14 August

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HB 1367: A Renewal of the ASL vs. Oralism Conflict

How would you feel if you were forced to walk on your hands instead of your (fully-functioning) feet? Pissed off because you were born and taught to walk on your feet, and you can walk better that way anyway, right?

What if changing the way of our communication to oralism would be a good cause? In my own opinion, it isn’t a good idea. A Darwinian theory states, “An adaptation in biology is a trait with a current functional role in the life history of an organism that is maintained and evolved by means of natural selection. Adaptations contribute to the fitness and survival of individuals. Organisms face a succession of environmental challenges as they grow and develop and are equipped with an adaptive plasticity as the phenotype of traits develops in response to the imposed conditions. The developmental norm of reaction for any given trait is essential to the concept of adaptation as it affords a kind of biological insurance or resilience to varying environments.” (Space and Motion, 2011) Basically, people will adapt to their environment. That’s basic science and a fundamental theory of Darwin’s.

If oralism was the best way for the deaf people to talk, according to Darwin’s theory, adaptation would have made it happen. That is why we communicate with our hands. Hands are bigger than a mouth and our visual senses see hands much better. Not only hands are more visible, they can make more varied shapes and movements than a mouth, which makes communication for us much easier and more effective.

Why don’t scientists try to fix fish and make them walk on land, so it will be easier for fishermen to catch more fish? People shouldn’t try to change things that occur naturally. People who grew up valuing speech don’t look at the deaf as “people”. Instead, they look at us as “people that need fixing”, the exact reason why society is trying to make us communicate orally, a method that is the closest possible thing to speaking. In result of people trying to fix us, deaf people, we suffer oppression, obstacles, and barriers due to difference in belief.

When my dad was a child, his parents strongly believed in oralism and made him go to an oral school. He was not allowed to sign. If oralism was a natural technique for everyone to acquire, he would be able to speak fluently, right? When he grew up, he was selected as one of 100 best financial planners and was qualified for President Club conference several times. In all of his trips to President Club conferences, he needed interpreters. As a grown-up oral user, he still has difficult times talking to people with no knowledge of sign language. Clearly, oralism is NOT a natural communication method for deaf people.

It all started with Alexander Graham Bell. He believed that deafness was a horrible curse to the people who suffered from it and that deaf people were weakening the society. He became worried as the population of deaf people increased, so he documented several ideas to stop the expansion of deaf people. He did this by eliminating residential institutions, prohibiting the use of sign language, forbidding deaf teachers from teaching deaf students, and banning marriage between two deaf people. Fortunately, his ideas never became official rules. But, it did install anger and fear in deaf people.

His statements and lies changed the beliefs of many deaf parents, made them install cochlear implants in their deaf children’s heads, and expose the deaf children to oralism and mainstream schools. Many deaf people have been hurt academically and socially because of the huge impact oralism has made. The Deaf community have been weakened by his association and statements. Over a long time of fighting for our rights, the strength of our deaf community is finally solid and strong once again. Now, if his ideas were true and efficient, the American deaf community would be non-existent. We KNOW what we need and what is the best for us.

January 11, 2011 is the day that plays an enormous role in the history of the deaf. A bill, House Bill (H.B.) 1367, written by Indiana state Representative Cindy Noe and Adam Horst, the state budget agency director, was introduced by the Indiana General Assembly. It has passed the Indiana House of Representatives and now is in the hands of the Senate–so this is serious news for Indiana School for the Deaf.

The bill states for the purpose of this “outreach center”, “Deaf and hearing impaired education services. Establishes the center for deaf and hearing impaired education to ensure that children who are deaf or hearing impaired acquire optimal communication and academic abilities. Requires the office of management and budget to determine an appropriate agency to provide office space and staff support for the center. Transfers the outreach services and consultative services to local education agencies to assist in meeting the needs of locally enrolled students with hearing disabilities of the Indiana School for the Deaf to the center for deaf and hearing-impaired education. Provides that the Indiana School for the Deaf are subject to accountability provisions for performance and improvement, but are not subject to sanction provisions.” (Orangejack, 2011)

Therefore, my prediction comes in – the diminishment of sign language in the state of Indiana in the future, in which has the possibility of leading to the dissolving of ASL across the nation. This is happening, in my opinion, with the return of oralism, only if the bill is passed.

Without ISD’s outreach program, none of this would be possible. Without any contact with this program, communication between deaf children and their hearing parents would be poor and turbulent. In a worst case scenario, some children might be forced to communicate orally.

To put this bill into a paper shredder machine, 20,000 people will need to sign the petition. We have a little over 6,000 supporters; we’re past the ¼ mark already. Spread the word and make this petition a success so deaf students in Indiana School for the Deaf can continue having the best possible education. Every signature counts, so please support and put the emerging anti-ASL movement to a halt.

EDIT: Fortunately, the bill was never successfully passed.

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