One of the hardest things for a minority culture to understand is the same history cannot be made twice. History only makes pioneers and always punishes imitators. There is an attempt to warp back to 1988 at Gallaudet, the premier university for the Deaf in Washington, D.C., as some of the 2,000 students enrolled there try to re-enact the historical — and successful — 1988 “Deaf President Now” campaign by erasing the appointment of a new president, Jane K. Fernandes, because she is “Not Deaf Enough” to lead Gallaudet. The students re-created a tent city from 1988 as they camp out to protest her appointment until she steps down. Fernandes cannot and must not be bullied down.

Gallaudet University

There is only one Rosa Parks. There is only one Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. There is only one Deaf President Now campaign and it belongs to I. King Jordan.

Jean Fernandes

The Deaf student body at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. — egged on by an egregiously malicious “no confidence vote” in Jane Fernandes from the faculty — have been protesting and arguing for a president who is more understanding of Deaf needs than Fernandes.

Not Deaf Enough Those who are against Fernandes claim it is isn’t because she is “Not Deaf Enough” but because she doesn’t have enough experience as a Deaf person to understand the true needs of the Deaf even though she was born Deaf and her mother and brother are Deaf and she uses sign language.

Fernandes, her critics claim, was mainstreamed in Hearing schools throughout her upbringing and that means to them she prefers spoken language to a visual one and the fact she didn’t learn to sign until age 23 indicates to some she is too “Oral” in order to be considered a leader in the Deaf Community and to head up Gallaudet.

The definition of a “Deaf” person is the core matter of the Fernandes appointment and it is a dangerous and onerous argument the students are struggling to privately enforce — “Fernandes is Not Deaf Enough” — while publicly claiming — “But that isn’t why we don’t want her.”

Who Am I? I am Hearing. I have been married to Janna, a Deaf woman, who has, at times, faced being taunted by some in the Deaf community as “Not Deaf Enough” because she sometimes decides to use her voice and that ability — that choice of voice — is viewed by many in the hardcore Deaf Community as the first mark of “Hearing Thinking” where voice takes precedence over hands. Janna is currently out-of-town on business as of the publication of this article so what I write here is my own opinion.

Janna speaks for herself and can defend her own ideas. Janna is part of my history in learning American Sign Language and then teaching it at New York University. We also wrote the book Hand Jive about Hardcore ASL together to be published by Barnes & Noble in the Fall.

Janna and I use, and have always used, ASL as our primary means of communication. I do feel a cultural need to identify Janna’s struggles — as I understand them — as part of the frame of this article. Janna was born Deaf. She attended a Deaf Institution — The Iowa School for the Deaf — her Master’s degree is in Deafness Rehabilitation from New York University, she has taught American Sign Language at NYU for over 12 years and her day job is helping find jobs for the Deaf in Queens.

No Doubt About Janna

You cannot doubt Janna has dedicated her life to the Deaf Community, but there are still some in the Deaf Community who feel even Janna is “Not Deaf Enough” to pass as a truly Deaf person and the fact she married me — a Hearing Man — instead of a Deaf Man is too much for some to ever accept.

Some believe if you are Deaf and you interact with success in the Hearing World you have forsaken the values of the closed Deaf Community and you will never be a part of that body even if you yearn to be accepted. I believe cutting people out of the Deaf Community who wish to belong is a hard and short-sighted view because it narrows the humanity and the suffering of the Deaf over the decades who have struggled alone and together — and with the help of Hearing people like Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet
— to be seen and treated as equals in the workplace and in the marketplace of hopes.

The history of the Deaf Community turning against their own once a member finds mainstream success beyond the Deaf Community — even if the person actively adheres to Deaf Culture Norms — are plentiful. Here are a few public examples:

An Unfortunate History of Denial

In 1986 Marlee Matlin was the first Deaf actress to win the Academy Award for her history-making turn in the Children of a Lesser God but the Deaf Community did not look up to her as a role model.

