Monday, October 21, 2013

Facundo Element's Fondness for Friction

Consider this an open response to a thread on Ryan Commerson's comments about Hands & Voices. I am mainly directing this open letter to representatives of Facundo Element, who have good intentions in promoting American Sign Language, despite their controversial tactics and approaches.

Cued Speech is a visual communication system that is based on the linguistic principles of spoken language. Some view it as a tool, others view it as a language mode (just as speech and print are language modes, but not languages on their own). We are already witnessing 2nd generation deaf families who cue. That in itself is proof of cued language as a preferred language mode for some members of the deaf community.

American Sign Language does not have a print form that is ready accessible nor does it have an auditory mode. It is only in the visual medium that it can be conveyed. So comparing Cued Speech and American Sign Languages is like comparing vegetables and fruits. Both are visual, but the commonality ends there.

The logistics of learning a new language can be daunting for some parents who already are overwhelmed with the demands of supporting their family therefore Cued Speech has attracted some parents because of the idea that they can visually represent the language they already know and use in their home and can easily learn the system in a matter of days, not months or years.

There is still marginalization in the community against Cued Speech, whether Deaf people choose to recognize it or not. Gallaudet and RIT/NTID have been agents of oppression and discrimination over the past few decades in regards to recognizing Cued Speech and the benefits it has for providing direct access to spoken language. Despite inclusion in federal law, there is no equity when addressing all modes of communication. ASL is not the only option for the deaf and hard of hearing, as many parents ask the question of how they can effectively convey their own spoken language to their deaf children.

The perspective of socioeconomic inequity is a function of one's own experiences. I can say the same about the oral community in terms of socioeconomic factor playing a role in the demographics, but that is a bigger issue beyond the deaf and hard of hearing community and one that needs to be addressed in terms of racial and social justice.

The fact is that H&V provides sign language interpreters at each board meeting and staff retreats. Many of the parents on the board have used and still use sign language, but it may not necessarily be American Sign Language. However it is not an organization for the deaf and hard of hearing. It is an organization that supports parents who have children with hearing loss, and as should be, H&V is primarily composed of parents with some representatives from different areas of the community.

H&V has done so much work in terms of supporting parents who pursue sign language. Yes, there is more work to be done in terms of educating ignorant and biased individuals on the impacts of hearing loss on children and the need for visual support, but there are many different opinions on how that should be done, therefore open discussion and collaboration is critical to progress.

If one has any suggestions for how H&V can improve its programming in terms of parental support, feel free to share them. But criticism does not result in progress. Collaboration does.

My perspective of accessibility at FE's think tank on deaf education was that there was some access when people moved their lips. When others did not move their lips while signing, that was a matter of inaccessibility, but rather than criticize and distract, I focused on the bigger picture of discussion and collaboration. I spoke up on behalf of spoken language, but people's responses indicated that they didn't care for the idea of spoken language. Why should people attempt to collaborate with those who are unwilling to recognize spoken language for what it is, the preferred mode of communication throughout the world in terms of socialization?

Deaf people on the H&V board are much more open-minded in terms of accepting the diversity that makes up our deaf and hard of hearing community. Not everyone is Deaf, and the reality is that the Deaf are a minority when taking into consideration the demographics of those with hearing loss. The loudest voices are not necessarily representative of the views of the masses.

There will always be a demand for services and technology that support outcomes related to spoken language and hearing as there will always be a community of Deaf people who embrace deafness as a way of life and demand access to visual languages. Why can't we co-exist?

Rather than antagonizing and alienating those who could serve as allies, Facundo Element should focus on collaboration and offering solutions. The so called "educational-medical complex" that FE rails against is a product of society's efforts to ameliorate the impacts of hearing loss in terms of language acquisition, socialization, and education. It certainly warrants a lot of improvements, but that is a matter for collaboration, not antagonization.

I have my own opinions about how the system should change in terms of improving access and educational support for all children with hearing loss, but I don't engage in counterproductive behavior that does not bring people together to focus on common issues. It is easier to fight against something than it is to come up with solutions.

I wish Facundo Element the best of luck in their efforts to bring attention to the benefits of American Sign Language, but hope that they will reflect deeply on how their own actions are adversely affecting their ability to effect positive change.


Tara said...

"I spoke up on behalf of spoken language, but people's responses indicated that they didn't care for the idea of spoken language."

