As a very proud Gallaudet Alumnae, it is my greatest pleasure to present this.
Sean Maiwald, Opinion Editor for The Buff and Blue and Gallaudet University’s class of 2016. He left a tweet at 8:58 pm, and someone alerted me. I read the link. My jaw dropped.
Your jaws will drop too.
Ready? Here’s the ASL Version of this letter!
Text information below:
AGBell President Sugar, you’re not so sweet
Editorials, News, Opinion | April 3, 2016 by Sean Maiwald | 0 Comments
Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing
3417 Volta Place Northwest
Washington, District of Columbia 20007
Dear President Meredith K. Sugar, Esq,
This open letter discusses the recent statement you wrote, titled ‘Dispelling Myths About Deafness,’ found on your website (AG Bell, 2016). We aim to correct the points made and to ensure that this kind of conflict does not happen again.
Your statements are not based on sound scientific principles. There is no citation for data whatsoever within your response with the exception of the statistic that 95 percent of deaf babies are born to hearing parents and that 90 percent of these parents choose listening and spoken language. We have issues with the framing of this perspective – how many of these parents would have chosen a bilingual approach if they were provided adequate resources and information from unbiased professionals as well as deaf people themselves? We will follow specific points in your response with scientific evidence as well as quotations from the A.G. Bell Association position statements.
You said, “Recent studies show that children who solely utilize listening and spoken language, rather than a combination of this with ASL, demonstrate better listening and spoken language skills than do children who follow a combination approach, and that these children frequently develop expressive and receptive language test scores similar to their typical hearing peers,” (AG Bell, 2016).
First, what and where are the studies you refer to? By not citing or explaining the various sources that you use, you do not contribute to rational, scientific discourse or discussion. We ask that you share your sources and information, especially research approaches taken such as controls for income and comparisons between bilinguals and monolinguals, instead of focusing solely on monolinguals. Doing so will encourage discourse that leads to ethical and inclusive dialogues.
There are studies available to everyone with accurate, unbiased research using sound scientific principles. First, an article from Dr. Lund of Texas Christian University presents evidence that a majority of deaf children with cochlear implants do not demonstrate “listening and spoken language” on par with their hearing peers (Lund, 2015). In this article, research “indicated that children with cochlear implants demonstrate lower vocabulary knowledge than children with normal hearing,” (Lund, 2015).
Second, an article from the Cambridge University Press “confirms that second-generation deaf children exceed deaf children of hearing parents in terms of cochlear implantation performance. Encouraging deaf children to communicate in sign language from a very early age, before cochlear implantation, appears to improve their ability to learn spoken language after cochlear implantation,” (Hassanzadeh, 2012). In other words, signed language only reinforces your latent goal of listening and spoken language.
This contradicts your statement that “the window for a deaf child to acquire listening and spoken language is much shorter than the window in which ASL can be acquired,” which is not only misleading but also dangerous. This rhetoric has no basis in fact and does more harm than you could ever imagine by depriving children an avenue of potential success.
A variety of studies done, including the study by Mayberry et al in 2011, show the critical acquisition windows for ASL or English or any other language are the same regardless of modality (Mayberry et al, 2011). As this study puts it, the brain does not differentiate between spoken or signed language- the acquisition period is the same.
With evidence to the contrary, it is baffling why you would go against your own organization’s position statements on American Sign Language below, copied directly from your website. “With respect to American Sign Language (ASL), AG Bell acknowledges ASL as a language in and of itself. AG Bell also recognizes ASL’s importance in Deaf culture as a unique feature, and a language that many take pride in learning. AG Bell does not believe that ASL should be prohibited or restricted as a choice, nor does AG Bell advocate against learning ASL as part of a child’s overall development…” (AG Bell, 2016).
Furthermore, your organization also states, “The Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (AG Bell) fully supports the recommendation by the Joint Committee on Infant Hearing, published in 2007 by the American Academy of Pediatrics, which states “families should be made aware of all communication options and available hearing technologies in an unbiased manner,” (AG Bell, 2016). If your organization is committed to this recommendation, you would ensure equal respect of all communication opportunities. However, your emphasis on listening and spoken language implies that this method is somehow inherently better than other opportunities, including sign language. This underscores the fact that we need an open dialogue for appropriate framing and language with the goal of equity for all people who identify as deaf or hard of hearing.
Language in the second paragraph, where you state that AG Bell “recognizes that ASL exists as a communication option for deaf children,” implies that there are options for families where they must pick and choose a single option for their deaf child. The phrase used instead should be opportunity, because there can and should be more than one modality or approach taken towards the betterment of deaf children. Put simply, positive language usage leads to positive outcomes for the families and children involved in this process.
There are a series of studies done by Dr. Petitto of the Visual Language and Visual Learning Laboratory sponsored by the National Science Foundation that provide strong evidence for advantages of bilingualism. For example, a study that compares monolinguals and bilinguals titled “Development of Neural Systems for Reading in the Monolingual and Bilingual Brain” has found evidence that “Bilingual readers showed a greater extent and variability of neural activation in bilateral classic language (LIFG, STG, IPL) and higher cognitive (DLPFC, RLPFC) brain areas, suggesting that bilingualism may lead to enhanced linguistic and cognitive processing,” (Jasinska, Petitto, 2014). In other words, bilingualism activates the brain more than one language can, leading to better language understanding and greater functional processing in the brain.
Another example of the impact of bilingualism comes from an article titled “How Age of Bilingual Exposure can Change the Neural Systems for Language in the Developing Brain,” where syntax processing is compared between monolinguals and bilinguals. In the study, “The bilingual language user may provide a powerful new window into the human language processing potential that is not fully recruited (engaged) in monolinguals. The findings from the bilingual brain lead us to a tantalizing view of the fullest biological extent of the neural tissue underlying language, which may be exploited in the bilingual and possibly lost in the monolingual,” (Jasinska, Petitto, 2013). In layman’s terms, this means bilingualism allows the brain to be used to its fullest potential.