Many looked down at her as a traitor to the cause because she used her voice in her acceptance speech and in later television roles. Instead of allowing Marlee to help re-define what a Deaf person is she was shunned by those she was seeking to help. Marlee was: Not Deaf Enough. When Deaf woman Heather Whitestone was named Miss America in 1995 she was not accepted by the Deaf Community as a success story because she did not sign enough and she relied too much on lip-reading to communicate. When she had a Cochlear Implant in 2002 the Deaf Community completely separated from her as any sort of Deaf Culture representative.

Deaf President Now

Heather was: Not Deaf Enough. The 1988 Deaf President Now revolution at Gallaudet resulted in the students winning their protest when the appointed Hearing president resigned and I. King Jordan, a Deaf man who signed, was anointed the first “Deaf President” of a Deaf University. For the last 18 years

I. King Jordan has led Gallaudet into the future and his hand-picked successor, Jane K. Fernandes, is now Not Deaf Enough to serve in his place. I. King Jordan has also now been labeled a “failure” and a “traitor” to Gallaudet by some of the very students who helped protest him into office in 1988.

Those former student pioneers now accuse Jordan of not being loyal to the cause because he does not use pure ASL to communicate and he uses his voice in public. The very man the students fought for, and won with, in 1988 is now: Not Deaf Enough.

Militant Requirements Some in the militant Deaf Community feel the Gallaudet students would only be satisfied with the following qualifications in the next president of the university:

1. No voice.

2. ASL only.

3. Deaf Institution schooling.

4. Deaf parents.

Anything less than those requirements suggests an irreparable tainting by the Hearing World and would be unacceptable to the Deaf who choose to only sign and not voice. There is no greater insult the Deaf Community can level against its own than labeling them “Think Hearing” instead of “Think Deaf.” “Oral” and “Mainstream” are also taboo words in the Deaf Community.

We know there are Audists and Audism but are there also Deafists and Deafism? Here’s the problem with that kind of Only-Deaf-Community-Adherence-Is-Enough thinking: It is narrow-minded and prejudicial — just the kind of labels the Deaf Community seek to eradicate in the Hearing majority midst against them.

Backward-Looking Here’s why that kind of thinking is backward-looking and not forward-thinking: Technology is only getting better when it comes to improving hearing loss and Deafness. That cold, hard, fact, is the center of the current terror the hardcore Deaf Community are trying to fight in the new Gallaudet protest.

Cochlear Implants are becoming more and more common as the medical community continues to “fix” what they see as broken ears. Most Deaf infants are born to Hearing parents and Hearing parents want their children to be like them — to hear like them — and that means newborns are now routinely being implanted as early as four months old.

The traditional “Deaf Community” is being winnowed away by a technology the Deaf never wished for and by a medical intervention they never needed. The Deaf Community can only stand and watch as every infant born Deaf is implanted by default and taken away from their cultural core on purpose. The solution to that trauma of community is inclusion and not cutting off.

A Cochlear Implant is a strong hearing aid. In the eyes of the traditional Deaf Community, a Cochlear Implant is the first sign of not-belonging and implantation requires a “Not Deaf Enough” label forever.

Implanted Infants Implanting an infant with a Cochlear Implant does not make them Hearing. In fact, it makes those infants a culture of their own where they are neither Deaf nor Hearing.

Those infants grow into kids without a cultural identification and they are resigned to a sort of netherworld of non-definition. It will be interesting to see in 15 years if there is a strong “Implanted Culture” that will demand the next president of Gallaudet be Cochlear Implanted because “only the Implanted can understand and serve the needs of the Implanted.”

Will “Not Implanted Enough” one day become the new rallying cry across Kendall Green? Power comes in the majority and the majority lives in big numbers. The Implanted will soon outnumber the non-implanted Deaf.

Technology always gets better and rarely makes things worse, so over the next decade or two Cochlear Implants will improve, and the “naturally born Deaf” who grow up signing and not voicing will become an ultra-minority born to Deaf parents who already swear allegiance to ancient values of the Deaf Community.

The Wrenching
I understand it is heart-wrenching for the Deaf Community to witness how medicine and technology is stealing their future and corrupting their Deaf infants, but the history of success in the world has always been to adapt and change your way of thinking in order to not become extinct.

