Tuesday, August 16, 2011

AFA letter to New York Times Editors re: biased series

Tue, Aug 16, 20

Dear NY Times Editors:

Audism Free America (AFA) is a grassroots Deaf activist network in the US, which advocates for Deaf American rights, cultural resurgence, and seeks primarily to challenge the ideological foundations of audism in America. Audism is attitudes and practices based on the assumption that behaving in the ways of those who speak and hear is desired and best. It 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.

We want to express our discontent over the series of op-ed pieces the NY Times ran concerning Deaf education. The “debate” is not boiled down to Deaf Schools = manualism (sign language) and Mainstreaming = oral / aural only. Nope, life is much more complex than that. Some Deaf schools are oral / aural only, some are signed English, some are simultaneous-communication (Speaking with some signing), and a few are bilingual-bicultural (ASL + English). Programs offer clinical services in audition and articulation as deemed appropriate via the child’s IEP etc.

The true debate, which your series did not even touch upon, is really about whether or not oral / aural only is alright– ie whether or not the banishing of a natural and fully accessible language and the denial of a Deaf child’s natural visual acuity is acceptable in the 21st century. Four major international organizations have said – it is NOT o.k. to deny Deaf children access to a fully natural and accessible signed language (See the World Health Organization (WHO), United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD), the World Federation of the Deaf (WFD), and the International Congress on the Education of the Deaf (ICED) New Era and Accord for the Future 2010 Agreement).

The NY Times displayed blatant bias in their selection of writers for your five op-ed pieces. Of the five only one is Deaf. None of them appear to have had any experiences at Deaf schools – either as a student, teacher or administrator. All of them are well versed and experienced with the majority culture and highly and clearly value it.

The old “communication war” was set up to be a binary thing – Oralism Vs. Manualism but in actuality it was always Oralism vs. Bilingualism. Modality vs. multilingualism. To see the NY Times reinforce errors of the past while promoting some unhealthy and unacceptable myths about the “miracles” of future technology and the burden of “the Deaf” on taxpayers skates dangerously close to some of the rhetoric used to push for eugenics (positive and/or negative eugenics).

We request that in the future the NY Times commit to getting the full story and involve the actual byproducts of Deaf education and experts and scholars within the field of multilingualism-multiculturalism, Deaf culture, American Sign Language, and Deaf education, and Deaf rights.

As things presently stand though – instead of journalistic integrity examining Deaf Rights, the NY Times has on the record, many wrongs. We hope and trust you will correct such errors in the future.

Also, you should know that the op-ed piece by Perry Zirkel “What the Law Requires” you feature a photograph that is incorrectly captioned by the NYTimes to read “Members of the National Association of the Deaf demonstrated in Washington in July, calling for specific education for the deaf involving sign language and separate school facilities.” The fact is that the photo was taken at an Audism Free Rally in Washington, DC outside of the Omni Shoreham Hotel where the Alexander Graham Bell Association was hosting it’s Listening and Spoken Language Symposium. It was not an NAD event and we were not calling for separate school facilities at this rally.

If you would care to learn more about who we are and what we were protesting, rallying and hosting a vigil for, please feel free to contact us.

Patti Durr, Ruthie Jordan, and Karen Christie on Behalf of Audism Free America (AFA)