Audism Free America: Outcomes of the Historic Meeting and Rally at the AG Bell Association Headquarters

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Deaf Members of Audism Free America (AFA) met with the AG Bell Association on April 2 and held a rally on April 3, 2009 to end Audism at the their main office at the Volta Bureau in Washington, DC. Audism is defined as the notion that one is superior based on one's ability to hear or behave in the manner of one who hears.

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Audism Free America is a grassroots movement made up of Deaf and hearing people from across the United States and Canada who are bringing about awareness of Audism - defined as attitudes and practices based on the assumption that behaving in the ways of those who speak and hear is superior, desired and best. AFA maintains that Audism produces a system of privilege, thus resulting in stigma, bias, discrimination, and prejudice--in overt or covert ways--against Deaf culture, American Sign Language, and Deaf people of all walks of life.

On Thursday April 2, 2009 Audism Free America (AFA) met with the AG Bell Association at their Volta Bureau headquarters to discuss AFA's three demands that were presented to AG Bell Association one month prior to the meeting. The AG Bell Association is an organization devoted to strict oralism (oral / aural instruction only)…listening and speaking. While the AG Bell Associations states they do not discriminate against sign language or work to ban sign language, their organization does not include sign language as part of a Deaf child's language and literacy acquisition. AG Bell is made up of hearing professionals, specialists, and parents with only a small minority of Deaf adults as members or staff members.

AFA presented its three demands to the AG Bell Association which address audism:

"AFA's demands call for: (1) AGBell Association to stop excluding a natural and fully accessible language (American Sign Language - ASL) from Deaf children, (2) stop misinforming the public and the media about Deaf people, and (3) to join AFA in calling for an impartial and independent investigation of the physical, psychological and social impact of cochlear implants on Deaf children and adolescents."

At the meeting, three Deaf members of AFA (Ruthie Jordan, Patti Durr, and Karen Christie) staged a peaceful sit-in to achieve some tangible commitment from AG Bell Association that these demands would be addressed. The Washington, D.C. police were called to the Volta Bureau. After some discussion, the AG Bell Executive Director, Alex Graham instructed the Communications Director to put in writing that AFA's demands would be brought before the AG Bell Association Board and that AFA would be contacted as to the results.

The following day, Friday April 3, 2009, AFA held its peaceful rally outside of the     AG Bell Headquarters. In addition to security hired by the AG Bell Association, two Washington, DC policewomen were stationed in front of the Volta Bureau (AG Bell headquarters) all day. The protesters were peaceful and non-violent in exercising their first amendment rights of free speech and assembly. Over 200 people participated in the rally and vigil while hundreds of people hosted simultaneous events in their hometowns in support of AFA and the fight to end audism.

A press release issued on April 3, 2009 by the AG Bell Association, "AG Bell Denounces Demonstrations," went out only one and a half hours after the peaceful AFA rally had begun despite the promise to bring the AFA demands to the board the day before. "AG Bell's press release stated AG Bell has a long history and tradition of supporting civil rights for individuals who are deaf and hard of hearing by working in cooperation with other national organizations to ensure that our legal, health care and education systems, entertainment industry, and places of employment are free of discrimination. (Alex Graham, Executive Director of AG Bell Association, April 3, 2009)"

AFA maintains that civil rights include the right to be born, the right to pick a marriage partner, the right to pursue a livelihood, the right to appear on the stage, TV or screen, and a right to a fully accessible, natural and humane educational experience. AFA points out that "Dr. Alexander Graham Bell, the organization's founder, worked to prevent Deaf children from being born, worked to stop Deaf people from marrying each other, and worked to stop Deaf people from becoming teachers." According to AFA, the organization bearing AG Bell's name has worked to prevent ASL and Deaf culture from being seen on the stage, TV or screen, and worked to exclude ASL from the classroom and the dining rooms of America in order to promote oralism exclusively (oral / aural only instruction and lifestyle).

Dr. Bell's legacy continues with the AG Bell Association's Children's Legal Advocacy program, which provides funds to families suing public school districts that use ASL-based instruction, and through the principles of its Auditory-Verbal Therapy (AVT) programs, one of which states that "…families should be coached to not use sign language…"

On January 31, 2008, AG Bell Association wrote to PepsiCo admonishing Pepsi for airing a commercial showing ASL Deaf people. AG Bell Association claimed that the commercial created a "misleading stereotype" and stated that speaking Deaf people are "positive role models who have met the challenges of this condition." The National Association of the Deaf, the American Society for Deaf Children, and the Deaf Bilingual Coalition as well as many of AG Bell Association members objected to AG Bell's letter to Pepsi yet the AG Bell Association refused to issue an apology or retract their letter.

During the April 2nd meeting, AFA asked for a retraction of the Pepsi letter. The AG Bell Association's Director of Communications, Catherine Murphy, countered with a request that the AFA rally scheduled for the next day be cancelled if the AG Bell Association retracted the Pepsi letter. The AFA responded that the rally would be a celebration in recognition that one portion of one AFA's demands had been met. As of this date, the AG Bell letter to PepsiCo has not been retracted nor has an apology been issued.

In regards public awareness campaigns, AFA states, "We are committed to peaceful engagement and believe that the parents of Deaf children have the right to being fully informed about ASL and English, to be informed how Deaf people are misrepresented in the media, and the great potential that lies within each Deaf child."

Throughout the April 3rd rally and vigil, attendees from all over the U.S. as well as Canada, Columbia, and England, shared their own personal testimonies about how audism has tragically affected their lives.    During the candlelight vigil, five AFA members, (with DC police permission due to AG Bell's authorization of DC Police to arrest any AFA trespassers), took a historic walk up AG Bell Association's staircase leading to the entrance of the Volta Bureau thus symbolizing the call to AG Bell and their organization to end audism. AFA calls for unity in order to create the best opportunities for those who are Deaf including the human right to visual language which includes ASL, literacy, and livelihood.

AG Bell's immediate press release denouncing AFA has not hindered AFA's resolve. AFA states that it is exercising good-faith that AG Bell's Executive Director Graham will honor their promise to bring AFA's three demands to their board and eagerly awaits their response.

AFA states "We cannot be united with the AG Bell Association organization if it is untrustworthy and portrays any group that advocates for the civil liberties and linguistic rights of Deaf people as unconscionable. It is critical that AG Bell Association members, parents, oral Deaf children and adults understand that AFA values them and welcomes them to join with AFA in its mission to end audism and to see that Deaf people are valued as equal in language, culture, employment, and equally represented in all walks of life by those who are Deaf themselves.

Audism Free America
http://www.audismfreeamerica.blogspot

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Ruthie Jordan
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