The current protest at Gallaudet is thinking on a level of pursuing extinction instead of fighting for an inclusive future. One only needs to read a recent article in the Chronicle to understand this conflict of cultures in crisis:

According to the Food and Drug Administration, approximately 13,000 adults and 10,000 children had received implants by 2002, the latest year for which data are available. But the technology continues to improve, and the number of people receiving implants is increasing rapidly.

The trend is a source of anxiety to some deaf people, who feel that it may lead to an erosion of the gains they have won in recent decades in antidiscrimination legislation, and undercut their hard-won dignity. Benjamin J. Bahan, a professor of deaf studies at Gallaudet University who has been deaf since he was 4, worries that as more deaf children are given an oral education, the teaching of American Sign Language may be abandoned. “Let those kids be bilingual,” he said in an e-mail message. “After all with their implants off they are DEAF.” Yet the implants are already affecting the work of Gallaudet.

With 1,900 students, it is the world’s only university devoted to the deaf. Part of its mission is the development of teaching methods and materials for the more than 71,000 severely deaf children in the United States. The university runs a model elementary school and secondary school on its large campus in Washington. Up until now, Gallaudet’s goal has been to make all 370 schoolchildren it enrolls fully fluent in both English, or at least written English, and American Sign Language. But educators say they are seeing a growing number of children with implants whose improved hearing would allow them to benefit from a more oral-based education. “Teachers come here trained in a more visual approach,” says Debra B. Nussbaum, coordinator of the model schools’ Cochlear Implant Education Center. But, she adds, “we’ve been talking about how to change our strategies.”

Supporters of the oral approach say far too few teachers are being trained in that orientation. “In the last 10 to 15 years there has been a dramatic increase in demand” for oral education, says Susan T. Lenihan, director of the deaf-education program at Fontbonne University, in St. Louis. Deaf-education departments “should recognize this shift in the population,” she says, and train more teachers equipped to work with deaf people with cochlear implants.

I realize the current Gallaudet protest is a last-ditch attempt to recapture a past glory in an ever-darkening world where technology and medicine appear to be co-conspiring against traditional Deaf Culture values, but to reject Jane Fernandes as the next president of Gallaudet because she is perceived by some as “Not Deaf Enough” is to send a chilling message there cannot be a wide array of Deaf people in the Deaf Community and that sentences those who currently identify with, and are accepted by, the Deaf Community as protectors of a quaint idea that has no longevity beyond their lives.

Finally Must Be Enough For those in the Deaf Community who disagree with this article — I know there will be some who feel because I am Hearing I should have no voice in this matter — I wish to point you back to 1988. Janna and I moved to Washington, D.C. in 1987 from the isolated Midwest and we were there — right there — in the midst of the original 1988 Deaf President Now crusade and that protest was fair and equitable and hard-won and appropriately historic.

I also wish to remind you of a button you could purchase on the Gallaudet campus in 1988 celebrating the naming of I. King Jordan as Gallaudet’s first Deaf President — he was Plenty Deaf Enough then — and cheered then as a historic hero in the moment of the now. The button had a drawing of a smiling Deaf student with both arms outstretched.

Each victorious fist held the Number One HandShape with the caption “Pah!” “Pah!” — in case you do not know or do not remember — is American Sign Language for “Finally!” I ask you — if “Finally!” was good enough for I. King Jordan in 1988 — why is “Pah!” no longer good enough for Jane K. Fernandes in 2006?


  1. If it wasn’t true, it’d almost seem like a dark comedy about some sinister force wanting to break down the political power of a group by pitting the members against each other.
    If it was any other historically oppressed group, I’d suggest that there be an investigation to see if some hate group was behind the particular notions being espoused.
    It would be the same thing if anti-immigrant forces started pitting Mexicans against Guatemalians or Chinese against Vietnamese to distract them from the “big picture” by saying that one group wasn’t “immigrant” enough.
    There is only a limited amount of time and energy that any person or group can devote to any particular issue at any given time.
    These sorts of debates waste time, energy and political capital leaving the group in the same or a worse position than from where they began.
    It’s too bad that people are inclined to fight each other, instead of wanting to find common ground so that they can work together for goals to improve everybody’s life.

