Transcript: An Exploration of Deaf Culture

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

The millions of Americans who are deaf or hard of hearing form a unique community, a culture, they say, shaped by their shared experience and their shared language. ASL, American Sign Language, is currently the second most taught language on college campuses. A major Broadway play using deaf and hearing actors is touring the country. At the same time, deaf culture is both changed and challenged by technology. There are plenty of divisions and arguments within deaf culture, but the deaf and hard of hearing share another universal trait—the incomprehension of the hearing world around them that sees their condition as a disability, as a handicap. For those who live without sound, that absence is the starting point of an identity.

In this hour of TALK OF THE NATION, we'll discuss deaf culture, its history, traditions, its challenges and its controversies. Of course, radio is by definition a medium for the ear. So we

will use various technologies to welcome an audience normally unavailable to us. Some of those methods are old. The voices of our guests that you'll hear today are those of their interpreters and some are much newer. Live captioning of this hour's broadcast will stream live on a Web site, www.captionreporters.com. You can pass that address along to any deaf or hard of hearing people you know who would be interested. Again, the Web site is www.captionreporters.com.

And, of course, we welcome questions from the radio audience. If you have questions about deaf culture or if you participate in it, our number here in Washington is (800) 989-8255; that's (800) 989-TALK. Our e-mail address istotn@npr.org.

With us now from the studios of member station KPBS in San Diego are Carol Padden and Tom Humphries.

They're the authors of the new book "Inside Deaf Culture." Carol and Tom are both deaf and will communicate with us today through their interpreters. Carol's interpreter is Bonnie Sherwood and Tom's Malif Ho(ph).

Tom and Carol, welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.

Ms. CAROL PADDEN (Co-Author, "Inside Deaf Culture"): Thank you very much, Neal. It's wonderful to be here.

Mr. TOM HUMPHRIES (Co-Author, "Inside Deaf Culture"): Thanks, Neal. I'm happy to be here as well.

CONAN: Let's start with the big question: What is deaf culture? How does the condition of deafness lead to the creation of a culture? Carol, why don't you go first.

Ms. PADDEN: Yes, I'll start with that. The concept of culture is a way to capture something that deaf people share, not only deaf people but groups of deaf people that are all over the world. It describes what deaf people have in common, their common history, their sets of ideas, their common practices. Culture itself captures a sense of commonality within a group of people. American Sign Language is a critical part of that commonality.

CONAN: Tom, let me ask you. You talk about the history of deaf culture. Obviously, deaf people have been in America for many years, but how far back do you trace deaf culture?

Mr. HUMPHRIES: Well, I think probably we can find evidence in the existence of the deaf community in parts of the United States as far back as the late 1700s, maybe earlier. Maybe Carol knows a little bit better on that, but when we started our book, in the beginning, we talk about the 18th century. And some evidence is somewhat earlier that we've seen especially in New England.

CONAN: Well, Carol, why don't you tell us some of the important dates, important happenings that form the shared history of deaf culture.

Ms. PADDEN: Sure. Let me start with one key date. That was in 1817. The first deaf school was established for children in the United States in Hartford, Connecticut. What that did was it brought deaf children who lived in locales such as Martha's Vineyard, where there were groups of deaf people living, and also it brought people from the New Hampshire areas, parts of Maine and brought them all to Hartford, Connecticut, where they attended the same school. Each child would meet another deaf child, and from that comingling, American Sign Language was created.

CONAN: Now a lot of the history of deaf people in this country, and I suspect a lot of the history of deaf culture as well, is a result of the experience of the encounters of deaf people with the larger hearing society, the rest of us, and what we have tried to do and how we regard the situation, the condition of deafness. Tom, would you say that's right?

Mr. HUMPHRIES: Yeah, I would. The relationship between deaf people and hearing people in the United States is very rich, and what I mean by that, you have to consider that deaf people have their own language and they have their own social world and you still have to think about the large amount of contact that they have with hearing people every day. And most of them also learn English as a second language. So having an active life among hearing people is, you know, in daily contact, and as you would assume, the history of deaf people is full of a relationship and meaning in that relationship with hearing people.

CONAN: Yeah. Carol, throughout history, though, there have been many examples where deaf people, once called deaf mutes, were marginalized, discriminated against, or alternatively, there have been many attempts to try to cure them through various medical techniques.

