Friday, May 15, 2009

Cullen's staff sends a reply to AFA re: our letter for an apology

Greetings all:

Ritch Williams of Rep. Cullen's office sent AFA the reply below in response to AFA's letter requesting an apology from Rep. Cullen for his offensive statement in the media

1. Rep. Cullen has not replied directly to AFA or composed a statement himself to be sent to AFA by his office

2. It appears that Rep. Cullen's office is misinformed about what early intervention means. It seems that they equate early intervention to mean cochlear implants and auxillary listening devices and aids

3. Rep. Cullen's office equates the reading level and unemployment rate to be caused by the lack of early intervention (i.e. hearing aids and CI and therapy) to make Deaf infants and children HEAR and not a result of discrimination and the failure of Oralism (oral / aural only education) and simultaneous-communication methods that have been rampant in the U.S. for the past century

4. it is unclear as to why Rep. Cullen's Deaf sister would not be allowed to keep her job if she did not have a cochlear implant. If she risked being fired because she is Deaf, we would have hoped that her bother would have worked for legislation that helped ensure that Deaf people did not experience discrimination in the work place instead of working for legislation mandating insurance coverage of cochlear implants

5. Mr. Williams states that Rep. Cullen drafted the bill at the request of parents of Deaf children and based on his own personal experience

6. Seems that Mr. Williams is not aware that the word hearing impairment is not cool with most Deaf people.

7. At no point did AFA call Rep. Cullen an audist. We do not appreciate Mr. Williams and inturn Rep. Cullen's office misquoting us. We, AFA, said that Mr. Cullen's comments were offensive and an example of audism. Even within the context of responding to low scores and employment, the statement is still a form of audism. To say if Deaf folks can get hearing aids and cochlear implants as babies they will be more productive members of society and be able to keep jobs etc - aims to fix the individual and not the problem of discrimination and audism in our society.

Deaf people who have had hearing aids and cochlear implants since a young age and have undergone intensive therapy still experience difficulties in school and in group settings because of ignorance and insensitivity.

8. The hysteria may be with the rampant thrust to implant infants at a younger and younger age and to keep them away from any Deaf adults or Deaf environments - all in the name of making them members of society.

We have - been there - done that for the past 100 years.

9. Why hasn't Rep. Cullen included in the bill or pushed for another bill that insurance companies would be mandated to cover the removal of CI and coverage of ASL materials, mentors, and therapy?

10. It is interesting to note that Rep. Cullen's office sent out no press release clarifying their statement and position after the quote ran on April 23, 2009. It seems that they did not care if they were quoted out of content and did not have any concerns about offending Deaf people. By Rep. Cullen's lack of reply and Mr. Williams reply on his behalf, it seems clear that they still do not care if their position, sentiment, and way of thinking is offensive to Deaf people.

This leads us to wonder that since other disenfranchised groups often have lower reading and writing scores and higher unemployment, will Rep. Cullen be advocating for the passage of legislation for insurance companies to cover new early intervening medicine or technology to change these people also?

let us know what you think of Rep. Cullen's staff member's reply - email us at


Williams, Ritch
to Audism Free America
date Fri, May 15, 2009 at 12:26 PM

hide details 12:26 PM (5 hours ago)


Follow up message

The comment you are referring to was certainly not reported 100% accurately and we understand the vast array of misgivings after it was included in the AP article. It was never his intention to offend anyone and the quote was not in context. As we heard during the legislative committee process, statistics point out that deaf and hard of hearing children that do not receive early intervention graduate from high school with about a 4th grade reading level and then 76% of those are unemployed following graduation. Representative Cullen cited those statistics before what he was quoted in the article as saying…the reporter even left out “…more productive…” before the “members of society” part of the quote.

Again, those comments came after his citation of the statistics on reading level and employment for children who do not receive the benefits of early intervention – whether via hearing aids or cochlear implant. We received those statistics from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, a paper from Karl R. White of Utah State University, and information we gathered from the Gallaudet Research Institute website. Again, they are in reference to children who do not receive intervention in one way or another.

The legislative committee process on this bill consisted of a public hearing in which we heard from over 100 individuals – children who are deaf or hard of hearing and their parents made up about 95% of those speakers. Representative Cullen drafted this bill at their request, but also because of his personal experiences.

As the brother of two siblings that had/have hearing impairments, Representative Cullen is fully aware that deaf and hard of hearing individuals are members of society, members of our workforce, and successful students in our schools. While his hard of hearing brother has passed away, his sister was one of the first recipients of a cochlear implant in Wisconsin and the procedure has allowed her to continue her work as a public school teacher in the 10 years since she received it. It is because of their experiences that Representative Cullen was the main author of this legislation and worked to get it enacted into law after a few years of languishing in the legislature. To claim that he is an “audist” or somehow lacks the knowledge that deaf and hard of hearing individuals are valuable members of society is a complete stretch, but I suppose that can happen if one decides to use a one sentence quote – and an incomplete one at that – to completely characterize an individual and their motivations, interests, and feelings.

Finally, there has been a great deal of hysteria by some that mistakenly think the bill requires parents to get hearing aids or cochlear implants for their child. That is NOT the case. We took into account the testimony we heard last session from some parents who choose not to utilize early intervention – or any intervention – for their deaf or hard of hearing child. The only thing the bill actually does is tell insurance companies that if a parent chooses to get hearing aids and/or cochlear implants for their child, then the insurance company of the parent must pay for the costs. We are assuming that parents of deaf or hard of hearing children will make fully informed decisions and do what they feel is best for their own child.

Ritch Williams
Clerk, Committee on Insurance
Office of Rep. David Cullen
216 North, State Capitol
(608) 267-9836