Monday, March 31, 2008

A.G. Bell - Oral Only Organization

Since my hearing loss was diagnosed before I started school, I was placed in a mainstreamed school in kindergarten up to the first and second marking period of first grade. I was then placed in speech therapy classes. I wanted to share some of the remarks made on my IEP (Individualized Education Plan):

  • Mis-articulations make speech difficult to understand.
  • Expressive vocabulary is below age appropriate levels.
  • Based upon Abbie’s educational needs, it is determined that she be placed in the Lower Level Auditorially Handicapped Class, which is the least restrictive program at this time.

Then I was transferred to the Marie H. Katzenbach School for the Deaf in January of 1986 for the third and fourth marking period. These are some remarks written by teachers of the Katzenbach School on my report cards:

  • I am very pleased with her signing ability - she learns and maintains new words easily.


  • I have serious concerns for the lack of language models in the confines of this restricted classroom.

And then:

  • There is nothing more we can do for her.

I was then transferred back to the mainstreamed school the following year to start second grade. The notation made on my IEP for second grade said :

  • Stress Auditory not sign – she is showing signs of confusion with dual approach.

My parents fought with the school system to continue with sign but the school refused to comply. From that point on, I was aurally mainstreamed. So, I stopped signing, I was the only deaf kid in school and I spent the next five years in speech therapy. I feel that if the school continued to stress oral and ASL, I wouldn’t have felt so lost when my hearing disappeared. It would have been easier to communicate with my mom in my own home instead of having her sending me an instant message when she was just five feet away from me. A good friend of mine who is a teacher and happens to be deaf, Valerie left this as a comment that stresses the importance of quality education,

I am a special education teacher in an at risk school, but I am also deaf…We need educators who believe in the children, educate the children, and support the children. I am not for just Deaf individuals providing support for deaf children in deaf schools. I am for qualified educators who believe in the students and provide a quality environment that is child-centered and rich in language (ASL and English).
I wish she was my teacher because she hit the nail right on the head.

Perhaps I am the poster child for the A.G. Bell Association but I sure as heck do not agree with their method of promoting an oral only environment for deaf and hard of hearing. Now according to A.G. Bell website, they seek to ensure that individuals who experience hearing loss have the opportunity to communicate, learn, and thrive through the use of spoken language. What part of their vision promotes the use of sign language? It doesn’t. What part of their so-called strategic plan helps someone that cannot listen nor speak? It doesn’t!

Just to give you an idea of how A.G. Bell responds to sign language, I encourage you to read a few excerpts from their press release in response to Pepsi’s Bob’s House Super Bowl Ad:

…Your advertisement perpetuates a common myth that all people who are deaf can only communicate using sign language and are, therefore, isolated from the rest of society.

We would be very willing to work with Pepsi to develop some creative ideas to promote other facets of the deaf community and to highlight positive role models who have met the challenges of this condition and thrived using spoken language.

You can see that they got a little testy when Pepsi portrayed that deaf people using ASL and not their voice. This letter really burned my buns because the signing deaf and the speaking deaf represent the varying degrees of difficulty that we have communicating with the world.

Recently, there was a peaceful rally held at the California chapter of A.G. Bell’s conference on March 22. I knew about this a couple weeks ago and I was very surprised at the long list of people who rallied against A.G. Bell here, Deaf Bilingual Coalition California. Among the many people that attended the conference itself, one was Michael Chorost, author of “Rebuilt” and the other was Josh Swiller, author of “The Unheard: A Memoir of Deafness and Africa”.

Josh Swiller talks about his experience at the conference in his latest post "Only Connect" regarding the position that the California School for the Deaf he says

It’s also the center of quite a bit of controversy and uncertainty – it’s a strongly ASL focused school and this is an oral world, and now there’s this device called a cochlear implant which many see as the passageway between the signing world and the oral one, and others see as the barrier. Salvation or annihilation – either way, big change is coming.”

Michael Chorost chimes in with his latest post, "We all sleep in silence"and he states,
I’ve been to Gallaudet three times now and have been warmly welcomed each time, though I’m still a little puzzled as to why. I’m not anti-sign in any way, but I’m still the physical embodiment of much that the signing deaf community fears.”

The pair brought up valid points. Some members of the signing deaf community are apprehensive about people with cochlear implants. I can relate to how Chorost felt approaching the rally, nerves and all. I read comments every day that contribute to that uneasy feeling. For example: “CI dudes are a different set of people. I'm not saying this in a bad way” and the more extreme comments such as, “I want to kill all CI people. They ruin the Deaf world!I read brash comments like these everyday but I see people beginning to accept that those of us with a cochlear implant are real human beings and not machines, like this blogger, Deaf Womyn Pride.