Ms. PADDEN: Yes, that's right. Our book describes—well, every chapter is like a moment in our history, and we start with the establishment of the first school, which I just described, but also there are different points in the book where deaf people themselves find their events in the world about them impact them. In the late 1800s or early 1900s, deaf people found that many people were encouraged to remove sign language from the schools. Instead of deleting the signs from the schools, they were encouraged to take up speech as a way of learning. So deaf people found themselves having to stand up and support and defend why sign language should continue to be used within their schools. And that was the early part of the 1900s.

And then many things appeared after that. Hearing aids were introduced after World War II and many people thought,`Well, if there's hearing aids, I suppose you wouldn't need sign language.' So, again, deaf people had to stand up and explain that hearing aids, while a technological advance, would not provide the type of life that sign language would. People can live and work and experience a social world using sign language, and as newer technologies are developed, what we tried to explain in the book, that this—because we're faced with a new technology, it is sort of resplendent with the history of our culture that we have had to encounter new technologies throughout our past.

CONAN: Let's get some calls in from some listeners. If you'd like to join our conversation, our number is (800) 989-8255; that's (800) 989-TALK. The e-mail address is totn@npr.org. And for those of you listening, if you know of someone who's deaf or hard of hearing who you think might like to participate, we are streaming live captioning of today's broadcast. They can go to www.captionreporters.com and read a transcript of what's going on in this program. Anyway, let's get a caller on the line. This is Eva. Eva's calling from Fairfax, Virginia.

EVA (Caller): Hi. How are you?

CONAN: Very well. Thank you good.

EVA: Good. I think this is a really interesting topic and one that I'm keenly interested in. I just wanted to ask your guests today—I became a part of the deaf community years ago through some friends that I made in my teens and learned to sign and have carried that skill with me, and I recently thought about going to Gallaudet to take a master's degree somewhere within the range of deaf studies. I'm just curious to hear your guests' feedback on the fact that with so many deaf children being mainstreamed these days, are there really opportunities for people with degrees or backgrounds in deaf studies to serve the deaf community?

CONAN: Who wants to take that?

Mr. HUMPHRIES: This is Tom. I think I'll take that.

CONAN: Go ahead.

Mr. HUMPHRIES: Thank you for calling. That's a very interesting question, Eva. Several people have asked me that before, and I think that right now the reason for hearing people to go into fields associated with deaf people, their language and culture, may be different than they were in the past.

In the past, hearing people would go into certain fields, education or psychology or other fields, with the idea of helping deaf people, you know, and saving them. But, today, I think there are better reasons for people entering into the field and more interesting reasons as well. For example, going into deaf studies, as you mentioned, is a wonderful opportunity to really understand and get involved with a very rich culture and perhaps work with deaf people in different ways, in social services or interpreting, working in education in different forms, not just the traditional forms. And I think I would encourage you, yes, definitely to pursue your goal and study at Gallaudet. I think it's a very interesting field right now. There's a lot of controversy, but that's what makes it so spicy and interesting.

CONAN: And hang on, Eva. A little bit later in the program, the president of Gallaudet will be joining us, so...

EVA: Yes, I heard that. I'm actually waiting for my packet of information to arrive any day now.

So—and thank you for that information. I appreciate it. Lots to think about.

CONAN: Thanks for the phone call, Eva.

EVA: Bye-bye.

CONAN: Bye-bye.

Carol, let me ask you a little bit more about American Sign Language. How did it evolve as a language? It's been controversial for a long time.

Ms. PADDEN: Well, American Sign Language which actually—I gave a very brief description of that. It is a language which began when deaf children, like I expressed before, from all over New England came to this newly established school in Connecticut. But the school itself was founded by a hearing gentleman and a deaf gentleman from France. He brought French Sign Language to America to the school and started using that language with the children. Subsequently, the teachers learned the language.

So today we can still see the influence of French Sign Language on American Sign Language. We have some signs in common, and when I meet a French Sign Language interpreter who should know the whole sign language—oh, well, let me preface that by saying you should know that all sign languages all over the world are different and diverse. I don't unders—and they're mutually non-exclusive. So ASL came from a combination of French Sign Language and the different sign language that the children themselves brought to school.

CONAN: We're discussing the history of deaf culture. When we come back from a short break, I. King Jordan joins us. He's the president of Gallaudet University, the nation's only liberal arts university for the deaf, and we'll continue with your calls and e-mails. If you're deaf and have stories of deaf culture, of concerns about the current issues, e-mail us: totn@npr.org.

TALK OF THE NATION, NPR News.

TALK OF THE NATION, NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

We're talking about the history of deaf culture and the issues facing deaf people today. For our deaf and hard of hearing audience, there's live captioning of this program. That's available at www.captionreporters.com. We invite all of our audience, deaf and hearing, to participate by e-mail.