With all of this in context, why does your organization continue to share misinformation and disregard the potential for bilingualism to enhance your efforts in listening and spoken language? There are two recent articles published in the New York Times that demonstrates that bilinguals have superior social skills as well as improved executive function (Kinzler, 2016); (Bhattacharjee, 2012). It would be prudent to reverse your current course of action and expand opportunities.
The answer to various communication opportunities always should be “yes” simply because it is not about who is right or about who has community support. It’s about bringing people together and providing the most resources possible to set the stage for success later on in life for all deaf children. Another question to consider is ‘how can we make sure that the parents have their needs in terms of diversity, equity and inclusion met?’ Ultimately, this means providing all of the opportunities for children as well as working together to create a stronger and more inclusive community instead of posting responses to articles that you may not agree with. To that end of inclusiveness, we point to the students of Gallaudet University- in the summer of 2015, fifty new signers joined the student body. These fifty students are still here today, because they are an important part of an inclusive, diverse and equitable student body.
An important point to consider is inclusion- the student body at Gallaudet University is diverse in terms of communication modes. From the annual report of achievements, Gallaudet has students from 33 different countries, hearing students represent eight to ten percent of the student body, and roughly seven percent of the student body use cochlear implants on a regular basis (Gallaudet University, 2016). A considerable number of students use hearing aids, meaning nearly half of the student body uses listening and spoken language.
Therefore, we formally request your organization to stop its campaign of spreading misinformation and outright denial, because the groups of people that suffer the most are deaf children who deserve every possible avenue for success. We strongly recommend that you follow your organization’s own position statements on American Sign Language and work towards the goal of respecting bilingualism as the superior option to solely listening and spoken language. Lastly, we request that you engage in an open dialogue with the student body of Gallaudet University as well as the community at large. This way, you may work with us instead of against us to ensure a better, unified future for both the signing community and your community instead of further conflict where deaf children are the casualties of a war that is entirely unnecessary.
Opinion Editor for The Buff and Blue
The California Association for the Deaf
Hands Land: ASL Rhymes and Rhythms
The Student Body Government of Gallaudet University
The Buff and Blue
The Kappa Gamma Fraternity
The Alpha Sigma Pi Fraternity
The Mu-Iota Chapter of the Kappa Sigma Fraternity
The Delta Epsilon Sorority
The CODAdet Organization
The Phi Kappa Zeta Sorority
Keith Doane, Graduate Student, Gallaudet University
Levi Traxler, Undergraduate Student, Gallaudet University
Carey Ballard, Undergraduate Student, Gallaudet University
Bree Sproule, Undergraduate Student, Gallaudet University
Brianna Stroud-Williams, Undergraduate Student, Gallaudet University
Andrew Morrill, Undergraduate Student, Gallaudet University
William Warner, Undergraduate Student, Gallaudet University
Kelsy Ramey, Undergraduate Student, Gallaudet University
Guy Traxler, High School Student, Columbian High School
Michael Snyder, Undergraduate Student, Gallaudet University
Trevor Anderson, Undergraduate Student, Gallaudet University
Ernest Willman, Undergraduate Student, Gallaudet University
Hayley McLemore, Graduate Student, Gallaudet University
Jimmy Wilson IV, Undergraduate Student, Gallaudet University
Dakota Kalis, Undergraduate Student, Gallaudet University
Johanna Scherling, Undergraduate Student, Gallaudet University
Jehanne McCullough, Undergraduate Student, Gallaudet University
Margaret Kopp, Undergraduate Student, Gallaudet University
Jinny Jung, Undergraduate Student, University of Southern California
Jason Antal, Undergraduate Student, Gallaudet University
Thadeus Suggs, Undergraduate Student, Gallaudet University
Stephanie Johnston, Graduate Student, University of California, San Diego
Andre Simons, Hearing Undergraduate Student, Gallaudet University
Beth S. Benedict, PhD, Professor
Jackie Valadao-Cruz, Educational Associate
Adham Talaat, Professional Athlete
Kelsey Cobb, Educator of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing
Meghan Maiwald, Professional Athlete
Michael Stamper, Businessman
Glen W. Sutcliffe, Real Estate Agent
Kirk VanGilder, PhD, Professor
Julie Rems Smario, President, California Association for the Deaf
Mary Ann Dorantes Shock, Parent; Founder and CEO of Shock Management LLC
(AG Bell, 2016):
AG Bell’s Response to Washington Post Article about Nyle DiMarco
Vocabulary Knowledge of Children with Cochlear Implants: A Meta-Analysis
Outcomes of Cochlear Implantation in Deaf Children of Deaf Parents: Comparative Study
(Mayberry et al, 2011)
Age of Acquisition Effects on the Functional Organization of Language in the Adult Brain
(AG Bell, 2016)
Position Statement: American Sign Language
(Jasinska, Petitto, 2014)
Development of neural systems for reading in the monolingual and bilingual brain: new insights from functional near infrared spectroscopy neuroimaging.
(Jasinska, Petitto, 2013)
How age of bilingual exposure can change the neural systems for language in the developing brain: A functional near infrared spectroscopy investigation of syntactic processing in monolingual and bilingual children
Why Bilinguals Are Smarter
The Superior Social Skills of Bilinguals
(Gallaudet University, 2016)
Annual Reports of Achievements
Mr. Maiwald, I am duly impressed.
Dr. Roberta “Bobbi” Cordano, I think you should be very proud too.
Long live Buff and Blue!
Amy Cohen Efron