  2. Hi Chris —
    Don’t we see this kind of cultural infighting in other places? In addition to “Not Deaf Enough” isn’t there “Not Black Enough” to ostracize light-skinned members of the Black Community? Then there’s the “Not White Enough” crowd where anyone darker than pink is considered impure and can never belong.
    I agree this is a difficult battle. In 1988 it was different because there was an expressed prejudice from the search committee at Gallaudet that a Deaf person could never head up the university and when a less successful hearing person was chosen over the gifted in eloquent and brilliant I. King Jordan — who was already a staple on the Gallaudet campus — the outrage and the fury from the students was justified and necessary for the advancement of the Deaf in the world as equal intellectuals.
    Today, however, the protest against Fernandes is just strange and sad. It seems more born of boredom than an identifiable problem with the woman or her experience.

  3. Dave —
    There are some in the Deaf Community who believe the natural language of the born Deaf is ASL because it is a visual language.
    English is learned and taught in the Deaf Community and in Deaf Institutions and in mainstream schools, but that method of learning finds it best successes when ASL is the conduit used to teach the language but ability and setting that can be a hard thing to find.
    Gallaudet excelled at using ASL to teach everything.
    However, the rise of the Implanted and meeting their unique needs threatens a return to Oralism and spoken instruction instead of ASL only and that scares those who cherish Gallaudet as a “hands only” institution of higher learning.

  4. Hi David,
    There are always people who want to classify and categorize everyone.
    I knew a multi-racial woman who told me that she didn’t feel like she was ever accepted anywhere because she wasn’t “enough” to be either black or white. It was sad to hear her talk about it. Not having a sense of belonging causes a great pain to those caught in places between well-established categories.
    The Caucasian people who want to categorize people are a fringe minority who only have power in strange and remote areas, but who fail to convince any significant number of people to follow their twisted ways. When they gather together to spew hatred, they usually are outnumbered by police and counter-protesters.
    It’s a human instinct to try to separate and associate with people who are similar to ourselves.
    But, it is also a weakness in a society that functions on majority and plurality rule. If people continue to separate into smaller and smaller groups, they might end up becoming politically extinct. Internal strife and civil war only hurts those fighting. When small groups fight over distinctions that many in the greater society don’t recognize, it only dilutes those groups’ overall political power by wasting precious resources on what many on the outside might see as petty feuds that do little to challenge the greater society.
    See Divide and Rule:

    Effective use of this technique allows those with little real power to control those who collectively have a lot of power (or would have much power, if they could get united).
    Typical elements of this technique involve
    * creating or at least not preventing petty feuds among smaller players. Such feuds drain resources and prevent alliances that could challenge the overlords.

    Instead of having a divide and rule strategy applied from the outside by a weak political authority hoping to keep control, it seems the parties in this matter are dividing and conquering themselves.

  5. Chris!
    Yes, I am with you!
    Here is why some elements in the Deaf Community may disagree with you:
    1. The Hearing have always been telling what the Deaf should do and how to behave and how to fit in and how to be “fixed.” We never asked to fit in. We only asked to be alone and accepted on our own terms.
    2. We are happy living in our own world. We will educate our own and provide for our own. Leave our infants alone. You would not bleach the skin of a light-skinned Black child to get them to fit into “White” society, so why do you destroy the Deaf cochlea of our infants in order for them to try to “pass” as Hearing with Cochlear Implants?
    3. We were forced into this isolation by mainstream indifference. If not for the ADA requiring the mainstream to behave better to us we would not have interpreters in mainstream classrooms, or mandatory Closed Captioning for television shows or required “flashing lights” provided in our apartments. If the majority is so great to join, why did the law have to force our inclusion?

