Protesting Gallaudet University students block the front entrance to the campus Thursday.
Protesting Gallaudet University students block the front entrance to the campus Thursday. Bill Chappell/NPR
The following is a selection of excerpts from comments sent in by audience members of Talk of the Nation's special on deaf culture.
Please clarify... the issue is not about [Provost Jane Fernandes] being "deaf enough" or her cultural identity. The issue is about her leadership abilities or lack thereof. She has been in a leadership position for 11 years at Gallaudet and has yet to win over the trust of the faculty, staff or students. In fact, the faculty voted "no confidence" in her as provost last year. How can she lead a university, as I. King Jordan claims, when she herself has not demonstrated her leadership ability? —Michelle Berke from Colorado
Hearing students don't have say over presidential hires
Not to be crude, crass, or insensitive, but hearing students all over the world have absolutely no say in who is hired as the president of their college or university. Why should this situation be any different? After all, I thought that the vast majority of "differently abled" people mostly wanted to be treated just like everyone else.—Christopher Crowder, Kansas City, Kans.
Specialized schools for the deaf are still necessary
Specialized schools for the deaf and hearing impaired are necessary, even up through the college level because of a series of difficulties specific to this population. Much cognitive development depends on language and language acquisition. Since many deaf children are brought up in hearing families, they only acquire language when they are identified and their parents learn to sign, thus delaying learning. Deaf children also have special difficulty learning to read. English is based on a sound symbol relationship and also on a direct one oral word to one written-word relationship. The native language of deaf people isn't always English, often it's [American Sign Language] with its different grammar and word order. Imagine trying to teach a sound-symbol relationship to a person with no experience of "sound."— Cynthia Cline Campbell from Haddonfield, N.J.
Hearing people are being oppressive
The Deaf people in America are oppressed by the hearing people who think they know what is right for them. Gallaudet is a bastion of the Deaf Community. Deaf people can communicate in their natural and first language (American Sign Language) not English. English is a second language for Deaf people. The crisis is because once again, hearing people have chosen a hearing person to run the Deaf University. This is a major step backwards to acknowledging the rights and culture of the Deaf Community. I am a parent of a senior at Gallaudet. It is a wonderful University.—Doug Calaman, Southfield, Mich.
Straddling both worlds
My twin daughters are profoundly deaf and just received cochlear implants 6 weeks ago at the age of 14 months. We have already taken sign language courses and are teaching the girls. We want sign language to be their first language and speech their second. My husband and I are both hearing, but we have attended deaf events and met with many deaf people to try to understand the deaf culture better. We desire for them to be a part of both worlds and to be active in both. We realize the controversies and the difficulties of building that bridge of peace, however, we do believe that it is possible.—Vicki Rogers, Louisville, Ky.
Hearing the birds sing
I saw Sound and Fury and was moved by the parents who feared losing their child to the hearing world. Even so, I regretted their decision to reject the implant especially when she poignantly asked another child with an implant, if she could hear birds sing. I'm glad there is a happy ending.—Carol Barrett, Waco, Texas
How can deaf children be exposed to deaf culture if implanted too early?
While it is true that cochlear implants tend to work better if implanted prelingually, I think that if that choice is made — particularly by hearing parents — it is very important that that child is still heavily exposed to the deaf world and ASL, so that as they grow older, they do have options and in that sense can make the choice for themselves. I think that the debate here really lies heavily in identity... in other words, does a cochlear implant make a culturally Deaf person less Deaf in a cultural sense?—Kelly Melville, San Antonio, Texas
My son hears music
I have been listening with much interest to the show. One of my sons, now 25 years old, lost his hearing as a result of severe head trauma in a car accident a number of years ago. He was fortunate enough to receive a cochlear implant and his hearing was restored, apparently very successfully. He never learned ASL, and was never part of the deaf culture. It was suggested by one caller or guest that the cochlear implants simulate sounds quite poorly, especially music, but that has not been my son's experience. He insists that the world of sound post-cochlear implantation are for the most part much as he remembers natural hearing was.—Dirk Murcray, Rock Springs, Wy.
Cochlear doesn't solve everything…
The cochlear implant is only another technological assistive device for those with a hearing loss. Once the implant is activated, the individual still has a mild or moderate hearing loss. The individual spends hours and hours in therapy — language, auditory, speech. To see how these individuals are accepted into hearing society, look around you. Are they in jobs at stores, corporations, local clubs, social organizations, etc. If not, why not? Because the hearing world doesn't accept anyone who has to ask for a sentence to be repeated and doesn't want to make any accommodations for anyone who is slow to respond to a question or join into a conversation because their brain is slower at processing the message being sent by the voice or the CI. Deaf Culture is both a minority and a culture. As such, it has made many successful gains for its members. The hard of hearing or deaf with their implants still aren't a part of the mainstream. The cochlear implant has NOT made a difference in the life of those with hearing loss.—MaryAnne Kowalczyk, Manahawkin, N.J.