That's totn@npr.org, or you can call us at the regular number, (800) 989-8255; that's (800) 989-TALK. We want your experience with deaf culture or your questions about it.

And our guests this hour are Carol Padden and Tom Humphries, the authors of

"Inside Deaf Culture." They both join us from the studios of member station KPBS in San Diego. The voices you will hear from San Diego are those of their interpreters.

And joining us here in Studio 3A in Washington is I. King Jordan, the

president of Gallaudet University.

Welcome to the show.

His interpreter today is Brad Leon, but President King Jordan will be speaking

for himself.

Welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.

Mr. I. KING JORDAN (President, Gallaudet University): Thank you, Neal. I'm

delighted to be here, and may I say hello to Tom and Carol. Not only are they professional colleagues but they're two good personal friends.

Mr. HUMPHRIES: Hi, King.

Ms. PADDEN: Hi, King. Good to see you or hear you.

CONAN: We've talked about the historic arguments around deaf education. Do those arguments still exist between teaching in sign vs. teaching in English?

Mr. JORDAN: So when you say English, I assume you mean speech specifically...

CONAN: Spoken English.

Mr. JORDAN: ...but they still exist. I think they are different than they used to be. It used to be really strictly one or the other. I think more and more people are coming to realize that sign language, American Sign Language specifically, not only doesn't interfere with the acquisition of spoken English but it sometimes can help with the acquisition of spoken English. So I think as more data are gathered and more studies are done, the arguments will become less.

CONAN: We have an e-mail question for you, President Jordan, by the way, from

Bob Ketron in Baltimore, Maryland. `Please explain the importance of Gallaudet University in extending the educational opportunities for the deaf.

My own perspective has been enhanced greatly by my association with Gallaudet through Rotary International.'

Mr. JORDAN: The place of Gallaudet University—Gallaudet is really unique in the world. It's the only university specifically for deaf and hard of hearing people, and it's a place where deaf people get the same educational opportunities through visual communication, specifically again American Sign Language, that people who can hear get through speech at a lot of other colleges and universities. The curriculum is the same. The internship and job opportunities are the same. Everything about what we do, however, is very visual centric. It's a visual university and it's a deaf university.

CONAN: Actually, we had a number of e-mail questions about Gallaudet. From Shane Hensley, an American Sign Language teacher at Arlington High School, `Are undergraduate hearing students admitted to Gallaudet?'

Mr. JORDAN: There are a very small number of undergraduate students who are call HUGs, hearing undergraduate students. That number is very small. I believe we accept about six or eight every year, and that's an opportunity for people who can hear but who want to work with deaf people to get the full experience of living in a deaf world while they study.

CONAN: And I'm going to ask Carol and Tom to come in on this next one as well, but how have video relay and video phones changed deaf culture? And, President Jordan, we'll begin with you.

Mr. JORDAN: Start with me. I think it's really remarkable. What video relay does, it allows me to have a phone conversation with anybody that's as close to a normal phone conversation as it can be. I see an interpreter on screen. The interpreter is interpreting simultaneously what the person I'm calling is saying. I can interrupt. I can talk back right away. I can see what is like intonation and the effect the interpreter gets. It's so much better than text read. It's just absolutely changed the way deaf people use the telephone.

CONAN: And, Tom and Carol, I'd like to bring you in on this and expand the conversation a little bit to talk about the entire impact of electronic communications, e-mail, the Web, those things as well.

Ms. PADDEN: Well, Carol here. Deaf people really have embraced this technology, just like King was saying. The video relay, the video phone has changed our lives. We use video phone not only to call the interpreters, but I also use video phone to call my deaf parents. I call my mom almost every day. I see how she's doing. We can talk about things. We can hold up things and show each other things that perhaps we bought at the store that day. `Oh, look, Mom, I got a new jacket.' And it's an entirely new way to communicate.

Mr. HUMPHRIES: This is Tom. I wanted to add that it's not just the technology that is new that's changing our lives, but newer technologies are changing because just a year ago I was still using the teletypewriter, the TTY, and I've been using video for almost a year. And last week I had to use the TTY or the teletypewriter. I couldn't believe how old-fashioned I felt using it. I felt like I'm using ancient technology. So it becomes newer and newer and it really has made a difference in our lives, and I cannot imagine now a world without it.

CONAN: I wonder, though, has this new electronic community, which enables deaf people from anywhere to be in touch with each other, but has that changed also the more physical deaf clubs that there used to be in so many places around the country?

