U.S. Department of Education via Fax
I am writing to inform you of a Civil Rights violation that occurred on the campus of LaGuardia Community College on October 15, 2016, and was sponsored by the LaGuardia Program for Deaf Adults, Sorenson Communications and the U.S. Department of Education, as a “Deaf Self-Advocacy” seminar.
Ever since the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 became law on July 26 of that year, disabled people have been in a steady decline in services, support and protection. Oftentimes — the struggle is more rewarding than the win — and once the day is won, everyone relaxes, and forgets what the real meaning of the fight for rights was all about, and things begin to decay into apathy against an upward, failing, expectation.
Evidence of this lack of accessible ubiquity in our technological futures for the Disabled is the rise of the “Voice Only” command system, be it an Amazon Echo, the Google Assistant, Microsoft Cortana, Xfinity Voice Remote, Apple TV voice command, Google Docs voice dictation, or even Apple’s Siri.
Let’s agree on one thing: Deaf West’s excellent Broadway revival of “Spring Awakening” is a fine production currently showing at the Brooks Atkinson theatre in a limited run. The sets and lights are magnificent. The staging is right. The actors are completely superb. The effort is noble, but perhaps, imperfect in the execution of its essence, and it is in that vacuum of those slight flaws in amber that this review reflects — to make you think and wonder in preservation and ponder beyond the simple joy of watching a few Deaf actors on a live Broadway stage.
Janna and I are pleased to announce our latest book is now available for purchase from Amazon — American Sign Language Level 5: A Field Guide for Advanced Communication Techniques for People with Other Disabilities written by David Boles, M.F.A. and Janna Sweenie, M.A. — yes, it’s an eyeful of a title, but that sort of specificity is necessary for this sort sort of real life ASL field guide.
Nicholas Kristof wrote a fascinating couple of opinion articles for the NYTimes over the last two weeks, and the reason for some reader dissent and confusion in the first story appears to stem from a core misunderstanding — purposeful or not — about the image.
Here’s what Kristof wrote on February 22, 2014:
As an infant, Johnny was deaf but no one noticed or got him the timely medical care he needed to restore his hearing. He lives in a trailer here in the hills of rural Appalachia with a mom who loves him and tries to support him but is also juggling bills, frozen pipes and a broken car that she can’t afford to fix.
The first error Kristof makes — but has yet to apologize for, or clarify — is labeling Johnny “Deaf.” Deafness is a cultural condition from which one does not get “healed” so the proper term should have been “hearing loss” since the “Deafness” was not actual, but imagined, by Kristof.
The real outrage aimed at Kristof was not over his inappropriate use of “Deaf” — but rather the way some of his readers felt he was celebrating a degenerate lifestyle of poverty in this image:
Helen Keller — a Deaf and Blind woman who became an author and an international SuperStar against the merits of her monumental disability — is one of the most magnificent examples of the human spirit in the history of America.
I have defended the spirit of Helen Keller on this blog, and while I am a tremendous fan of her incredible mind, I’m not terribly interested in her sex life as a lesbian or not, or as the secret, fateful, lover of her teacher, Anne Sullivan’s, husband, or her role as the concubine of a local cub reporter who wrote about her early life and made her a star.
What does concern, and interest me, is the lingering slandering of her as a young child in her effort to write, at 11-years-old, a story for publication called “The Frost King” — that was too closely associated with a previously published work entitled “The Frost Fairies” — that she was accused of plagiarism that haunted and stooped her for the rest of her life.
Mandela’s memorial yesterday has ignited a firestorm today out of the Soweto rain. No, not Obama’s failed message, or the non-Michelle approved Presidential selfie with other heads of State, but rather the fraud of an impostor posing as an interpreter for the Deaf during the ceremony.
The alleged sign language interpreter was so awful, in fact, that he had to have been in on the cruel joke that he knew nothing about even creating rudimentary signs.
Unfortunately, this sort of “faking it” is actually pretty common in the Deaf Community. There are a lot of “professional” interpreters who are not well-trained but who are given jobs because they are cheap — even though they are incapable of proper signing. The Deaf suffer and the incompetence gets a paycheck.
While not many working interpreters are as fraudulent on the level of what happened in Soweto — the end effect is still the same: The Deaf person has no idea what’s being said and has to guess about what’s really happening.