California Eugenics-Style Bill Creates Uproar Among the Deaf Community

world | Jun 07, 2010 | By Kevin Clark and Tim Riker

AB 2072, a California bill introduced in February 2010 by Assembly Member Tony Mendoza (D- Norwalk) has created uproar among parents and the deaf community because private oral school affiliates of the Alexander Graham Bell Association, an organization with a history of eugenics and social engineering, and the Oberkotter Foundation are behind this bill. The bill passed the Assembly on April 29, 2010, and is currently in the Senate Health Committee awaiting vote on June 16, 2010. The deaf community believes that the bill circumvents existing newborn hearing screening law in a way that it will promote audism, which is prejudice against people who cannot hear and speak, and will marginalize American Sign Language. The Assembly Health Committee analysis states, “According to the author, with new developments in Cochlear Implants, more profoundly deaf children are able to hear and speak and can be completely assimilated into society.”

Many in the deaf community do not perceive their inability to hear or speak as a disability. Rather, they perceive themselves as a variety of the human race in much the same way a person with different hair or eye color. Since American Sign Language was recognized as a language by Dr. William Stokoe in 1965, signed languages have gradually been recognized as a language equal to spoken languages. Hundreds of other signed languages used by deaf people have been identified all around the world and deaf people are recognized as a linguistic and cultural minority group. A survey by the Modern Language Association in 2002 shows that American Sign Language is one of the fastest growing languages offered at colleges and universities, with a growth of 432.8 percent from 1998 to 2002.

The California Deaf Newborn Identification and Advocacy Stakeholders (CDNIAS), a diverse coalition comprised mostly of grassroots organizations representing deaf people, parents, educators and researchers committed to reform of newborn hearing screening and deaf education, is opposed to the bill because many of the stakeholders were not consulted before the bill was introduced. CDNIAS believes that if passed, the bill will inappropriately make the audiologists or other related professionals the gatekeepers of information provided to the parents. The state of California will be left out of implementing or funding this bill, which means that the information provided to the parents will be privatized.

AB 2072 seems to be repeating a chapter in history which the deaf community has struggled for over 130 years to overcome. The 1880 Second International Congress on Education of the Deaf in Milan, Italy, which excluded participation by educators who were deaf, declared that the oral method of education is superior to the sign language method of education. In the United States, the oral education proponents led by Alexander Graham Bell faced strong opposition from Edward Miner Gallaudet and Reverend Thomas Gallaudet. Those names are recognized for Gallaudet University in our nation’s capital. However, many of the educators who were deaf around the world were fired from their jobs when day schools which used the oral education method replaced the deaf schools. In the day schools, deaf children were severely punished and segregated from the other deaf children if they used sign language in the classrooms.

For the deaf community, the late nineteenth and early twentieth century marked the Dark Ages during which many felt ashamed to use sign language in public and were oppressed by American society. The National Association of the Deaf (NAD) was founded in 1880 in reaction to the Convention in Milan and endeavored since then to increase public awareness and acceptance of deaf people who use sign language. Over the years, the NAD won rights for deaf people, including the right to marry another deaf person and raise children, the right to drive an automobile, the right to get a good education, the right not to be discriminated in the workplace, the right to have American Sign Language respected equally as a language, and the right to participate in society. In spite of all of the progress, AB 2072 is like a Trojan Horse bill which could set back the deaf community’s civil rights movement.

According to Karl White, the Director of the National Center for Hearing Assessment and Management (NCHAM) at Utah State University, the Communicate with Your Child sales literature and website has already been distributed to over 30 states and is the one which will be distributed by audiologists in California. The sales literature provides a disproportionate amount of information promoting auditory/oral treatments and communicating. Out of 8 pages, there are only four sentences about American Sign Language—and these are not accurate or comprehensive.

White aims to use Early Hearing Detection and Intervention (EHDI) programs in the United States and internationally as a way to build an international database of causes of hearing loss and increase genetic services by training of medical professionals. Serving on the advisory board for the American College of Medical Genetics with 14 other people, White was instrumental in developing guidelines for children identified as deaf. He also has been actively promoting public policies since becoming the 1984-1985 American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Congressional Fellow. White attended the California Assembly Health Committee hearing on April 20, 2010, to testify in support of AB 2072.

In an article on the AAAS website which recognizes White for receiving the 2006 Volta Award from the Alexander Graham Bell Association, it mentions he performed ‘cost-benefit analyses of highly disabled children at Utah State University’ before he became a recipient of the 1984-1985 AAAS Congressional Fellow. White is quoted in the article as saying, “If you don't take what you're finding in science and apply it, society is the loser."

The Oberkotter Foundation, which has strong ties with the Alexander Graham Bell Association, is a financial machine which supports research, training, marketing, and operations for the oral education method. The Communicate with Your Child sales literature and website are funded by the Let Them Hear Foundation, which received a grant from the Oberkotter Foundation. Karl White at Utah State University received over $2.5 million from the Oberkotter Foundation to fund its Graduate Studies Program in Auditory Learning and Spoken Language.

Option Schools International, an umbrella organization of 50 auditory-oral education schools in the United States, Canada and the UK, receives a majority of its funding and support from the Oberkotter Foundation. Through the California Coalition, several of their schools which are based in California are sponsoring this bill. Theresa Bulger, the CEO of the Auditory Oral Foundation of New York (AOSNY) and the Director of Option School Services, had tried twice to get a bill like AB 2072 introduced by legislators during the last two years unsuccessfully because both legislators invited all of the stakeholders and decided not to author the bill. According to an article written by Domingo Love in the Lifestyles Magazine entitled, Theresa Bulger: Prisoners of silence no more, Bulger believes that it costs $800,000 to teach a deaf child American Sign Language, and that American Sign Language is not “the language of the masses.” Moreover, she believes that ASL in not the language of 95 percent of parents of deaf children because they are hearing. In the article Bulger says, “I was doing all this socially-conscious work when I realized that money has power. Money does talk, and you can do more with money than you can otherwise. There is no mission if there is no money.”

The deaf community should not be measured by money, but by worth.

Kevin Clark and Tim Riker are members of the California deaf community.

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