Ms. PADDEN: Oh, Carol here. That's right, Neal. There are—well, with the presence of IM and instant messaging and text messaging, deaf people can contact one another all over the world. I really see a global community of deaf high-school students, deaf college students from Europe, from America.

Plane fares are cheap. They often make friends on e-mail. They're flying to some event in Denmark or in Washington, DC, and this is a world of deaf people...

Mr. JORDAN: May I say something about this? Oh, I'm sorry. I think this is not unique to deaf people. I think people always talk about this as if it's changing the deaf...

Ms. PADDEN: That's true.

Mr. JORDAN: ...community and deaf culture. It's changing everybody. I see young people who would rather IM with each other than talk to each other. People...

Ms. PADDEN: Yes.

Mr. JORDAN: ...often communicate from one room to the other on two-way pagers or cell phones. So it's really—technology's changing the world. It's not just changing the deaf community.

CONAN: Let's get some more callers back in on the conversation, and we'll begin with Min(ph). And Min is calling from South Haven, Michigan.

BEN (Caller): Yes. It's actually Ben.

CONAN: Oh, Ben. Excuse me.

BEN: Yes. I have had some connection with the deaf culture and have taken some ASL classes, but I'm wondering about family connections, how things have changed like from the '60s, let's say, to the present in terms of hearing deaf families, mixed families or parents, because in my generation, or in the '60s when I was growing up, parents or siblings had very little interaction with their own deaf family members. And I remember one friend of mine saying that he had never been able to communicate to his parents, and they didn't even want to hear him writing or see him writing. How's that changed?

CONAN: Tom or Carol, do you want to take that? That's a question about how things have changed really, I guess, since the 1960s is what Ben is saying.

Ms. PADDEN: Oh, Carol here. Yes. I thought perhaps King might like to start to answer that question and then I could jump in.

CONAN: Well, King, then why don't you try it.

Mr. JORDAN: I'd be happy to start. Tom and I went to college together in the '60s. Tom and I had friends...

Mr. HUMPHRIES: Yes, we did.

Mr. JORDAN: ...who had families where there was no communication among the family with the deaf person in the family. It's changed a great deal. Now just the other day I was at a basketball game and I met a prospective student and his mother. And his mother signed fluently. She could hear. And to me, it's still a little bit of a surprise. It shouldn't be a surprise anymore because so many parents, so many siblings are very skilled signers now. They have an interest that didn't exist back in the '60s.

CONAN: Ben, does that answer your question?

BEN: Yes, it does. And a quick other question. I want to learn how to sign fluently, but I've noticed in the community that I would be relied upon as an interpreter rather than a friend. How can I learn to sign fluently and still be a friend? And I'll take my call off or the answer off the phone.

CONAN: Ben, thanks very much for the call. And the question was: How can he if he becomes—he's afraid that if he becomes an interpreter that he will be seen as an interpreter and no longer as a friend. I'm not sure. Carol, did you want to try that?

ERIN (Caller): Hello.

CONAN: Hi.

ERIN: Hi.

CONAN: You're on the air, Erin, go ahead.

ERIN: Hi. I wanted to talk about cochlear implants. My concern, related

with how that impacts the deaf community in the future, is it's very positive

technology, while I'm very impressed with it, but my concern is that as

hearing people meet other deaf people that have cochlear implants, they may

think all deaf people can talk and hear, and that's not the case. So I don't

want the American public to become biased or misinformed about that. So maybe

your panel could talk and share their thoughts about how we can address that

issue.

Ms. PADDEN: Sure. Let me answer that quickly. I think that can happen to just about anybody who becomes bilingual in two different languages. If you become more and more proficient in Spanish, maybe people would start asking you to interpret some things in Spanish. You can always draw a line and say, 'Well, you know, I'll help in a pinch, but really I want to be your friend rather than an interpreter.'

Mr. HUMPHRIES: I'd like to add to that. Neal, this is Tom.

CONAN: Go ahead.

Mr. HUMPHRIES: Maybe we can look at a new dimension with the relationship as Ben mentioned as working with deaf people as friends not just an interpreter.

CONAN: Here's an e-mail question we have from Nancy Frishberg. `I'm sitting here with Jackie Roth. She's using the caption reporter service and she says thanks very much and I'm listening. Jackie wants Carol and Tom to comment on their predictions for the future of ASL and sign languages. If more and more children are benefiting from cochlear implant technology and are communicating without the use of sign language, how will that impact the demand for sign language as a communications tool and will people's interest in learning that language wane?'

