Many in the signing community feel strongly that the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (AG Bell) philosophy of focusing on auditory and oral approaches when teaching deaf and hard of children is wrong. The auditory and oral approaches use the weakest point of a deaf or hard of hearing individual to teach language; which is ridiculous, especially when there’s a perfectly serviceable organ ready to go — the eye.
However, I’d like to make a claim: the best thing we can do about AG Bell is to stop giving it so much attention and move forward because AG Bell’s ideology is rooted in the past, not the present or future.
I realize that I’m talking about AG Bell even as I suggest we stop giving it so much attention. AG Bell is an useful example of a larger point I’m making though, so bear with me.
Join me in a thought exercise. Think of something in the past that has hurt you or affected you negatively. Maybe a friend punched you in the eye or a lover said something unkind. I bet you were able to think of one fairly quickly, almost as if it were real.
But it isn’t real.
Show me where it is?
Where is this thing that has hurt you?
Is it a physical thing that you can show me?
Does it exist in the world of the present? No, because it has no reality whatsoever. That’s the first step to realizing that it has no power over you other than what you grant it.
Every time that AG Bell (or any other controversial community bugaboo) comes up with my peers or others in the community, I’m always struck by how much power it has and by the amount of negative feelings. I suspect that there are two reasons why. The first is that, like any negative thing that happens to us, we remember things that hurt us. Second, because of the corroding effect of colonization, we are, below our bravado about ASL and visual language being the right way to teach deaf and hard of hearing children, insecure and unsure because there are Hearing People Out There That Disagree.
It’s understandable to feel this way, after being raised and colonized in a hearing world, that Hearing People Know Best. Who shapes the majority of deaf or hard of hearing children’s’ relationships with his or her’s hearing loss? Why, hearing audiologists, hearing teachers, and hearing parents.
But if we realize that the past and whatever injuries that have been inflicted on us, on the community, have no reality beyond that what we grant it, I believe each of us has the power to shape our response.
I’d like to think the best response of all is to show by action that the right approach to our children’s development is through visual language (ASL). And just ignore AG Bell and draw attention to ourselves by being so gosh-darn awesome.
It’s really easy to complain about oralism, how cochlear implants are taking over the world, and point fingers. Far harder to focus inward and realize that a reactionary stance will not produce long term results. How can we invert the energy flow from holding onto the past into engaging with the present? Take a look at your community’s deaf or hard of hearing education programs (from deaf schools to mainstream classrooms). Give your time, show up, and make your presence felt. Show with your action that you support what you feel is right (whatever that is), and maybe change a life.