should put more emphasis on the acquisition of reading and writing skills as the cornerstone of academic achievement. At present, there is far too little emphasis on these vital skills, which, we affirm, are more important than the early acquisition of speech and speechreading skills.
We believe in taking aggressive action to prevent and combat language deprivation, but the auditory-oral industry is a major obstacle, as it denies the reality. The Deaf community has been making progress in combating language deprivation, but it’s been, and will continue to be, an uphill battle.