Ms. PADDEN: Hi, Nancy. It's Carol. Nancy and I are very good friends. So it's good to hear from you. That question predicting the future—that's something we tried to do in the very last chapter of our book. Really we're using the past to try to help us think about the future, and I think one part of this debate about cochlear implantation that really focuses on hearing and really focuses on speech—it's true that's what the technology is aiming for.

But what I really want to add and I want to add this dimension is that we need to focus on the aspect of language. We see more and more hearing children in high school, but not only high school, also in middle school, in college students as well, all of a sudden becoming very interested in ASL. They're using American Sign Language and they see that as a remarkable language and it's used by lots of people here in the United States. I think the language and its endurance, which has endured for one and a half centuries, I'm going to make a bet that it's going to endure in a different way perhaps, but it will endure into the future.

Ms. HUMPHRIES: Neal, I'd like to add something. Hi, Nancy. It's Tom here. I think that you voice a fear that many people do in the community, specifically those who are deaf, and always have felt; that at some point, we mention in our book that since the beginning of the community, over 200 years, there's always been a feeling of some threat by people and their effort to either ban sign language or their efforts to belittle it and trivialize it.

So it's nothing new, really, from inside of the community to have that feeling of fear. I have a lot of confidence that we have gone through so much in our community, we still have our sign language and we have a lot of confidence that we will always keep it. I know the fear is there, but I really would encourage people not to be afraid, because throughout our history, we have overcome that.

CONAN: We're talking today about deaf culture. Our guests are Carol Padden and Tom Humphries, the co-authors of "Inside Deaf Culture," and I. King Jordan, the president of Gallaudet University. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let's get another caller on the line. Erin is with us from Rochester, New York.

ERIN (Caller): Hello.

CONAN: Hi.

ERIN: Hi.

CONAN: You're on the air, Erin, go ahead.

ERIN: Hi. I wanted to talk about cochlear implants. My concern, related with how that impacts the deaf community in the future, is it's very positive technology, while I'm very impressed with it, but my concern is that as hearing people meet other deaf people that have cochlear implants, they may think all deaf people can talk and hear, and that's not the case. So I don't want the American public to become biased or misinformed about that. So maybe your panel could talk and share their thoughts about how we can address that issue.

CONAN: And this is a question about the future of cochlear implants and whether their increasing use will lead people in the hearing community to believe that all deaf people can hear and speak English normally. Let me begin by saying cochlear implants are surgically implanted. Well, consider them as a sort of microphone that's implanted behind the ear. It electrically connects to the cochlea inside your ear and then transmits sound. Some people hear better with it than others. Let's throw that question—well, Tom, you write about this a lot in your book.

Ms. HUMPHRIES: Yes, Neal, we do. I'd like to just be clear about the implants, if we can. First of all, there's a lot of variation in the response to people who have had the implant. People get the implant and respond in different ways. Some of them can hear speech pretty well. Some of them cannot. Some of them have abandoned the implants completely. Those who use it sometimes only use it for environmental sounds and sometimes cannot understand speech. So there's a lot of variation in the people who do have the implants. For a person who learns to speak normally using an implant is possible, but many don't. So I don't want people to get the sense of it's a miracle technology. There's a lot of variation in what it does for people.

The second thing I wanted to add is that deaf people in situations where they are often the only deaf person in a place, like I, for example—I am one of few deaf people at my university. And people in my university form opinions about all deaf people from seeing and interacting with me. It is unfortunate, because I am no way a representation of the variation within the deaf community. But that is the way that it works, and, you know, what are we to do? We see one and we think, oh, in general, that is how they all are. So I don't think there's much that we can do about that.

CONAN: President Jordan.

Mr. JORDAN: There are many, many ways to be deaf in the world, and people with implants, there are many ways, successes, failures, different ways that people deal with implants. At Gallaudet University, we have a Cochlear Implant Education Center for the elementary school or in the elementary school, and there, we mix instruction in American sign language with instruction in speech on listening. It's been very, very successful. I believe it's a model of what we should be doing with young children who are implanted. But we also have high school students, university students and faculty members, all of whom are using implants. It's just technology. It really hasn't changed them.

I think if the goal is—or the question was back in the beginning that you don't want the public to be misinformed. The public already is misinformed.

For 200 years, the public has been misinformed about deaf people. And as Tom said, you know, they think everybody's like the one deaf person they know.

It's not true. There are many, many different ways to be deaf.

CONAN: When we come back from a short break, we're going to continue our discussion of deaf culture and its future challenges, which certainly include technology. Technology, of course, is also an opportunity. How are advances in medical science and communications technology changing what it means to be deaf? We want your questions and thoughts. E-mail us at totn@npr.org. Or give us a call, (800) 989-8255, (800) 989-TALK. There's also live captioning of the show available today. To access it, please go to the Web site, www.captionreporters.com.