Swiller was invited as a keynote speaker to the conference and he said,

This signing versus oral feud seems like Crips and Bloods fighting over a corner in Watts. The rest of the world could care less, and these gangs, no one else but other gang members can understand their experience, no one else has walked in their shoes– they should be working together. Instead they’re fighting to the death. We’re not so different, or more accurately, our differences are inconsequential in light of all we share. This is what I learned in Africa, and the quality of my life has a direct correlation to the quality of my remembrance of this truth.”

When Chorost took the stand, he mentioned a line that I had written in the Deafread Controversy post, “We sleep in total silence too.” I am extremely honored that he mentioned that line (thank you Mike!) but it makes perfect sense. He further went on to say,

It’s true, we have more in common than not. We all struggle with communication.” He went on to say that, ‘Two different worlds were living side by side that day, one in a hotel ballroom, the other in sunlight. But they shared common concerns: communication and the lack of it, and the desire for community. They should have been working together.”

They should have been working together is a powerful statement. My thoughts and ideals run parallel because I believe in deaf unity. If we could fight as a group instead fighting against one another, we could accomplish so much more. If we could help each other up instead of pushing each other down, we can stand proud and show the world what we are capable of. Instead of organization like A.G. Bell advocating for deaf people to speak, how about we come together to advocate for bridging the two languages together? We all suffer from the one loss, it is not fair to leave anyone behind since we are all created equal and each of us deserve no less then the others because we all sleep in total silence.


Unknown said...

You said it better than I ever could in my blogs.

Thank you.


Valerie said...

"All students can learn, if a qualified, caring educator uses the tools and resources to find the way to the student's hearts." -Valerie

As always Abbie, you are working hard to build the bridges. Yes, we need to work together to ensure that the children see a community that wants the best for them. A community that wants more, not I can't do anything else for her. A community that accepts their individual differences and uniquiness of families. I read more I can't and I won't, what I want to read is we can and we should.

If these organizations worked together instead of independently, wow the resources, the funds and the professionals that all deaf/Deaf individuals would have as resources. If the organizations spent less time pushing and debating and more time educating, wow they could assist in a curriculum for deaf children that is set by research and data. Now how do we as a group bridge the gap between the organizations? I don't know the answer, I wish I did.

I sleep in total silent, too. I may sleep that way, but my dreams are full of the beauty of ASL and English in harmony with all types of people, CI, hearing, and HOH. And beautiful children laughing and learning and most of all respecting each other.

Love ya,

Alex said...

Abbie agree with everyone else. There isn't much else to add. You have covered an amazing amount of information and glad to see as Valerie said continuing to close the bridges between everyone.

I am not a huge fan of AG Bell for the reason of banning ASL. Not right, it is as much a language as everyone else.


Anonymous said...

Hi Abbie!

Great blog! You know what? I never heard of AG Bell until last year when I joined DR so as months go by the more I learned about AG Bell, the harder I believe how they are like this. I guess there are always militant people out there who believes in their own way.

I can imagine they will use you as a poster child but it's good to know that you do not agree with them.

I feel very insulted reading "isolated from the rest of society." regarding using ASL as the only method by them. *sighs*

So basically, you have said it all.. well said!! You rock!!!


Diane J Standiford said...

Good post about a very terrible mindset. It is ridiculous yet dangerous. Fight strong!

David said...

Abbie, this is a whole new world/life for me. I am experiencing first hand in my silent world what I did not understand or cmprehend 7 months ago. Your post makes several great points, and you make a strong case for unity. It is fraught with danger if different factions fight for the same cause.
Valarie makes the icing on your great post.
Thnak you for yet more enlightinment.

Unknown said...


Yes, we need to work together to have bilingual ideology for all babies, but AGBell created a wall. See this

DBC will never give up to tell the world that AGBell needs to "Tear Down This Wall".

Bilingually Yours,

Karen Mayes said...

Wonderful posting.

Yes, I agree with Val... if the organizations work together, instead of debating, boy, all the resources we'd share and ensure the success of the deaf children's futures.

Steve said...

Good post, remember many oral used an interpreter to sign in the meeting or classroom and yet used their own home sign. They just won't admit, think they are higher position than those who use ASL. They need to get off their high horse!

David said...

Hey Abie; my Jays are playing your Bronx bullies (yesterday got rained out), should we make a little wager on the series?

Deb Ann and Hannah said...

I'm with Seek Geo and this is a beautiful blog.

Unknown said...

You put all things together in one place, thanks Abbie! That is exactly what I have been thinking too. I am going to send your link to my colleague here, yes we all need to work together.

I will be interested in discussion about regionalization concept for mainstreaming programs. Deaf and Hoh children need critical mass with bilingual education within hearing schools. That is what we want to advocate here in the state of Colorado. You can e-mail me.