  6. I dated a woman once who had a deaf brother. The whole family worked to make him behave like he was hearing. He missed a lot. Didn’t understand much. They took him to Boys Town for theraphy twice a week. That was 90 minutes away and they didn’t have much money. He was 9. He wore really big hearing aids on his chest. He looked tortured.

  7. Yeah I can imagine. I wanted to just tell them to leave him alone. Let him sign instead of use speck if he wants. Let him take out his hearing aids because they weren’t doing him any good anyway.

  8. The Deaf have a hard life no matter what path or community or attitude they choose, AdjunctX. They are always forced to defend what they were born and how they choose to live. The pressure to conform and to behave and to fit in is incredible.

  9. I can understand the arguments that some in the Deaf Community are making, but it still remains destructive and counterproductive to the overall movement for equal rights for all people, including those who might be disabled to a lessor extent than another person.
    We must be careful to not endulge our tendency to want to segregate and isolate ourselves.

  10. Hey Chris —
    I’m with you.
    Finding common ground between all minority and majority communities is important to having a strong and vibrant society.
    Drawing hard lines in the sand is not the quickest way to get there.

  11. I am hearing, and I write these words in the second language of the Deaf. My first language was learned primarily by listening to this language and copying it, then studying the mechanical nature of grammar, and eventually delighting in the musical and spatial auditory poetry of writing.
    In English.
    I work in a unique substance-abuse recovery program for the Deaf. The groups are taught in ASL by Deaf counselors in recovery themselves. I’ll have 6 years sober in August. I couldn’t sign at all when I started, now I get mistaken for deaf if I sign voice-off, which I prefer.
    All of the clients have been in some form of public education. Some have been in Oral environments. I’ve been there for about 18 months and seen hundreds of clients come through the program. Virtually none of their speech is intelligible. Their understanding of the printed materials is nearly non-existant. However, the counselors do a great job of converting and delivering the presentations with humor and grace in ASL.
    What I find interesting is that those few who can cross over, either with intense lip-reading or being basically HoH, not deaf, have a universally profound unhappiness. An inability to fit into either culture. A few of these folks reject Deaf culture, but cannot fit into Hearing culture.
    In my opinion, what the implant does, by definition, is create tens of thousands of these people. The implant is not hearing. It is an incredibly expensive, major surgical procedure which destroys any residual hearing left, and requires a vast Hearing network of Science and Corporate manipulation to propagandize and sell. It had no long-term testing done on it. It has been pushed down the timeline to near-newborn application.
    Deaf people did not invent the implant. They wouldn’t have preyed on the most powerless of their kind for profit, drilling open their babies’ skulls and pushing wires inside their heads. Only Hearing people are so crass as to prey on the equally traumatized parents of a deaf child, sending them home from the hospital with books on Grief, and glossy brochures for the implant.
    So we will have an underclass of an underclass in the very near future, those too poor to buy the “miracle”, and too poorly educated to do anything more than collect SSI, and become our clients.
    So the Deaf parent of a hearing child has the right to have an operation performed on her child to destroy the baby’s hearing, to more easily fit into Deaf culture?
    David, you and I could go around and around about the issues you’re raised about Gallaudet. The biggest problem is that we’re both Hearing, and by definition, have no dog in the hunt, no cultural right to comment. If Deaf people make mistakes, or succeed, it is their culture which will define the success or failure.
    And yes, I am a huge fan of “Mask Of Benevolence.”
    To be clear, I appreciate your blog and the issues you raise. I’m actually more on your side than this comment may sound, but I live with the failures of Hearing tinkering with Deaf culture every day. I intend to become a certified interpreter within the next few years, and I know that at least for the rest of my life, I will be able to facilitate communication, and use my love of language to bring literary light into the silence.