It's all about personal choice
Good afternoon … I am a Deaf audience member from Massachusetts and I would like to express appreciation for the closed captioning of this broadcast. The deaf community is a very close knit one, and it can be quite a challenge to blend in even if someone is fluent in ASL and its culture. I can understand many points of view within that culture often times bilingual deaf people are often misunderstood. Technology cannot change some people perception but what people are forgetting is that all of us are still Deaf. The communication debate has been rehashed over and over. The only remedy I foresee is bilingual education for future generations of children with cochlear implants because culture is so precious. What the current generation at Gallaudet has not experienced was what life was like before closed captioning and Internet. Communication was difficult and ASL was taboo in many schools! But I am a firm believer in individual choice for personal happiness. That's all matters the most.—Anonymous, Massachusetts
There's more than one choice
I don't think that any of us disagree with the choice of an individual to use a cochlear implant. However the continued prevailing attitude of the medical community that oral/aural training and cochlear implants are the "only" choice for infants and children upon their identification as deaf is a detriment to the Deaf community and culture. All of the choices should be available to the parents and children so that they can make the best choice for them.— Erin from Cleveland, Ohio
Doctors ignorant of deaf culture
I am a pediatric subspecialist in a non-hearing related field who recently spent a year in ASL training simply because I love languages. As I took the ASL language courses and other courses related to Deaf Culture, I was forced to acknowledge the broadly ignorant medical view of deafness as "an abnormality" and the relative lack of training that the average pediatrician gets about deafness after deafness is diagnosed. The average pediatrician has had no exposure to the deaf view of Deaf Culture, and little to no teaching about the controversies surrounding "oral-based learning" vs "sign language first" education. As for cochlear implants, it is the surgeons performing the implants that llecture to educate their fellow physicians on the topic. I would suggest some bias exists from that data source.—Pamelyn Close
Radio: a medium founded on hearing
Thanks so much for covering the many issues around deafness, deaf education, cochlear implants, and Deaf culture. It is great to push the limits of broadcast radio, refusing to accept the expected constraints of a medium founded on the assumption of hearing. You drew on a range of approaches to include a larger audience in a democratic spirit. This validates one of my main tenets: human problems need social solutions. Technology is not "the answer," it is just a means to social actions (or an excuse for social inaction).—Richard J. Senghas in Stockholm, Sweden
Social and emotional impact of oralism
Earlier this year when I heard Jane Fernandes speak of her vision that Gallaudet reach out and begin to all deaf students I had hope that people like my daughter, who is often considered "not deaf enough," would begin to find more acceptance in the wider deaf community. Every hearing loss situation is different and more and more families are choosing cochlear implant technology for their children. It's amazing how beautiful the speech is when children are implanted very early and it's understandable that parents would consider that option. One consequence is that the segment of deaf people who communicate orally is growing, and the deaf community needs to address the social and emotional impact of their exclusive message on these deaf individuals.— Elisa Wells in San Jose, CA
Feeling Left out of the Community
I don't want to sound critical, but I do have something to say. I am one of those dedicated people. I am a parent of a daughter who is deaf, but also having a physical disability (C.R.S. - Congenital Rubella Syndrome — from the epidemic of the Rubella virus in 1964). Because of this, she has not been completely accepted by the Deaf community, which has been very disappointing to me, and a discouragement to her. I had learned sign language as soon as she did, and taught my son as well. It was a joy to see her develop over time, and to share many situations with her, and some of them have not been very enjoyable due to her not having the appropriate support. I have interpreted for others who are deaf, in many situations. As one of the callers said, there is so much isolation and ignorance in the hearing world, I wanted to make it less so for my daughter, especially when needing medical care. I am still looking for the proper supports for her, as her condition is worsening as she ages. I hope and pray that more people become involved, to help the deaf population.—Rita E. Ciavola
Happy with our child's implant
My 2 year old received an implant for her birthday this year! She has been "on" since mid-June. It is a daily miracle ten times over to have her respond to her name each time we call her. We learned of her profound hearing loss in January of this year. We knew a cochlear implant was the only way to go for her; she would mimic us talking, and we wanted to give her every opportunity. She gets to be a part of both worlds!
I find it rude and offensive when someone of the deaf world says that we cheated her of life. Thankfully we had a happy child pre-surgery, but now have an ecstatic daughter who loves repeating what we say, who loves hearing environmental sounds and who has become a full-time talker! Our family can communicate with her, the neighborhood kids she adores can communicate with her. She can hear us read the books she so loves to hear! Thank you for your time and for opening this discussion. Cochlear implants do not fix out children, but they give them an opportunity. It is a piece of technology that we are eternally grateful for!—Helen Leiser
Who can decide 'deaf enough?'
As both a student at and an employee of Gallaudet University, I am repulsed and infuriated by the belligerent and uncivilized behavior of the anti-Gallaudet forces who characterize themselves as the saviors of Gallaudet... While I respect and support their free speech rights, just as I respect and support the right of Neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klansmen to express themselves, I do not respect and support the anti-Gallaudet forces' behavior because that behavior is keeping me and others who share my position from leading the lives we have chosen: to attend classes and work at Gallaudet. The protesters' arguments are fallacious, and I resent having my education and my work held hostage by those with whom I disagree. There are those of us women who have long memories of a time when women did not have the opportunity to be a university president; since when is being a woman NOT diverse enough? It is not for the group to decide who is "deaf enough," "black enough," or "Jewish enough." The deaf community has an unfortunate, ugly, and long history of oppression by the hearing majority, so why does the deaf community now want to become the oppressors? —Dr. Debra Josephson Abrams, Washington, D.C.
I am a hearing person who has been involved with the Deaf community for many years. I feel very frustrated by all of the calls about how wonderful and important Gallaudet is as an institution, because that was not addressing the issue. The Deaf President Now movement in 1988 was about civil rights and discrimination, and is a wonderful example to the world. The problems students have with the incoming president are personal — her lack of charisma and ability to 'schmooze' with the students seems to be the major issue, along with the secondary "nothing about us without us" issue that indeed may be valid. Why are the Gallaudet students not protesting the federal government for pulling the funding of the National Theatre of the Deaf and Deaf West, which are Deaf cultural icons? Why are they not protesting the possibility of about 30 television shows pulling the closed captions due to weakened laws? The Gallaudet protesters may be right when they say their time has come to be heard, but their energies are misdirected. To validate this happening, the whole protest should just move in front of the White House.—Sheila Mullen, East Hampton, Conn.