July 30, 2007
ARLINGTON, Va—The Deaf Bilingual Coalition will peacefully protest this weekend’s AG Bell’s “Talk for a Lifetime Summer Conference” at the Crystal Gateway Marriott because it contends that AG Bell promotes a “damaging outdated ideology” and says “it’s time for that organization to recognize American Sign Language (ASL) as the only genuine cognitive language for the deaf.”
Founded in 1887, AG Bell has always promoted Dr. Bell’s belief that deaf children should not be taught the use of sign language, according to the Coalition. Today, according to AG Bell’s Web site, the 501(c)(3) organization is “a lifelong resource, support network and advocate for listening, learning, talking and living independently with hearing loss.”
The Deaf Bilingual Coalition (DBC), established by John F. Egbert, says that AG Bell’s refusal to introduce parents of deaf children to a visual language (ASL) has proven harmful. “Alexander Graham Bell’s ideology was to have all deaf children learn oral communication methods and eliminate any form of visual language,” says Egbert, a deaf author. “We are letting AG Bell know that philosophy must be revised. Thousands upon thousands of deaf people’s English language and education have gone downhill since 1880. That trend must be reversed.”
Egbert, born deaf to hearing parents in 1947, was introduced to speech therapy early on. He speaks as clearly as any hearing person, and says he is passionate about making sure today’s deaf children have the opportunity to learn a visual language—an opportunity he says he was denied. “This protest is the first step toward future prosperity for deaf children,” says Egbert. “Deaf children deserve a cognitive language and better education with bilingual programs. The deaf community will no longer accept AG Bell’s discrimination against sign language (ASL). Just as there is a place in our community for the oral method, so is there a place for cognitive visual language.” He says DBC involves many Deaf and hearing people of diverse communication and education backgrounds as well as private and non profit organizations.
A spokesperson for AG Bell told HR that, while the organization does focus on the value of speech, listening, and the mainstreaming of children with hearing impairment, it is not opposed to sign language or alternative communication forms. AG Bell believes that this is a parent’s choice and the organization respects those choices. However, the spokesperson pointed out that even children with profound deafness can learn to listen and talk as well as their hearing peers thanks to advances in technology and education. Moreover, a survey conducted by the organization found that nearly 70% of mothers and expectant mothers said they were not sufficiently informed about spoken language as an option. According to the same survey, one-third of respondents were unaware of the importance of early intervention when it comes to helping children with hearing loss learn to listen and talk.