One thing to think about here ... I didn't attend that FE workshop, but I know several who did as well as quite a few who would have if they had been able. All of these people I'm thinking of grew up oral and have intimately experienced and felt (and continue to feel and talk about) the damage that a spoken language-only approach can inflict when used inappropriately or exclusively. And these people need a space to feel free to vent and express how they feel about how disproportionate promotion of spoken language can negatively impact deaf children and how much they wish they had had visual language. These people also feel strongly about supporting the idea that visual language IS beneficial for many deaf children, because they suffered from the perception that it is not. When you lash out against FE and people for their attitudes about spoken language, be aware that you may be inflicting further collateral damage on those who have already suffered and are still hurting from growing up with only spoken language. It's natural that they want to reject something that hurt them so deeply. Recognition of this on the side of spoken language advocates could go a long way in helping with collaboration as well. Resistance and denial engenders resistance and anger.

That resistance and anger didn't come out of nowhere, and you should know that, Aaron. You're feeling the exact same way about Cued Speech as they are about ASL, for virtually the exact same reason. The broader reaction against spoken language (of which FE is only part) is underpinned by quite a number of disillusioned, angry people who grew up with spoken language and minimal interaction with other deaf people, and that's something I hope you can recognize. It's not exclusively native signers ... nowhere near that. Start asking people what their backgrounds are. When I started doing that, I was stunned and my perceptions of where the anti-spoken language attitudes are originating from really changed.

Anonymous said...

"FE's fondness for friction"

I agree, that's all I have been seeing from them.

I agree that collaboration is the best approach, FE is already biased, sorely biased, ergo, they react in the manner that they have and still do which isn't helping anyone.

There is no question that FE, like a few organization which I will not name here, are hell-bent on promoting ASL first and other possibilities later or even just ASL only.
I can tell you that FE, along with a few of the other organization, does not and I emphasize, does not represent every deaf cultured voices.

Not everyone with oral upbringing/background who are currently involved in the deaf cultured world are angry.

Deafhood teaches in their workshop that the hearing world oppresses the deaf, ergo, it is time to unite and fight back. They also cherry-pick the history of deaf and deaf education, including language and are not being totally forthcoming about the real truth about the history of deaf culture, the education of the deaf and the sign language in America. We have come a long way and are not as marginalizes as we once were. Oppression happens to anyone, deaf or not. The world is not a perfect place.

It is so easy for those who had an oral background to resonate with the views espoused by deafhood and/or organizations such as FE and the likes, a cop-out, if you will. Organizations such as FE or DH are not helping these people deal with anger in a healthy way. I grew up with an oral background, education-wise whilst living a home life within deaf culture and surrounded by deaf culture, and the many deaf/hoh I have gone to school with are not angry people. Some people deal with their experience with humor, few expressed otherwise, but they are not the norm.

As someone who can hear with the aid of hearing aids, I can say with certainty that comparing oralism of years back to the oralism of nowadays is like comparing apples to oranges.

They are not comparable and many who are angry are assuming the kids nowadays are going through exactly what they have gone through. Which is far from the truth.

If a child can hear and are rehabilitated to learn to speak/listen, they are much, much better off compared to those years ago who cannot hear a sound and were forced to learn to speak.

Anyone who promotes sign language without anger will more likely reach out to more parents.


DC Deafie said...

Tara, thank you for your comments. As you know, from our discussions, the people we've met and interacted with are very different. I have many friends who are deaf and hard of hearing and who grew up oral and are still oral (though they may have also learned to sign and/or cue to varying degrees of fluency). The upshot is this: negativity breeds hostility. I recognize and realize and accept that there are many who were raised in less than ideal circumstances, but that is not the result of growing up oral. That is the result of lack of/mis-education of parents and people in the education profession, especially in areas where the D/HOH population is not large and access to resources is limited.

What we ALL need to remember is that it does no good to attack a person, organization, or mode. Discussion and collaboration is an appropriate means to an end. Criticism and the use of slurs and marginalization of others is not.

This may be personal for all of us, but we still have to have respect. And I cannot respect the people who make up Facundo Element because of their approach. I've had to hide FE entirely from my newsfeed because of their antagonistic statements.

Tara said...

"It is so easy for those who had an oral background to resonate with the views espoused by deafhood and/or organizations such as FE and the likes, a cop-out, if you will. Organizations such as FE or DH are not helping these people deal with anger in a healthy way."

"... that there are many who were raised in less than ideal circumstances, but that is not the result of growing up oral."

And saying things like these are helping those people deal with anger in a healthy way? I've seen quite plenty of your comments elsewhere, Gina, and they are very unhelpful and have been pointed at by people as part of the reason they refuse to talk about their experiences and feelings publicly because they do not feel safe doing so. You do not create any safe spaces for people to express themselves honestly. So it's left up to those of us who are not as angry to play the messenger and get shot for it. And far more of those angry people who grew up oral have not taken a Deafhood workshop than actually have, and those who have taken it say they feel the workshop gave them a language in which to express their anger.