  12. Hi James —
    Thank you for your thoughtful and well-reasoned comment.
    I feel Deaf children should make their own decision about implantation and, for awhile, that was the preferred mode of surgery because the operation couldn’t be done until the children were around 10 years old.
    Most children of Hearing parents, however, wanted the operation because they wanted to be like their parents and they wanted to fit in with their mainstream friends in school.
    I believe in doing what’s right for the child and not is what is easiest for the parents.
    Now that the medical community is pushing implantation as early as possible — in some cases as early as four months — because, they believe, the sooner you can get Deaf ears “hearing” the easier the time the child will have in voiced language acquisition gives them a blank check to any non-hearing cochlea and that scares me.
    How many Hearing parents are prepared to have a rational discussion with a doctor holding an implant promising to “fix” their infant’s Deaf ears? I think the answer must take milliseconds to come out of their mouths, “Do it!”
    Few parents of Deaf newborns would take time to do deep research on both sides of the implant or even venture into a hardcore Deaf Community meeting to get their side of the surgery.
    Deaf parents, in my experience, are not so quick to hand over their Deaf children for implantation because they want to continue their culture. My fear is that act of deciding NOT to implant a Deaf infant will one day be criminalized as child neglect.
    Currently, the decision NOT to implant does not have the religious protections of say, the Jehovah Witnesses when it comes to blood transfusions and such and you know there will be a move somewhere to *require* BY LAW any infant born Deaf to be implanted in the name of the Greater Good and the betterment of society – because there’s a lot of money to be made in the surgery. I hope that doesn’t happen, but if wishes were horses, beggars would ride.
    I do not agree that since we are Hearing we do not have a dog in the Gallaudet fight. My wife is Deaf. I care about the future of Gallaudet and of the Deaf Community. Cultural protections and exploitations are a universal concern and not one just for the minority view or the majority pulpit.
    A man can have an opinion of a woman and a woman of a man even though neither can ever know the mind of the other.
    I care about pointing out positions that may be well-intentioned, but foolhardy and unacceptable in the end.
    If you are arguing the current Gallaudet protest is a Deaf issue that must only be settled by the Deaf Community we will have to disagree because I believe the Civil Rights movement in America benefited from the involvement of all Races and cultures and ethnicities fighting together to do the right thing in the darkness of a perpetual wrong.

  13. David,
    Thank you for your equally eloquent reply.
    I admit I’m sort of a hard case about Deaf culture, and I can certainly accept the “agree to disagree” concept.
    I also appreciate the depth of your understanding of the implant issue.
    Learning ASL and being thrown head-first into Deaf culture through Recovery has been the most positive therapeutic change of my life. The expression needed to sign effectively has made me so much more conscious of my emotional balance (bipolar also, which helps me identify with being “different”) and I am truly blessed to be looking at a satisfying career path after a lifelong history of addiction and psychiatric dysfunction.
    Peace be with you and yours, and I am glad to have bumped into you.

  14. I am not deaf. I am hearing. Moreover, I don’t think I have that depth of knowledge to comment on this “Not deaf enough issue at Gallaudet.”
    But one thing I would like to add – being clannish has never done any good to anybody. Efficiency and competence should be the most significant yardstick to judge a candidate, not any pre conceived notion whether she attended a deaf school or not. Hyper sensitivity, I think is a type of change resistance.

