Last night was supposed to be the premier of the penultimate “American Sign Language Only” episode of ABC Family Channel’s teenage soap opera, “Switched at Birth.” Janna and I urged our ASL students to watch the episode because we believed the hype and the PR that this would be an episode to remember. It was not. The show was a tremendous disappointment and I’ll tell you why.
The one bright spot in the show was this “Deaf Power” banner that struck a long-ago memory in Janna when one of her teachers at the Iowa School for the Deaf said that action was forbidden on campus because it was was rude and disrespectful. For Janna to see one hand covering an ear and the other hand raised in a fist filled her with both terrible regret at believing a repressive Hearing teacher, and terrific pride that, in the end, the Deaf will own their own place in the world.
We know American Sign Language is the fourth most popular foreign language on American college campuses, and when you combine ASL to help battle bullying in the classroom, you begin to empower and enliven the downtrodden and the misbegotten. When we remember Tyler Clementi, we must always see our own vulnerabilities exploited by others in his demise. Some Gallaudet University graduate students have created an anti-Bullying video in American Sign Language to help spread the word. I promoted their — “Stop Bullying Now” — video from my Facebook page last night, and I was delighted to see how quickly a positive wave was built in support of the video.
Erik Harper, age 11, had a deal with his grandmother. If Joseph Randolph Mays, the man living with him and his Deaf mother, and his younger brother Dakota, ever tried to really hurt them — it was an open secret in the family that Mays was physically beating all of them — Erik would send her an emergency text message in code: “The Sky is Blue” that meant they were in real danger and she should call 911.