Saturday, April 28, 2007

411: Firm of Scratcher & Low Leaving RNID; DeafRead Too American?

I kept trying to find time to write about this, but life once again overwhelms me! But this is very important news and recent developments make me think it's important to provide some context. The RNID is the largest charity organization for Deaf people in the UK, claiming to represent 9 million Deaf and hard of hearing people - think the largest GOVERNMENT nonprofit. They provide tons of services for Deaf people in the UK. Scratcher, also known as James Strachan, was a source of a lot of controversy - and a much clearer-cut case of audism than our own Gallaudet protest. You can read Doug Alker's book about his own experiences, Really Not Interested In the Deaf? (also with video in BSL.) You can also catch up on the news at GrumpyOldDeafies where alison did an AWESOME job on the news roundup.

Doug Alker after his experiences working at RNID became Chair of the British Deaf Association. He was the chief executive of the RNID until he was replaced by Strachan. From The UK Guardian:
So fraught has been debate on this question that on the appointment of Strachan - who lip-reads and speaks, rather than uses sign language - the RNID was plunged into a bitter internal feud. Supporters of the displaced chief executive, Doug Alker, a signer, accused the organisation of pandering to the "oralist" school that encourages deaf people to lip-read and develop speech. Three years previously, after the departure of Stuart Etherington, deaf people had staged demonstrations to persuade the charity to appoint a deaf chief executive such as Alker, reflecting the growing sentiment among "users" that nothing should be done about them, without them.
Basically Strachan seems to have oppressed signing Deaf people in favor of oralism, technology, and has connections to corporations. He did not support the BSL recognition movement. He didn't like having to allow a diversity of opinion and didn't respect signing Deaf people. He doesn't sign himself. While I was in the UK, there was also a lot of controversy over the appointment of Dr. John Low, a man with ties to cochlear implant corporations, as chief executive of RNID, and there were in fact protests on the street, and the Deaf Liberation Front met with Dr. Low and drew up a list of 5 demands. The cartoon below was published in Federation of Deaf People Magazine and shows public sentiment:

Imagine Jane Fernandes had been appointed President of Gallaudet University and imagine after five years she left with Paul Kelly. Imagine the kind of atmosphere and potential for positive change. This is what the Brits are experiencing now.
The reason I finally forced myself to sit down and write about this is because of the concerns raised by Alison about how DeafRead's methods of filtering affect its audience. This is a HUGELY important post which everyone should read. People need to remember that there are people at DeafRead making choices of how to categorize the news. Their definitions don't necessarily have to be the same as yours. In this case DeafRead have apologized and promised to learn and improve, and you can see the up-front responses from DeafRead staff in the comments of Alison's blog. (It's cool seeing people respond directly, isn't it?)

I have personally had some experiences where my blogs don't appear on DeafRead. This is mostly when they feel my blogs are advertisements - reviews of performances are often problems. I'm divided on this, since I'd like to expose people to criticism of and material about Deaf art. (And besides, I'm not always complimentary!)

I think sometimes we have to be content with the fact that there are going to be situations as the Deaf blogosphere develops in which there is no clear "right" or "wrong." But it would be nice if the Deaf community was global enough to recognize international news more readily. On the other hand, how long have we had the internet?

Maybe we need a global DeafBloggerCon with a panel to develop directives on how to shape internet to improve relations in the global Deaf community so we can develop a truly international response to ...

*sigh* I so wish I was going to Spain this summer.
Note: Thanks to Rob Wilks for some feedback on this post!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

410: Late Night News and Coffee Roundup

I had way too much curry last night, so I had some extra time to check out the news...

OBI-WAN, PROTECT ME DEPT: OK-WARN is a new emergency service specifically designed to warn Deaf people in case of emergency:
"About 80 percent of the deaf and hard of hearing population feel uncomfortable because they feel they don't get the proper notification in an emergency event," said Comanche County Public Information Officer Chris Killmer.

That's where OK-WARN steps in. OK-WARN is sponsored by the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management and the National Weather Service--Norman Forecast Office. OK-WARN will send out a page to pagers, cell phones, even email when an emergency or weather event occurs in your area.

I believe they're starting to do this in cities across America. Isn't technology wunnerful? Geo shares his perspective.

HOT GERMAN BOMBSHELL WILL BLOW YOUR MIND DEPT: In the San Francisco Gate, a cool article about a Deaf therapist...
A doctoral candidate in psychology, she's doing her internship at San Jose State University, where she sees 16 to 20 students per week. Some are vexed by relationship problems, others by the stress of exams and heavy course loads. For foreign students, loneliness and cultural isolation are big issues.

