The Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (AG Bell), Washington, has denounced repeated demonstrations against the association and its members by several groups claiming that AG Bell discriminates against individuals who are deaf who use sign language, specifically American Sign Language (ASL).

Founded in 1890, AG Bell is the only national organization dedicated to supporting children and adults who are deaf or hard of hearing that use spoken language and hearing technology to communicate, according to the organization.

A demonstration at AG Bell’s national headquarters was recently planned by supporters of a new group called "Audism Free America" (AFA), to "direct attention to the audism that is promoted by institutions like AG Bell," and that AG Bell "has been an active force in the denial of linguistic and human rights of deaf citizens through its practices of audism," according to a March 6 press release. AFA claims that the "American public is indoctrinated with attitudes of paternalism, bias, and discrimination toward deaf people" as a result of AG Bell’s advocacy efforts.

"AG Bell has a long history and tradition of supporting civil rights for individuals who are deaf and hard of hearing by working in cooperation with other national organizations to ensure that our legal, health care and education systems, entertainment industry, and places of employment are free of discrimination," says AG Bell Executive Director Alexander T. Graham. "It is absolutely not true that AG Bell discriminates against individuals who are deaf and use sign language, and that it works to ban sign language. Such demonstrations only serve to distract the public’s attention away from critical issues such early hearing detection and intervention for children with hearing loss, and meeting the educational needs of those children regardless of the communication outcome they seek."

Since July 2007, another group affiliated with AFA has been staging demonstrations at AG Bell national conferences and state chapter meetings, claiming that AG Bell is against sign language. In an effort to clarify its position on this issue, the AG Bell board of directors approved an official position statement on ASL which says, in part, "AG Bell acknowledges that a chosen approach depends on culture, family interests, and desired communication outcome. AG Bell believes that the language and communication approach chosen should be based on an informed decision made by the child’s parents/family and based on their own unique circumstances…AG Bell does not believe that ASL should be prohibited or restricted as a choice, nor does AG Bell advocate against learning ASL as part of a child’s overall development if that is what the child’s parents desire."

AFA initiated this most recent demonstration at AG Bell headquarters and issued a call to action for supporters to demonstrate at oral/aural only programs in their local areas; ie, to demonstrate at local preschools that offer a listening and spoken language educational approach for children who are deaf.

"This latest effort to target preschools and preschool children I can only describe as unconscionable," Graham says. "To protest and criticize families who choose a particular communication and language approach is the height of intolerance."

"For nearly 120 years, AG Bell has served as a resource for parents, professionals, and deaf and hard of hearing individuals who wish to pursue the listening and spoken language outcome and it will continue to do so," says John R. "Jay" Wyant, president of the AG Bell board of directors. "It is time for this community to finally put to rest longstanding grudges and work together on issues of mutual interest. Now, more than ever, we must have a united message as we address opportunities to reshape public policy related to communication access, health care, education and job training, and other vital needs of this community. And that is what we are—we are part of a community that includes all individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing regardless of their chosen mode of communication—and that is our larger responsibility."

The Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing helps families, health care providers and education professionals understand childhood hearing loss and the importance of early diagnosis and intervention through advocacy, education, research, and financial aid.

[Source: AG Bell]