  15. As a 25 y/o HoH (profound to severe) individual, I’m actually quite surprised to learn that the members of the deaf community actually prefer to exist as their own isolated group. I was born with sensorineural hearing loss in both ears, and have worn hearing aids my whole life. I have never learned ASL. I communicate entirely orally, and depend on lip-reading to a large extent.
    “We are happy living in our own world. We will educate our own and provide for our own. Leave our infants alone. You would not bleach the skin of a light-skinned Black child to get them to fit into “White” society, so why do you destroy the Deaf cochlea of our infants in order for them to try to “pass” as Hearing with Cochlear Implants?”
    I find this comment utterly ridiculous. How can you compare skin color with hearing loss? The key is the “loss” of hearing. Our brain is configured to receive auditory stimuli, so correcting a persons hearing loss via cochlear implants is not a method of trying to make the deaf “fit in”, but rather it is meant to correct the “loss” and allow the individual to achieve maximal neural stimulation. I feel that any individual who is able to hear is better off than not hearing at all.This is not just from a communication standpoint, but rather with hearing much more things in life are able to be enjoyed (for example, music) Whether a person chooses to communicate via ASL or speech is an individual choice, however, I feel a parent should never deny the opportunity for a child to have access to hearing at a young age. If my parents had denied me hearing aids as a child, I most certainly would consider that neglect. I have no doubt in my mind that my current life, is a direct result of not being impeded by a lack of hearing. (Just completed 2nd year med, completed BSc, and MBA).
    “We were forced into this isolation by mainstream indifference. If not for the ADA requiring the mainstream to behave better to us we would not have interpreters in mainstream classrooms, or mandatory Closed Captioning for television shows or required “flashing lights” provided in our apartments. If the majority is so great to join, why did the law have to force our inclusion?”
    I understand that the deaf community would state feel that they are being discriminated against by not having certain services available, but the reality is, we as humans are lazy. We are only going to do things if we have to (and by the cheapest way possible). It is up to the disabled to either adapt to the situation. It really is an example of Darwin’s theory. Survival of the fittest. The reason for the current existence of mutations encoding deafness (e.g. Usher syndrome), is because those individuals chose not to let it impede their survival. Granted, survival in this case implies the propogation of mutation, which is not what this blog is about, but I almost feel that survival in today’s context is proportional to the amount of life experience and individual will have. So what if there is a law that required certain services to be provided, the point is, because of this law, now the services will be provided. Also, its not even about “joining” the majority, its about existing in a society where you are able to interact with everyone. As with anything, it takes time for people to learn. Thats why you need to educate them.
    “The Hearing have always been telling what the Deaf should do and how to behave and how to fit in and how to be “fixed.” We never asked to fit in. We only asked to be alone and accepted on our own terms. ”
    Why be alone? What good is that going to do? Isolation is just a mechanism of avoiding reality. It’s admirable to want to be accepted in your own terms, but the “hearing” aren’t just trying to make the deaf fit in. Rather as “hearing” they understand that hearing is a major thing to have lost, and to “fix” it, is just a way to help the individual. For example, if an individual was born without legs, isn’t it a good thing that there are wheelchairs available for assistance? It’s not about making them fit in, its about making life easier for them. I think a similar principle can be applied in the context of “fixing” deaf people.
    Finally, a comment about the Gallaudet situation. Unbelievable. What is this? Reverse discrimination? (“not deaf enough?”) Seriously, just because a person chose to communicate orally at certain points in their life doesn’t make them any less deaf. However, I do see how people would think that because she doesn’t rely on ASL solely, she may not be able to fully understand the needs of the ASL-dependent deaf. But then again, that would be assuming that she is really stupid. Her role is to help the students, not sabotage them. Her reputation is on the line. There’s no way she would deny pursuing something that would benefit the deaf just because she communicates orally. If anything, this whole situation will make her work even harder to prove these “haters” wrong.
    Apologies for the long post. I was getting tired of studying for my board exam, and thought I would just give my two cents.

  16. Hi Angelo —
    Thanks for your long and generous comment! I appreciate the application of your mind to this blog!
    I understand your counter-arguments to the positions I tried to defend that are held by some in the Deaf Community. The Deaf don’t see themselves in a deficit light.