I'm Neal Conan. Back after the break. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. And here are the headlines from a couple of the stories NPR News is following this afternoon. Well-wishers have gathered outside a hospital in Rome. Pope John Paul II is being treated there for breathing problems. He's reported to be doing better, but is expected to stay for a few more days. And Republican officials on Capitol Hill say President Bush will use tonight's State of the Union address to assure workers 55 and older, they will see no change in Social Security benefits. Some members of the GOP got a preview of tonight's speech earlier today. You can hear details on those stories coming up later today on "All Things Considered" from NPR News.

As mentioned, President Bush will deliver the State of the Union address, the first of his second term tonight. Tomorrow on TALK OF THE NATION, we'll discuss the speech, what the president proposes, and what may be accomplished.

Guest host Joe Palca will be here. That's tomorrow on TALK OF THE NATION.

Today we're discussing the history and challenges of deaf culture with authors Tom Humphries and Carol Padden. They join us from the studios of member station KPBS in San Diego. Also with us is I. King Jordan, president of Gallaudet University here in Washington, DC. He's been kind enough to join us in Studio 3A.

Let's get another caller on the line. And this is Jessica. Jessica is calling from Ogden, Utah.

JESSICA (Caller): Hi. Yes. Thank you for taking my call.

CONAN: Sure.

JESSICA: I wanted to ask what your guests' perspective was on—well, I'm a preschool teacher, and I use signs—maybe not the same signs the same way they do, but I use them some with my kids at work, and I find that they sometimes can have an advantage to use some of those signs with them, but I was wondering what their perspective on using signs with hearing kids to help them?

CONAN: The question is what about using signs with hearing children? King Jordan, do you...

Mr. JORDAN: I think it's wonderful. I think it's a little bit ironic. I think, you know, historically, the people who could hear tried to oppress and stop sign language, and now there's evidence that hearing parents are using signs with hearing children before they use speech. There's a lot of research that shows children can sign before they can speak. I think it's wonderful. The more people who know sign language, the better it is. I think it's just a wonderful thing.

CONAN: And, Jessica, it certainly sounds like you could use all the help you

can get.

JESSICA: Yeah. I try to use it with my infant son as well, and I know that

there's some videos available here in Utah, but I don't know if it's

throughout the nation, but do your guests know of other resources for people

like me that might be able to use?

CONAN: Carol Padden.

Ms. PADDEN: Yes, Carol here. I think there are a few books that you could find. Maybe you could go to any bookstore or go online, and they have books specifically for teaching hearing babies. Those are some suggestions for—there also are some suggestions for kindergartners and first-graders—to have experience with a different language, another language I believe is what's key here. For babies using a different modality to affect communication, not only speech but using gestures, reaches the attention of the infant. When they're a little bit older, they can expand their vocabulary, and they expand it to a larger vocabulary, and that definitely helps children develop good early reading skills and that type of thing.

I think more and more, you should be able to find some things online, go look for videotapes or books. As deaf people, we are absolutely thrilled to see this going on, because sign language itself really is—it is a language in its own right and it can be used by any group of people, not just us or it's not only for deaf people, so it's a really wonderful development from our point of view.

Ms. HUMPHRIES: Neal...

CONAN: Yes, go ahead.

Ms. HUMPHRIES: ...I'd like to add something to the caller. I think it's important that there is American sign language, and then there are other ways of signing that are very associated and tied to English that some people have invented and used in different situations. I think that it's important to tell people that if you're learning American sign language, make sure it is actually American sign language and not some contrived system that people have made up. Sometimes if you learn another form and you meet deaf people, you will have some difficulty and mixed response perhaps from people who know ASL, because it looks strange in its variety of signing. So not everything is equal or the same, so you just need to be careful about making sure that if you want to learn American sign language, that you get an ASL—a book or teacher or videotape.

Mr. JORDAN: I can give you another fun example of something like this. I teach scuba diving. I'm an instructor. On Tuesday nights, I teach scuba at Gallaudet, so I taught last night. When you dive, there are signs—they call them signs. Actually, they're more like signals, but when two deaf people dive side-by-side, they can have real conversations under the water. So I've always wondered why don't more scuba divers learn American sign language? And instead of a basic, you know, `How much air do you have?,' you can have a genuine conversation about what's going on under the water.

CONAN: Jessica, thank you for the call.

JESSICA: Thank you.