I even would love to have you join us for happy hours here!!

Anonymous said...

Amazing to go back and read through your IEP now isn't it? I don't think I have ever seen mine. I was 14 when I lost my hearing, my school was very willing to help but clueless what to offer. They suggested dropping my advanced classes, but my mom was smart enough to veto that! My brain hadn't changed, I hadn't changed, it was just difficult to hear.

I think everyone should be bilingual. Hearing parents (who never heard the term "hearing people" until they found out their kid was deaf) should look at their child's deafness as an opportunity to embrace a warm and inclusive community.

Anonymous said...

Wow, Abbie. Loved your call for unity.

Your experiences in school were not very long ago (relatively speaking :) ), and I know we'll be facing much of the same with the little one in the next few years: we fear that she too will not have enough language models in her wonderful school for the deaf unless they add a program specific to CI kids (even though it's a bi-bi system, the non-ASL part of the "bi" is limited to written English, for the most part), and in a mainstream environment, she'll be a deaf kid with a CI who'll need accommodation that we'll need to fight for, year after year, and we've already been told that there's no way that our local schools will have an ASL immersion environment or even an ASL-focused class, especially if our child will have access to hearing via her CI.

There's got to be a perfect learning environment out there that integrates both. Or we've got to build such a thing. I'm just stunned that there's no advocacy association for ALL deaf, that it's so often either auditory (AGBell) OR ASL (NAD), both in deaf and mainstream schools.

I would LOVE to see AGBell pick up on incorporating ASL into its programs! As "poster child" I think you can make that happen! You've already provided the perfect tagline.

Abbie said...

David, your on! I predict that the Yankees are going to win! :)

Abbie said...

Jim, thank you so much! That means alot because you churn more blogs in 2 minutes then I do in two weeks! I don't know how you do it! :)

Abbie said...

Val, you represent a major part that needs an overhaul and the fact that you are in there teaching every day makes you so invaluable! You know what these kids need because you've been there!

Abbie said...


Thank you for leaving that link and I agree with you, the wall needs to be torn down!

Abbie said...

Anne Marie,

I would be very interested in discussing the concept that you are proposing. Please send me an email at bionicwoman2007 @ I can't seem to find a blogger profile with your email on it. I will look forward to hearing from you!

David said...

ok so I lost the opener.3-2 was a close one.
How about the looser of the series opener has to do the winners blog for the next day?

Michelle said...

Abbie~great points! I would like to comment as an educator myself. I am so sorry you had to deal with a school district that didn't give communication options. I am an avid supporter of total communication and whatever is best for each individual child and family.

Anonymous said...

Well said abbie .. i couldnt give any advice as most on the comment took my brain !

Sam said...

Abbie...its a shame that your school district gave you the run-around because I was in a similar environment. The only difference was the Albany NY Public School system in collaboration with the Albany Medical Center Speech and Language Dept. developed a program that combined mainstreaming with speech and hearing therapy. I believe it was the first of its kind in the nation. And, the parents had the choice, completely. For me and mine, learning to speak and lip-read was the choice. And to this day, I wouldn't regret the decision.

David said...

OK I lost the bet. What do I have to do?
Yanks Rule t shirt for a month?

moi said...

Thank you so much for letting me know about this post, Abbie! I updated my original entry to include your info. :)

Diane J Standiford said...

Just so ridulous.

CC said...

"I feel that if the school continued to stress oral and ASL, I wouldn’t have felt so lost when my hearing disappeared. "

As a Speech Pathologist in the public schools right now it ticks me off to no end that this wasn't stressed! I sign with most of my hearing students. I really feel that multiple modes of communication is part of my job!

Shel90 said...


Great blog! I also agree with Val's comment about all these organizations working together. It would be great, wouldnt it?

Abbie said...

Li-li mommy!

From what I see kids today are able to get more assistive aids then I ever got. I just got a note taker when I was in 11 grade. I hear today of kids having CART available in all of the classes and I think that is absolutely awesome. I hope that the team that you get will be more supportive of the parents decision as well...

Michelle, Diane and CC,

Thank you for your comments. It is nice to know that there is more of you out there that believe in total communication!

Sammy boy,

That is really great you were a part of that program. I wish my school had a *clue* about that type of program. It has obviously worked wonders for you! I don't regret one bit learning how to speak but I think some other people do because I can't seem to shut up :)


Your surgery is 36 hours away! I posted my little request on your blog :)

tee-hee! Betting with you is lots of fun already :) We should do this all season LOL!!

misha~sha-sha said...

I love your blog...I love reading about how adults describe hearing with CIs. My daughter has implants and it's so hard to know what she hears or doesn't hear sometimes. Thanks!