The Deaf Bilingual Coalition: More Advocacy Needed, and Here's Why

The Deaf Bilingual Coalition has experienced a level of growth and success that's rare for such a relatively young organization.

In less than a year, the DBC has gone from 40 or so people passing out flyers in a hotel lobby to a large contingent of hundreds gathering at a hotel conference of its own -- featuring a powerful lineup of guest speakers with reputable backgrounds in Deaf Studies, ASL, education, early childhood, and linguistics.

Each DBC event seems to be even better than the last. And that's probably the key to DBC's success: Momentum. The leaders behind DBC have so much energy and passion that this thing has snowballed into something much bigger, much faster, than we could have imagined in such a short period of time.

Of course, with rapid growth comes some speed bumps. It's no surprise that there have been questions about DBC's mission statement, philosophy, and consistency in spreading its message. Given the diverse background of its members, of course it's going to take some time before everyone is on the same page. But overall, the Deaf Bilingual Coalition is a tremendous step in the right direction.

It's also no surprise that the media and several bloggers have zoomed in on the controversy behind this fledgling organization. Of course, the focus will often be on the big philosophical battle between the Deaf Bilingual Coalition and the Alexander Graham Bell Association of the Deaf. This will probably go on until DBC breaks through and gets its message accepted by mainstream society at large, and/or until a healthy dialogue(and resolution) takes place between DBC and AGB.

This is the Jerry Springer generation. A lot of people are munching on popcorn in anticipation of a big slugfest between DBC and AGB. Who knows what will happen. Dialogue? Agreement? Collaboration? Friendship? Respect? Mudslinging? Backstabbing? Media wars? Things are going to get very interesting over the next few years.

But you know what? Ultimately, it's not DBC and AGB's ability to see eye-to-eye that really matters. There's a more subtle need for advocacy that DBC will address in the long run. Let me share with you a perfect example.

A few days ago I got a letter from my son's audiologist. (As many of you already know, my 9-year-old son went deaf two years ago.) The audiologist has been great. Fantastic. Cordial, completely professional, and easy to work with. And we need this audiologist because without her reliable assessment, we wouldn't be able to get the services (an ASL interpreter and an itinerant teacher) that my son needs at his school.

I think I've made it clear that we genuinely respect this audiologist. Now let me show you an excerpt from the evaluation:

Without use of this (hearing aid) system, he will be unable to reach his full communicative and academic potential.

I repeat: This is not an oppressive, ban-sign-language-at-all-cost audist. It's a very classy professional reflecting her sincere opinion that without sound, one will face considerable hardship in this world. It's a more subtle, non-hostile type of audism, in the form of a well-meaning belief system. She was only trying to help.

Note: I'm reluctant to use the word audism because I know it's been overused and overblown on the blogosphere lately. But it does exist, and I actually believe that it's more dangerous in the "well-meaning" form described above. That's because anyone can recognize (and ignore) a screaming bigot. A person with good intentions, on the other hand, can create more misconceptions because he or she often earns your trust.

This is where the Deaf Bilingual Coalition comes in. And this is where they will have their greatest impact.

Can you imagine if my wife and I weren't deaf? If we didn't have advanced degrees and earn a good living? What if we didn't have a network of deaf friends who are successful at all that they do? And that most of us don't use any form of amplification? (I've said this a million times: Amplification is not a prerequisite for success. It's an option that some may choose in their respective paths towards success. An option that can help, but not a prerequisite.)

So if my wife and I were hearing -- with no knowledge of ASL and its benefits -- things would be very different. If we were told that without some form of amplification our son would never reach his academic potential, we'd be freaking out right now. We'd be on a wild goose chase looking for that magical cure.

Fortunately, our son lives in an ASL-friendly environment. His school has graciously provided an ASL interpreter. He just finished third grade and is continuing to learn. And it's learning that's taking place without sound.

Which takes us back to one of the Deaf Bilingual Coalition's main points:

It's not sound, but LANGUAGE that leads to learning.

This is not a critique of whatever means of amplification are available out there. My point is, if we chose to pursue those options, it would have taken a lot more time. Had we not been signing ASL from the very beginning our son would have been far more delayed than the speed bump he experienced the few weeks before he got his ASL interpreter. (Yes, we signed with him -- and his two hearing siblings -- long before he went deaf. It made a big difference.)

