Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Am I an Audist?

Here is an ASL version of this post on YouTube:

At the start of Winter break, I put on my To Do list to write a blog reflecting on 2015. It was a spectacular year professionally for me. However, when I sat down to start writing, something else came out of me...

I am in my 21st year as a Teacher of the Deaf and consider myself an ally and advocate to the Deaf community and Deaf education. I've been signing since I took my first ASL course in 1990 and am even a nationally certified sign language interpreter. I strongly believe in bilingual ASL/English education and am an opponent of simultaneous communication - aka Sim-Com (talking and signing at the same time). When I taught in a Deaf classroom it was very clear to my students: one either signs or speaks, but not both. I empowered my students to make their own communication choices. If they chose to speak in a group setting, then either I would sign the message to the other students or ask the student to then restate it in ASL for equal access to classmates. I've read countless studies about the ill effects of using Sim-Com and preach against it to whomever will listen. I know how despicable it is to communicate to a hearing person in spoken English if a Deaf person is present.


Why is it that in the last few years, after leaving the classroom to become an itinerant teacher, I find myself occasionally Sim-Comming around Deaf children and adults? Why is it if I engage in a conversation with a hearing person who knows ASL with a Deaf person present, we somehow end up talking while signing? It's not consciously intentional - we just slip into it.

I have never considered myself an Audist, but after reflection, I as a hearing person, regardless of what I know is right in every fiber of my being, do have audist tendencies.

Audism was coined by Tom Humphries in his 1977 dissertation: "The notion that one is superior based on one’s ability to hear or behave in the manner of one who hears." In essence, it is discrimination against people who are Deaf and hard of hearing. It can also be connected to linguicism - that one language is superior to another.

By using Sim-Com in front of a Deaf person, one is discriminating against that person by insinuating that ASL alone is not a language of equal value to English. It also does not take into account the thoughts and feelings of the Deaf person who is excluded in the conversations simply because the hearing people choose to Sim-Com, or to solely speak.

Why in the world would I do this???? It’s easy to say that I just follow what the other hearing person does, but sometimes it’s me who starts it. Regardless, I know it has to stop!

A few weeks ago after hitting myself in the head a few times, I came to the realization that I indeed have been portraying audist behavior. I made a decision to do whatever I can to stop myself from continuing this blatant discrimination. I attended a Christmas party at the Deaf classroom where I used to teach. I appreciate that the new teacher and staff continue to include me in their parties and secret Santa exchanges. Before I entered the classroom, I made a promise to myself that I would only use ASL the entire time I was there. I knew the Deaf students and the Deaf teacher assistant would be there, and I wanted to be sure I respected them the entire time I was there.

A few days later, I messaged the Deaf assistant and apologized to her for all the times I have visited the classroom and Sim-Commed or spoke to the teacher in her and the students' presence. I told her about my reflection and resolution to go back to doing what I know is right.

Sim-Com has been ingrained in the Deaf education system for decades. Despite all the research demonstrating how it negatively impacts the education of Deaf and hard of hearing children, it refuses to go away. There are protests and movements happening right now across the U.S. advocating for change in how Deaf children are educated, included how they are taught communicatively.

I must make clear, I am not an opponent of Deaf and hard of hearing children learning to speak. If they have the capability, they should be given the opportunity. I teach several students who speak. What I am saying is by combining and using 2 languages at the same time results in incomplete messages in both languages and ultimately hurts the development of these children.

I am taking a stance to never again Sim-Com. If I slip, please call me out on it.

Will you join me?

UPDATE - 1/11/16

I recently posted this on FaceBook and wanted to include it here.

Thank you to everyone who has read and/or shared by recent blog post "Am I an Audist?" I wrote this as a way to openly self-reflect on the practices I have been using and my vow to change. I hoped it would make people think and maybe spark some discussion. I had no intentions of almost 1,000 people reading it and it being shared widely. People have been candid to comment on the post itself, on FaceBook and on Twitter. I appreciate everyone for their thoughts. It's important to note that deaf and hard of hearing adults and children communicate in a variety of ways; some even choose to Sim-Com themselves. That is their right in which they are empowered to do so. I would never tell an adult or a child he/she must Sim-Com. And there are some adults who want the hearing signer to Sim-Com or at least mouth English. That, again, is their right. I have some hypotheses as to why this is so, but I'll keep that in my mind and not in writing. However, as an educator, for me to Sim-Com to another hearing adult in front of DHH adults and children is, in my opinion, morally wrong, as I stated in my post. The same is true if I communicate directly to DHH children using Sim-Com. It is not fair to them if I give them 2 incomplete languages at the same time. How can we expect DHH children to develop fluency in either language if we do not model to them true language form in either ASL or English? Finally, I want to applaud every parent who is learning to sign for their signing deaf children. It is not easy to learn a second language as an adult, and having to learn it for the sake of their child puts more urgency on the matter. These parents are doing what they know is best - providing language to their children. As they are learning, if they Sim-Com, that's OK in my book. They deserve to be excused from any criticism surrounding Sim-Com. They are doing their best for their children and are more often than not, learning as their children learn. Praise them for their efforts, never condone them for talking while signing. We just need more parents signing to their kids!

Thank you!