Think about that one for a moment. A language to express their anger? That anger was already there, trust me. I've seen it in many people who never took Deafhood. It just never got expressed in front of you because of pooh-poohing like yours and Hilary's. Or if it was expressed in front of you, you dismissed it outright and tried your best to invalidate it, up to and including calling them copouts and implying they've been brainwashed (and I don't care to bring back the dozens of other things you've said elsewhere). Maybe you should stop and think about WHY it's so easy for the Deafhood workshops to "resonate" with them. Because there's something already there. But you try to suppress and refute and criticize these people who need support the most. Hence the yelling louder and increased anger and hostility.

Does that mean I agree with Facundo Element's practices and approach? Not necessarily. I agree 100% more with your last statement, "Anyone who promotes sign language without anger will more likely reach out to more parents." But as long as people like you continue to dismiss people with genuine experiences, anger, deep emotions and pain, and make them feel it's wrong to express their own truths, you are fueling the fire just as much as Facundo Element. You just don't see it because of your own biases.

Does this mean ALL people who grew up oral are angry? No. But there ARE people who have been deprived of many things because of oralism as implemented in their lives, and they deserve to be listened to and given safe spaces to express themselves honestly. You two have not done that. And because of your comments, these people will not post their own here. They've told me that themselves. Go ahead, shoot the messenger.

Tara said...

Another thing to think about is that you two are quite privileged to have grown up where and how you did. Gina, you grew up in a deaf family, so you had at least some visual access to communication and contact with peers and deaf family members. You've also said elsewhere you have some hearing - enough to not yet qualify for a cochlear implant. That can make a difference in access and ability to learn to speak and listen. And Hilary, you grew up cueing at home and went to a school with a large deaf program in a major metro area. You had full visual access to communication and contact with peers.

Us three have a TON of privilege and you two either fail to recognize that, or if you say you do, you truly don't. Not based on the things you've said here and elsewhere. You will never understand what it is like to grow up fully oral 24/7 in a public school and a hearing family who don't sign or use any mode of visual communication.

I've only recently come to really understand how much privilege I have from growing up with full visual communication access at school and home. How? By asking and really listening with an open mind to people who tell me about growing up in families that don't sign or cue or struggling or not even trying to understand anything at school. I've been shocked by how many fluent or competent ASL users and self-identified Deaf community members confide in me that they grew up oral and hated it, and people assume they grew up signing and never bother to ask their background. Even if I'll never understand their life experiences because I've never lived them, I at least can shift myself enough around to their perspective to understand how words like yours can really hurt, marginalize, devalue and quash them. You don't like it when people devalue oralism when it works, so don't devalue when people say it doesn't work. That's why you don't meet people who are willing to talk to you about it honestly, because they already know your stances and why bother? They'll go to people they know will listen without resistance and rebuttals.

And try thinking about your own privileges real long and hard for a while before you go using your life experience as an authority to support oralism with zero visual access to communication. You two never experienced that yourselves.

Anonymous said...


Respect is a two way street and I can tell you for certain that most of these deaf people with extreme views do not practice that.

They do not practice the golden rule either.

You must be talking about the parent page on facebook where some of these deaf people with extreme views showed up and totally disrespected these parents for making the decision that they have.

A suggestion here, when it comes to experiences one has, it's okay to share that but to try and say that their experience will happen to these parents child if they choose a certain path, is actually going too far and most likely quite erroneous, in fact.

These deaf people were not on that parent page to provide support and I was there to support the parents in whatever decision they made.

When some people left that page, they actually shared information on their wall and encouraged others to join that page and to put these parents in their place in a not so nice way, because - in their minds - these parents have made an horrible mistake. After you left, several more showed up and created chaos. tsk tsk

You can assume what you want. No skin off my back. Please don't tell me these people want a safe space because from my experience as a blogger, these so called extreme deaf folks created an un-safe space for ALL deaf/hh people by not respecting differing views and by not respecting different experiences. It was these extreme deaf folks who committed atrocities against others who do not share their views. Safe space? Think again.

I shared my views and you disagreed, and vice versa - I can live with that. :)


Anonymous said...

And, just for clarification purpose, I steer clear of this so called 'PC movement" or perhaps a form of a 'social movement' as it relates to privileges. Not my thing and it just causes frictions among each of us, IMO.

But, make no mistake about it,
I do respect others who are into it, good for them. Just not my thing and I do have a reason for holding this view. My perception of this life is different from others who are into this PC thing. I'd bore you to death if I were to get into depth on this topic.


matt hochkeppel said... wouldn't want to wake up the giant from the deaf world...there are deaf people who were locked in oral-deaf world dominated by hearing oriented folks...keep up with the fuels...