Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Location, Location, Location

So many people advocate for all deaf children to have access to ASL as a native language. I am one of them. The problem is that it is very complicated. One obstacle is where you live. To be totally honest I don't always think that is a valid excuse.

There is the argument that a family may not have access to classes in a rural area or fluent signers to practice with. I challenge that because I was geographically isolated in a big city with plenty classes.  My challenge was I worked about 16 hours a day. I didn't work with anyone who signed. I really didn't see my family five days a week. At first we hit a wall when trying to find fluent signers to hang out with when I was off work. We were a nation of three.  I believe if you really need something you have to do whatever you can to make it happen.

So I bought a book.

Every spare moment at work I poured over it. Some folks I worked with wanted to learn (with a little pressure from me)  so I had people to practice with. Some might argue that they can't learn to sign from a book. I challenge that, make it happen. A running joke at my job was, "You can sleep when you die". Find the time and a way.

Reading ASL gloss is strange at first and maybe confusing. READ the first part of the book, the boring part that tells you how to do it. Learning this way is not my style but I needed to do this. Maybe a parent doesn't have a text book. Maybe it is too expensive. I find Goodwill is a great source. ASL students donate old text books. Really, if that is the problem contact me and I will make sure you get one.

13 years ago I didn't have the technology resources we have today. We had clunky TTY, email, a few captioned videos (VHS) and a captioner that worked sometimes on the TV. Now if you have internet you can access ASL online. You can visually call people in many ways (I just got a phone the has video chat). The world is not as isolated. Go online and find a way to get help. Can't afford it? Fair enough but does the SSI check really only go for things for the child? If your child was hearing would still spend the money the same way? We don't get SSI but if we did it would go to the best way to support Haddy.

Harsh? Yep.

One the other hand if a rural family doesn't get on the radar how would they know to make it happen? JTC has a correspondence course for families. Where is the ASL version? Where is the national advocacy group the seeks out new families and offers services without pressure or bias? I mean a group that makes learning ASL accessible not just a soapbox. Wait, there are groups out there that would jump at the chance to help families! Are parents given this information? If so how is it framed? How are these groups funded? Do companies have an interest? Do these groups have funding to help provide accessible services?

Another challenge is families who are ESL and maybe some who  don't have the supportive educational background to step up on their own.

Funny, when we lived in Los Angeles they majority of hearing families with deaf children that we were able to socialize with in ASL were from Central America,  really poor and with REALLY limited English skills. They had the same access to ASL as the more affluent families in the district that didn't sign. If you have the option you can make a choice and make it happen.

It took thirteen weeks to get to a point where I could have a conversation with a deaf native signer without feeling confused. Thirteen years later it is so comfortable sometimes I forget all people don't sign.

Another running joke at my work was, "Cowboy up!". If you feel worn out and wimpy get tough because it does get better.


  1. It basically boils down to parental motivation and determination. When there is a will, there will be a way.

  2. I totally agree with anonymous. Parents make
    the biggest difference between success or distress in
    a deaf child's life.
    Twenty five years ago, we chose to sign with our
    daughter AND we lived in a rural area. Amazingly
    enough and before computers, we were able
    to find sign language classes at a church about 40 min
    from our home. We were able to search and find
    books and resources to help us learn a language so different
    than our own but incredibly accessible for our daughter.
    No it wasn't easy, but hey there are lots of challenges
    in life.
    Because of ASL and the community who use it, she
    is leading a happy, successful, and blessed life.
    Amazing what a little extra effort has made in her life. Plus
    our whole family feels incredibly fortunate to have
    traveled the road we choice alongside our daughter.

  3. Things we do "in the name of love" for our children!

    You learned how to sign in thirteen weeks; that must be a record!

    Harsh? Tough love is not very American thing to do.

    Complicated? For sure!

    Excusable? We make our choices.

    In those stories, I can see your love for your son. I love that.

  4. You brought up an excellent, but sore point: where are the ASL equivalents of the John Tracy Clinic and the Alexander Graham Bell Association of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing?

    I wish people would explore that thoroughly and not settle for superficial answers such as "it's because Alexander Graham Bell started that movement with a lot of moola and they have awesome fundraisers" "people are more willing to support a Hearing orientation than a Deaf cultural one."