CONAN: Let's talk now with Leslie, and Leslie's calling from Rochester, another call from Rochester, New York. Hello, Leslie, are you there?

LESLIE (Caller): Yes, hello, Carol and Tom. I'm an ASL instructor, and I'd like to ask you a question. You recently wrote a book called "Deaf In America: Voices from a Culture," and now your new book that you've written, "Inside Deaf Culture." What is your intention on writing this new book and the impact on the two different books? And, by the way, I'm deaf.

CONAN: Ahh, so you're speaking through an interpreter.

LESLIE: Oh, yes, yes. I'm so sorry. I'm using the Sprint Video Relay Service.

CONAN: Thanks very much. We'll get an answer from that now from Carol and Tom. Who wants to go first?

Ms. PADDEN: Yes. This is Carol here. Hi, Leslie. I think I may know who you are. You know deaf people, it's a very small community, and we tend to know each other. So hi there, Leslie. Yes. You know our first book was written in 1988, and a lot has happened since that time. So some people have asked us, `Are you going to rewrite the first book?' And we said, `No, we were not going to do that.'

This book, the second book, is almost like a sequel. We are writing about things that we did not write about in our first book. We write about black deaf schools as part of our historical recounting, about how schools were segregated back then, especially in the area of the South, and we wrote one chapter about that pertaining to parts of our history. Also, we're talking—we have discussion about genetics and genetic engineering. We talk about deaf theater. We talk about many things that we did not put in our first book. So this is, in many ways, a book that talks about what has gone on since the first book.

Ms. HUMPHRIES: Neal, may I add something? This is Tom. In the first book, we tried to explain, at that time in 1988, to the public what it meant to be a deaf person, and all of this dialogue about deaf culture and what that actually meant. We tried to explain about the basics about deaf culture. This time, however, we're focused more on understanding of how we got here today by exploring the past, the moments of the past that were important, in some ways, to help us understand the present situation of deaf people better.

For example, someone mentioned earlier about deaf clubs. Deaf clubs have really started to disappear, unfortunately. Deaf people used to have—we used to have several deaf clubs in many different cities, whereas today, we don't. Why and how we got here and what happened is very interesting. So our book starts with the past, and we tell how it was and we talk about what has occurred and what it's like today. So we want to maybe—and Carol has just added that we're thinking about the future as well. We're trying to use the past to understand the present, so it's quite different than the first book.

CONAN: Leslie, thank you very much for the phone call.

LESLIE: Sure. You're welcome. Thank you. I'm also—I'm hoping that the two of you will print a third or fourth book, because I'm sure there'll be more changes.

Ms. HUMPHRIES: Oh...

Ms. PADDEN: Thank you so much, Leslie.

Ms. HUMPHRIES: Thanks, Leslie. Thank you very much, and we may be doing that very soon, I hope.

CONAN: Here's an e-mail question we have from Moose(ph) in St. Louis, Missouri. `Does ASL contain an analogue for poetry, visually similar signs for rhymes perhaps?'

Ms. PADDEN: Carol here. Oh, absolutely, yes. We do write about that in our book, and I'm so happy you asked that question. Thank you so very much. Yes, we have poetry, we have storytelling, we have what we call language games, which were very much a part of our culture, very much a part of our heritage. We have expressive poetry that does rhyme by using the same hand shape. For example, if you use an open palm hand shape, you can pick several signs that all use that same hand shape. Or you may have a hand shape representing the letter three that may be able to sign rooster or sophisticated or prim or walking. All of those vocabulary items use the same hand shape and can be compared to a rhyme.

ASL storytelling can take advantage of the visual medium. The way we tell stories—our storytelling looks a bit like the techniques they use in film or in television or our stories may even look like pictures, and we can change a lot of the very rich—the richness in the language, and you can see this when you watch a story, and it's evident about how much this may look like film or look, you know, like something very hip, like on MTV, some very hip-hop thing on MTV. So, yes, it's a very rich life.

CONAN: Here's a...

Ms. HUMPHRIES: Neal...

CONAN: Well, let me just ask this related question from Donny in Dorchester. 'I was curious, does ASL incorporate signs for modern vernacular or slang? Can deaf people get jiggy with it or do they develop their own slang like other languages? And if so, would it be possible to communicate an example?'

Ms. HUMPHRIES: Oh, sure. This is Tom. I'll take that. Yes and no. You have to remember that there are two different languages. There are limits to what languages can and cannot do compared with other languages. Some translate well. Others don't. Some are created within the language with the users, as in ASL. We have newer vernaculars that are different than what we find in English. So some are created internally and some can be translated, but others can't. So they don't survive very well if they're not able to be translated.

