AG Bell, Tear Down This Wall; Let All Deaf Children Sign; The Deaf Bilingual Coalition Conference--Inspiring and Empowering for All

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During the weekend of June 27-30, 2008, the Deaf Bilingual Coalition (DBC) held its first annual Education Conference. The general public is now invited to visit the DBC website to read newly posted summaries and transcripts of the proceedings, as well as watch vlogs of the conference.

A.G. Bell, Tear Down This Wall! Let All Deaf Children Sign!

During the weekend of June 27-30, 2008, the Deaf Bilingual Coalition (DBC), an 11-month old "David," faced its 118-year-old "Goliath," the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing (AG Bell). The DBC Education Conference was held at the Hyatt Regency hotel in downtown Milwaukee which is situated next to the Midwest Airlines Center where AG Bell held its biennial convention.

The Deaf Bilingual Coalition advocates for the rights of all Deaf babies and children to have access to American Sign Language during the critical, beginning stages of language acquisition. The DBC hosted two noon-time rallies held on Saturday and Sunday, across from the front entrance of the Midwest Airlines Center and challenged AG Bell by displaying a 30-foot-by-4-foot banner on the side of a large trailer which read: "A.G. Bell, Tear Down This Wall! Let All Deaf Children Sign!"

Throughout the DBC conference, many of the 700-plus attendees, which included both Deaf and hearing participants, parents, community members, children, professionals and ASL students, remarked that a gathering like this was long overdue. Because of AG Bell's longstanding promotion of Oralism, which focuses exclusively on speech and hearing training, excluding American Sign Language and devaluing its use in the lives of Deaf babies and children, it's considered to be the "elephant in the room" by many members of the Deaf community.

The DBC Education Conference was inspiring and empowering for all who attended. It provided an opportunity for parents to learn about the benefits of using ASL with their Deaf babies during the critical language-learning period, a practice which enables the effective acquisition of English and literacy skills. The conference also provided an opportunity for Deaf survivors of AG Bell's Oralist philosophy to heal from growing up orally and not learning American Sign Language until later in life.

The opening ceremonies included information about Alexander Graham Bell and his biases against Deaf people and their natural sign languages. His actions to prevent Deaf babies and children from learning sign language resulted in what is called the "dark ages" of Deaf education. Bell, in addition to his promotion of Oralism, served as the honorary president of the Second International Congress of Eugenics, reflecting his early involvement in the eugenics movement. Following the discussion was an emotionally moving Blue Ribbon Ceremony, created by Dr. Paddy Ladd of Bristol, England, to remember Deaf people and their families who suffered and survived the harmful effects of Oralism. The ceremony also celebrated Deaf people and Sign Language.

Throughout the weekend, six renowned Deaf scholars from the fields of bilingualism, early intervention, cultural studies, and literacy, gave presentations that were informative and well received. One of the keynote speakers was Dr. Bobbie Beth Scoggins, President of the National Association of the Deaf.

The same weekend, in Rochester, New York, at the 40th anniversary of the National Technical Institute for the Deaf, NTID's president, Dr. Alan Hurwitz, announced his decision that Alexander Graham Bell's name should be removed from one of its buildings, stating in his letter that "Bell advocated an exclusive approach to communication that did not support a sense of community of deaf people who use a variety of communication approaches including ASL."

AG Bell has recently accelerated the application of the Oralist approach in schools and early intervention programs by merging with Auditory-Verbal International, whose policies and practices deny Deaf babies access to their natural language, American Sign Language, and also, perversely, prohibit any and all kinds of visual cues and gestures.

With the rapid, market-driven growth of hearing technologies, this extreme and unnatural training, called "Auditory-Verbal Therapy," has taken on a deceptively attractive appearance, especially to hearing parents who may lack sufficient knowledge of the benefits of American Sign Language, as well as knowledge of the benefits of exposure to Deaf mentors in early intervention programs. AG Bell continues to claim to be in favor of parents making "informed choices," but ironically markets an exclusive choice: Auditory-Verbal Therapy.

Historically, AG Bell and its corporate allies have deliberately denigrated Sign Language and exploited Deaf people who use American Sign Language. AG Bell has also taken legal action through its Children's Legal Advocacy (CLA) program, in the attempt to establish legal precedents which would lead to the denial of Deaf children's natural need for visual language.

The DBC will continue to advocate and support the bilingual approach which starts with American Sign Language and English as a second language. Through ASL-English bilingualism, Deaf babies and children are able to develop normal cognitive skills, and experience social and emotional growth by using a language which is fully accessible to them. The inclusion of American Sign Language in the lives of Deaf babies and children guarantees children's success and their ability to grow up to become confident, self-respecting participants in society.

On this July Fourth weekend, the Deaf Bilingual Coalition wishes to extend its sincere greetings to parents of Deaf children, with the invitation to join us in our quest to provide accurate information to enable parents to provide their Deaf children a full range of access to language and education. When parents exercise their freedom of choice and allow their Deaf children to use a natural sign language to progress through all necessary stages of cognitive development, their children will be able to understand the real meaning of freedom through language.

For more information on the Deaf Bilingual Coalition, go to http://www.dbcusa.org

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Tamara Hossler
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