    There may be deeper reasons. It may go to a fundamental fear of the unknown, inability to accept a Deaf quality in society, organizational inexpertise in the Deaf community, an embryonic and overdue awareness that ASL is a valuable resource, etc. Digging into this might come up with answers.

  5. I posted this somewhere else, but thought I wouold share it here too.

    It is extremely hard. People act like choosing ASL suddenly makes one fluent in the language. It does not! Also, people pretend like it is fine for parents to learn some signs and then the child will out pace the parents, and that is normal and to be expected....uh, no! That is not even close to ok! Early on, my daughter had a language delay in ASL. Why? Because we were learning. And at the school for the Deaf, they were fine with it! They said "Oh, that's to be expected because you are hearing"....that's not ok, why do we accept that?!?

    If you choose ASL as the language of communication with your child you MUST become fluent, and use it at all time (like Mel's family). If not, this is when we end up with kids who have no language, and can't read. It is not the fault of ASL, it is from a lack of fluent language models, and from a lack of early language.

    Yes, ASL is accessible to deaf children, but only when they are given fluent language models. If they only see broken, simple ASL, they will end up with broken, simple language.

    They say spoken language is not accessible to deaf children, but neither is ASL is no one is signing!

  6. I just want to point out that immersion is a key thing to become fluent in a language.. taking classes and read books alone is not going to work. They need to get their butt out there and hang out with deaf crowd. DeafNation is one of the things I'm thinking of. Deaf people always seem to find other deaf people if they are determined. I don't know any deaf people, but I know where to look .

  7. Miss Kat's parents said:

    "...They say spoken language is not accessible to deaf children, but neither is ASL if no one is signing!"

    The comment begs the question:

    What should families do if what you said is true?

    Does this mean that the families will end up with nothing?

    Deaf adults would often lament that they wished their parents would sign or sign better.

    Hearing professionals continue to lead families down a path where parents are not encouraged to sign.

    Me thinks we need to "go figure" this one.

    Deaf adults have a message; we continue to dismiss their message. I know it is hard to listen to angry messages. The message remains the same.

    I am a native ASL speaker; thus I don't have the same message. I want to "dialogue" with families. Why?

    I want to help families learn about choices that deeply affect the "future" of their deaf children.

    Don't know if you are aware, but in the State of California, only 8% of 4,000 deaf K-12 students are reading at grade level. If hearing is a dominant factor in language acquisition, the 15% of 8,000 hard-of-hearing K-12 students is a sobering statistic.

    They need to learn more about what happens "down the road." If they know and still make the decisions against deaf adults' experiences, I will say "more power to them." But they are not getting that wisdom YET.

    Too often, deaf children become deaf adults who are finally estranged from their families. And parents are left to wonder what happened?

    Guess what, they continue to blame the deaf community.

    We are constantly repeating our history. Those who do not know our history are condemned to repeat it.

    Can I ask you, Miss Kat's parents, how we can change those sadly dismal statistics?

    Extremely hard? Of course!
    What to do? Help me!

    Mel's story illuminates a different outcome based on her family decision to create a signing environment for her son, Haddy.

    (Mel, I apologize for using your blog as my soapbox!)

  8. Marla touched upon another sore point in the Deaf community: parents that refuse to learn sign even after their Deaf kids have picked it up and are actively using it in their social or educational lives.

    A different situation is Miss Kat's early
    ASL exposure from her parents. Here her parents admitted to not being fluent and blame Miss Kat's delay on it. I think that's more due to her being young than her parents' facility.

    Sometime during the next few years, the child becomes a member of the wider school community and her language becomes more of a tool to reach out to that community. As such, it grows by leaps. Having a prior early language base is a definite advantage here.

    This happens for most Deaf children whether or not they were taught ASL at home. The difference here is whether or not the parents continue to be part of that socialization after their child becomes part of the school and after that, the wider community. The nonsigning parents get left behind. Those that sign, even not fluently, have a chance to stay part of it.

    I haven't touched on language skills or English grade levels here, because this is more about communication with others. An early language base, of course, is essential to building language skills for learning English and more advanced ASL skills.