  17. Happened across this site tonight, and just have to add my two-cents worth. I’m a parent of a 23-year old deaf daughter who has a cochlear implant. She was implanted with a single-channel in 1987 and because it finally quit working in 2003, she received a Nucleus 24 multi-channel device. She signs and is oral. For a number of years she didn’t use sign language (her choice) and there really were no other deaf people locally for her to interact with (we live in a rural area). Now, however, she has been overseas for 2 years, has interacted with many deaf and is really starting back signing in a big way. Now that you have the background, I want to make a few comments.
    To the comment about the doctor giving parents a “fix” and it taking the parents only milliseconds to say “do it”, do you honestly believe it is that easy? There may be some parents so callous, but the ones I have met who have gotten implants for their children were not so cold. I know for us it was not that easy a decision. I prayed and agonized and researched for a long time over the best thing to do for my child. I sought out and talked to as many deaf people as I could find, those who signed and some who already had implants. This IS an operation, after all, and we didn’t take it lightly. It took a year for her to completely lose her hearing. It was never a matter of us not accepting the fact she was deaf, but it was a matter of how we could give her the best life possible. Now, I know the deaf would say she would not have missed anything if she had not been implanted, but I don’t think so. She has grown up with all kinds of opportunities she would not otherwise have had. One big concern for me was that she eventually lost ALL her hearing with absolutely nothing left. And I was afraid for her safety. To me, just getting the environmental sounds would have made the implant worth it, even if she had not gotten speech benefit.
    Her life has not been perfect, there have been times she has felt left out in conversations. But she has also been able to participate in things she could not otherwise have done. (By the way, for the record, we are now attending a deaf Sunday School class together and she has to interpret for me, as my sign is now quite rusty, and I’m getting a taste of what it is like for a deaf person in a hearing world.) She loves her implant and she loves signing. She loves travel and has worked in ministry overseas for 2 years and has learned other sign languages. She plans to now start college. She will have to go to a local college this year, but is considering going to Gallaudet at a later time. My concern after reading some of the things I have seen make me wonder if she will be accepted there. It seems that some of the deaf are very angry and defensive and not accepting of people who can fit in more than one mold.
    Why does someone have to be only one thing? By the way, I feel the same way about people who push “oral only”. Again, why does it have to be only one way. I wanted my daughter to have as much of the world to enjoy as possible. I didn’t care how she got the input – oral, sign, cued speech, vibrotactile – it didn’t matter. These deaf who are so angry may have had bad experiences, and I understand that. But those with implants and those who choose to use their voices are not the “enemy”. I’m glad my daughter has options besides being in an isolated culture. It would be nice if people could get over themselves and quit pushing agendas and not be so angry if someone chooses to use more than one form of communication.

  18. The New York Times ran a story about student protests
    at Gallaudet U today.

    Students at Gallaudet have complained that Dr. Fernandes,
    who learned to sign only when she was 23, does not communicate well in
    A.S.L. — a point the university disputes — and that she has permitted
    professors who do not sign well to continue teaching, putting students
    at a disadvantage at the one institution where, they say, they should
    not suffer for being deaf. These students, forced to lip read or make
    do with poor signing, may not catch every word.

    I’m hearing, so I really don’t have an understanding of what it is
    like to be deaf, but the communication issue reminds me of complaints
    students had about professors when I was an undergrad at Indiana
    Students often made similar complaints about foreign-born professors
    and their communication skills.
    Often, the truth was that the foreign-born professors did just as good
    of a job as any other professor and the students were making excuses
    for their personal failures to study and comprehend the material
    outside of the classroom.
    This same debate about foreign professors continues today:

    Some people believe that students learn less with
    foreign-born professors because of their accents and problems
    articulating American phonetics.
    Is there data showing that student learning suffers when the
    instructor mispronounces words or uses unfamiliar phrases and
    Perhaps the instructor’s ethnic background actually has a positive
    impact on the delivery of course content and student performance.
    I believe there can be common ground for students and minority faculty
    if they use their diverse experiences in positive ways.

    As the author writes, maybe everyone in society should seek out common
    ground and use their experiences with people of diverse and varying
    backgrounds for personal growth, instead of asking for professors —
    whether at a deaf university or traditional higher educational
    institution — who are homogeneous and non-diverse and
    My education at IU wouldn’t have been as illuminating if I had
    demanded and received only professors who were born and raised in the
    Midwest who shared my same values and sensibilities and who spoke in a
    solid Midwestern accent.
    It might not be the same for the deaf students, so I’m open to
    arguments from the other side so that I can learn more about the
    But looking in from the outside, it seems that we can learn from
    people who aren’t the same as we are if we are willing to give them a
    chance and keep an open mind.

  19. Excellent comment, Chris. Deaf Education is a sticky issue now in America. There are “pure ASL” signers who do not believe in using voice or in accepting cochlear implants — there are others who think any help in communication is worthwhile.
    Janna and I discuss these issues in-depth in our new HAND JIVE book:

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