Monday, June 30, 2008

Hundreds of ASL advocates protest conference

From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

The deaf, their parents and advocates disagree on whether children are best off learning sign language or using hearing implants and aids to thrive in a hearing world, a split that was on public display today as 1,500 convention-goers and about 600 protesters converged on the Midwest Airlines Center June 28.

Inside, the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing was holding its 48th biennial convention sponsored by groups including Gallaudet University and the National Institutes of Health.

Outside an 11-month-old organization called the Deaf Bilingual Coalition had gathered protesters from across the country and erected a banner that read: "A.G. Bell Tear Down This Wall."

Coalition members said they had been shut out of the convention, unable to offer parents strong advocacy for the teaching of American Sign Language to deaf babies and their parents.

"Speech is not a language," said David Eberwein, a coalition member from California. "It's just a skill. You can't develop your thinking or full understanding of the world through that alone."

Eberwein said deaf children from families that use sign language read at a higher level than those from families that do not use sign language. He and other coalition members said that a walkway from their hotel to the convention had been closed and that they had not been allowed to put on workshops for parents.

Inside the convention, Bell members offered a very different view, claiming that studies show children who use sign language exclusively have much lower literacy than children who have received hearing aids and speech education.