Which takes us back to another one of the Deaf Bilingual Coalition's main points:

ASL, when introduced at an early age, is a head start for ALL babies, deaf or hearing. It levels the playing field for deaf and hearing babies in such a manner that a deaf child won't enter school with a significant language delay. Long before the vocal cords are able to do anything, ASL can stimulate the brain and "wire" it for language. But how many people out there truly understand these benefits?

And this, my dear friends, is why we need the advocacy of the Deaf Bilingual Coalition.

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What Other Visitors Have Said

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Deaf Tutor 
Thanks for sharing your family experience and perspective on audism and significance of using ASL in the early stages of growth to help young deaf children …

Right or Wrong is not the issue 
Language is what drives the cognitive engine, however the complexion that surrounds the nature of language through its processes is a challenge for everybody …

Thank you! 
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. That's all I got to say for now... thank you. DE

AGB has spread audism 
Great Blog, Mark! You're entirely correct, audism can take more insidious, well-meaning forms as you described here. It is so entrenched into our culture …

Love ASL 
I am hearing and accidentally discovered ASL in college in Alaska. I loved it. I married a man whose cousin was Deaf and had taught him SEE sign. And I …

Diversity divides Deaf America 
We, the deaf people, are the minority group. The deaf people keep on saying Unity. There are too many divisions due to diversity groups such as Latinos, …

Teacher as well Deaf Activist 
Be frank with you ... I strongly believe each deaf person contacts her or his congressperson to propose the new law. DBC or NAD or other organizations …

Awesome blog! 
Now you have rest your case... I have cochlear implants. I sparked a debate between audism and ASL on this yahoo group for members with CIs. Some people …

Thanks for reinforcing my point 
Mark: Another great article, as always. You hit upon the salient points that I have continued to pound on; that an equal demonstration of ALL options …

Learning to see 
Language leads to learning, NOT sound. Why did not AGB stop being stubborn? I bet that AGB feels guilty because they know they fail teaching deaf children. …

bingo 
well done thanks Peace Patti durr

Katherine Gladu 
The above is not my real name. I am old now and my husband is now deceased but between us, we raised four deaf children and one hearing child who is now …

Language, language, language! 
How true it is that language is the coin of our realm. If the deaf child, early on, is involved with English communication in a visual form and, yes,

Wondering why cannot any parents just accept any normal Deaf babies? 
I am a very profounded Deaf since born.... I know many of you may live in such many different life as it is all depending on how your parents wanted each …

Deaf Services Coordinator for Disability Services and Legal Center 
I am in total agreement with the preceeding article. It is so important to introduce ASL to babies as a tool for early intervention and also, for the …

DBC Rock on ! 
Former alumni of Bell School - Class of 72 My first attendance to the DBC in Milwaukee, WI Wonderful expereince & had the great opportunity to meet …

Learning ASL 
In order for hearing parents to learn ASL to in turn use with with their deaf/hoh babies, the Deaf community must be involved. Interacting only with hearing …

Just like the American Indians? 
If the powers that be would devote as much money and resources to helping deaf children and their parents learn ASL as they do to the "surgery will 'fix' …

Care Provider 
I would like to share with you that I never learned sign language until age of 10. I had oral method training and used hearing aid to aid me to learn …

Deaf Advocate  
Wow.. love your choice of words.. well written article. You made some good points here that language is the key to success, not sound! So true.. ! I've …

More Advocacy Needed? 
More? Theres plenty ASL advocates out there. You just need to stop bullying deaf people for a change and they'll help.

Beautifully expressed 
Thanks, Drolz, for a fair assessment of the DBC/AGB dilemma and for the emphasis on visual language as a vehicle for education of the young child. …

Bilingual Specialist & HS English Teacher - the Husband & Wife Team in Kansas 
Deaf babies having the right to acquire ASL as their first language is really a basic and existential human right that to forbid babies with various hearing …

I like your quote 
I like your quote : It's not sound, but LANGUAGE that leads to learning. We need to emphasize and expose to targeted hearing peole that we want to …

Client Support Specialist 
Wonderful examples! Well written as always! Thanks for zeroing in on the points that matter.

Gotcha 
Yes... that is why I feel that DBC could go further by giving mini workshops at the hospitals, audiologists' clincs, etc., explaining how to provide the …

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