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My Letter to the Indiana Senate Appropriations Committee (“Oppose HB 1367″)

My Letter to the Indiana Senate Appropriations Committee (“Oppose HB 1367″)

Dear Senator:

My name is Dr. Christopher Jon Heuer, and my dissertation, professional research, and work all fall within the fields of literacy, language acquisition, and Deaf Education. HB 1367 will soon come before you for review. I hope you will consider my arguments against it and oppose it. At the very least, I urge you to demand FAR more investigation into it than has been made to date, and allow for an appropriate amount of time for all parties concerned to conduct such an investigation.

1) It makes far more fiscal sense to leave the outreach center where it is and either hire additional staff or make staffing adjustments that will address the concerns of bias being voiced by supporters of Hear Indiana than it does to establish an entirely new center. The former costs less, the latter may cost far more. Simple as that. If this argument is wrong, where is the detailed analysis, the detailed cost breakdown necessary to justify approval of a new center? To justify an investigation into the cost of establishing one is one thing. To approve the establishment of a new center without sufficient investigation into the matter is entirely another.

2) If you agree that the supporters of Hear Indiana have valid concerns about bias–if you agree that because the center is located on grounds occupied by people who strongly support ASL as the pathway to language acquisition, then the construction of a “neutral” center should ensure that NO approach is presented more strongly than any other. I will now attempt to show you why this is unlikely to happen:

a) Staffing – If a new “neutral” center is staffed by for example seven people, and only two are familiar with ASL, the other five, biased or not, are not in an equal position to inform parents about this option.

b) By default, medical approaches and oral approaches ALREADY stand at the forefront of available options. Ninety to ninety-five percent of parents of deaf children are themselves hearing. Ask yourselves what you would do if you discovered your child was deaf. Would you want him to be able to hear and speak, or would you want him to sign? (Or both?) Would you go to a doctor first or would you go to the deaf community first? I’ve been a member of the deaf community for decades, but I’m also the father of a four year old hearing child. Please bear with me… it’s crucial you understand this.

In a recent trip to the ENT, it was found that there might be issues with my son’s adnoids… a very common condition. One possible result, if not countered, could be the development of something called adnoid facies. I knew nothing about this so I looked it up. The website I first looked at is among one of the top ten listed in a google search under “adnoid facies.” This is some of the information listed:

• Eustachian blockage causing glue ear-deafness

• The deafness and inattentiveness interferes with the learning

• child grows with lowered intelligence and understanding

This information, provided by an ENT, is incorrect, and is misleading (most likely not deliberately, but it still is). Deafness does not interfere with learning or cause lowered intelligence or decreased understanding. If that were true, you would not be getting this letter at this level of discourse. Rather, a lack of language acquisition is what causes an interference with learning and subsequent lowered intelligence and lack of understanding.

But this distinction is not strictly a medical issue. It’s also an issue of one’s approach to providing a child with access to language. But how is a parent supposed to know this from reading medical literature and speaking with ENTs and the like alone? And in addition to that point, how likely is it that an ENT, trained in medicine, is going to know enough about the mechanics and specifics of language acquisition to suggest ASL or cued speech as a viable option (either independently or in conjunction with a medical or technological approach)? There is ignorance all around, and in some cases bias, as will be discussed below. The point here is that information about medical approaches to dealing with deafness is abound, as is information about technological approaches. Information on other approaches, including ASL, is not as widespread or supported in medical literature, which is likely to be the first type of literature parents investigate.

c) In addition to the argument above, my own research as well as testimonies by other parents (I will quote one such argument below) shed light on instances in which hearing parents of deaf children are told by medical professionals to not sign or cue to their children so that the child depends entirely on his or hear hearing aid or cochlear implant. Hear is a quote from one such article:

Just as cued speech and its purposes are misunderstood by many, ASL is also met with misconceptions and ignorance. I read through websites with outdated opinions that suggested that ASL will make a child “retarded,” or worse, suggested that deaf people already are mentally disadvantaged. Misleading literacy statistics don’t always point out that lower reading level abilities only reflect a person’s grasp of English, and have nothing to do with their mental capabilities or abilities to express themselves fully in their native language.

Another bias against ASL that we discovered was that it should only be used as a last resort if hearing aids, cochlear implants, and speech therapy do not work for a particular individual. Some attitudes we encountered regarded deaf schools and ASL as the final option, something to fall back on, rather than embrace up front. Much of this probably stems from doctors and audiologists; I “met” a woman online whose son was receiving sounds from his implant, but whose audiologist scolded them for signing and told them only to use it if the implant didn’t work. In the meantime, the child was at risk of losing valuable language-learning years.

In summary, the information I have provided you with should be more than sufficient support for the argument that HB1367 deserves far more investigation than it is getting. The approval of a new outreach center without proper and in-depth planning regarding how it will be staffed, what information it will provide, how it will provide it, and how the government of Indiana can ensure it is doing what it is supposed to be doing is not a good idea. I therefore urge you oppose this bill, demand sufficient investigation, and be perpetually on guard against future proposals such as HB1367 that do not adequately address the entirely reasonable and well-supported concerns I have outlined above.

Thank you for considering my arguments.

Sincerely,

Christopher Jon Heuer, Ph.D.

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