CONAN: I understand. We're talking today about deaf culture. The co-authors of "Inside Deaf Culture," Carol Padden and Tom Humphries, are with us from San Diego. Here with us in Studio 3A is I. King Jordan, the president of Gallaudet University. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And here's an e-mail question from the Burnett family(ph). `Hello, my nine-year-old daughter is deaf. We are having some issues with her passing standardized testing for the No Child Left Behind Act. Could you comment on the problems of No Child Left Behind?' And, King Jordan, that may be to you.

Mr. JORDAN: Well, the notion of accountability and the accountability on standardized testing that appear in No Child Left Behind are really a big issue in education in general today, and very specific in education of the deaf. One of the issues has to do with reading. The children who are born deaf never hear language, so they learn to read differently than children who are born hearing, and children who are born deaf and aren't exposed to sign language lag even further behind. So when they're given standardized tests, deaf children sometimes don't score at the level they would hope they would score. I think we're seeing a lot of progress made in areas where they have bilingual approaches to education, where children are taught in a visual language and then taught to read after they have learned sign language as a first language. So I don't know about your nine-year-old daughter—I'm sorry—what kind of an educational setting she's in, what placement she is in, but I can sympathize with the notion of standardized tests. It's a big challenge in education.

CONAN: Let's get another caller on the line. This is Carol, who's with us from Philadelphia.

CAROL (Caller): Hello.

CONAN: Hello, Carol, you're on the air.

CAROL: Yeah. Hi. I know all of your guests in one capacity or the other. I'm an educator of the deaf, and I've raised two deaf children in Philadelphia. One graduated from Gallaudet, and they both went to the Model Secondary School for the Deaf in Washington, DC, for middle and high school, but that was after 10 years of crawling and scraping through educational bureaucracies. That was 34 years ago that this all started in terms of my family's journey. We are one of the 95 percent of families whose deaf children are born to hearing parents who typically don't have a clue in terms of making good choices for them. The reason I'm calling specifically, to follow up on the discussion of education and choices of language and culture, choices made by hearing parents; is because recently I had the occasion to be part of a major education of the deaf conference in Philadelphia...

CONAN: We just have a couple of minutes left, Carol, if you could...

CAROL: Yeah. So the point was that as a major focus of this conference at Swarthmore College, there was tremendous amount of time and energy given to the pursuit of oral education, which was continued to be, 35 years later, the same kind of feeding on the fears and ignorance of hearing parents that let me waste the first 10 years or so of my children's life by staying away from deaf people, away from sign language and away from deaf culture. And it wasn't until that turned around by my watching what they needed from their perspective and not from this so-called hearing professionals and medical people who really didn't know what they were doing. That changed and that's when their literacy levels shot up and skyrocketed, once they got their language and their culture, which I've come to believe is the birthright of every single deaf child in the world....

CONAN: Carol, I...

CAROL: ...regardless of hearing parents.

CONAN: Carol, I thank you for the phone call. We're just going to get a quick comment from King Jordan, who's with us here in the studio.

Mr. JORDAN: Oh, yeah, I'm glad Carol called, and I could listen to that message all day. That was very important to hear her say that. The...

Ms. PADDEN: Us, too.

Mr. JORDAN: ...simple way to...

Ms. PADDEN: Thanks for calling, Carol.

Mr. JORDAN: ...put this, I think, deaf people can't hear. That's so fundamental and simple that people seem to forget it. We can't hear. Therefore, we see. What language could be better for vision than sign language, a language that was created to be seen, not a language that was created to be heard and spoken.

CONAN: Well, thanks to everybody who called and thanks to everybody who e-mailed. We appreciate the effort that went into this program. And I'd like to thank our guests, Carol Padden and Tom Humphries, co-authors of the book "Inside Deaf Culture." I'd also like to thank their interpreters, Bonnie Sherwood and Malif Ho, who were also there in San Diego. Thanks very much.

Ms. HUMPHRIES: Thank you, Neal.

Ms. PADDEN: Thanks so much, Neal.

Ms. HUMPHRIES: And thank the listeners for us. Thank you very much.

CONAN: Our thanks also to King Jordan, the president of Gallaudet University and his interpreter, Brad Leon. Appreciate your time today.

Mr. JORDAN: Thank you, Neal. It was a pleasure to be here.

CONAN: In addition to our guests and their interpreters, we'd especially like to thank Lorraine Carter and Chip Jones of Caption Reporters Incorporated for providing our real-time online text today.

In Washington, I'm Neal Conan, NPR News.

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