They confide in Ulrike, even though she is deaf and requires a sign-language interpreter to be present at each therapy session. Deaf since birth, Ulrike came to the United States from her native Germany 21 years ago. She's fluent in American Sign Language, or ASL, but says she can't lip-read English speakers the way she can German speakers.
STILL HAVING TO PROVE ASL IS A LANGUAGE DEPT: It's old news to most Deaf people that we spend a significant portion of our lives having to convince and re-convince others that ASL is, yes, a language. Banjo and Ben Vess take their turn stepping up to the plate. (I want to include some hearing people in the capital D crowd - my friend the Butterfly once, in medical school, contradicted an idiot who said that Deaf people couldn't think because they couldn't speak to think and therefore didn't have language to think with, or some such nonsensical bullshit. So you see, it's not just us.)

YOU CAN'T PUT THAT UP YOUR NOSE DEPT: DeafAdvocacy.Org discovers the government actually blocked something related to cochlear implants... what do you think it all means?
409: Sprummer?

Too hot for spring, too cool for summer, check out this panoramic photo of thousands gathering for sun and fun in the city: The Sheep Meadow in Central Park, one of the undoubted benefits of being a Deaf New Yorker. My first attempt at using panoramic 'stitching' software - I tried Calico 1.3 on the Mac, and I think it did a pretty good job, although I notice some ghosting, and there's a pretty big chunk taken out of the lady walking by the tree in the center. For now enjoy! (Warning: Big image!) (And please post recommendations if you know better Mac stitching software...)

Each year on Earth Day, I make sure to go to Grand Central's Earth Day Festival, and get pizza from Two Boots, which has arguably some of the coolest pizza in NYC, although for me the best will always be from Brooklyn.

Happy Belated Birthday to Wally, who flew to England to care for and support a friend undergoing surgery and chemotherapy instead of have one of his epic birthday parties...

Sunday, April 22, 2007

408: RANT: We Can't See the Jailbirds Signing

So Daphne Wright's story has come to the next chapter. The Argus Leader reports:
Daphne Wright, spared a death sentence by a Minnehaha County jury, soon will join five other women serving life without parole in the South Dakota Women's Prison in Pierre.

Wright, 43, is deaf. While state Corrections Department officials say they'll make accommodations for that, in most respects the Sioux Falls woman will be treated the same as the other lifers and for the most part, the same as the other 320 or so inmates in the prison at the east edge of the capital city.

"The same?" Just once I'd like hearing people to understand that when you put a Deaf person in jail you condemn them to several years of enforced and almost total isolation. I'm just saying. I think jail is a bitch for Deaf people, much more than for hearing people. Does this mean Wright doesn't belong there? No, she does. But...

The Alternative Solutions Center talks about this same issue:
As deserving of their punishment that some Deaf criminals might be, none of them deserve the cruel and unusual punishment of inaccessible communication during their prison time. Even with the ADA and constitutional guarantees, too many Deaf prisoners have their rights violated every day. They are denied access to certified sign language interpreters for court hearings, disciplinary meetings, and educational classes. Deaf prisoners have been punished unfairly for not following guards� orders because the guards did not know they were Deaf or were unable to communicate with them. Many prisons lack flashing light systems, TTYs, videophones, and captioned televisions. Deaf prisoners also face dangers of physical abuse and isolation.

It's more than just that though: they lack regular and consistent access to any of the rehabilitation facilities afforded to normal prisoners. Unless jails suddenly start having ASL interpreters available - or require all their prison staff to learn ASL - Deaf prisoners probably won't get the same kind of rehabilitation and preparation-for-release training that prisoners who can hear can access. This demands a bit of pity for the prisoner, but also worry - is this person ready to be released to our community?

Oh, yes, legally the jail is required to provide such access. But debates about what access is necessary - debates about whether the cost places undue burden on the jail - and of course the never-ending obsession some hearing people have with saying "Those Deafies just want everything and never stop complaining!" - are sometimes insurmountable obstacles. But it's not just for the benefit of the prisoner - it's also for the benefit of the communities to which that prisoner is going to be released. Deaf Civilians have a responsibility to make sure that access happens in prisons, because the prisoners are eventually going to be released to the Deaf community.

This is not just an American problem. In the UK, the BID Services with Deaf People have a "Deaf Prison Project:"
The aim of the project is the reduce the sense of isolation and the Double Sentence experienced by Deaf people within the Criminal Justice System, primarily those who are in prison, by improving access to information and services.

Prison was also the subject of a Deaf TV Programme Soap Opera called VEE-TV in which one of the main characters, Nicky showed with agonizing clarity what a Deaf prisoner's experience could be like.
Because of bad behaviour, Nicky, who is in prison after a string of incidents culminating in the theft of a computer from the college, has been transferred from an open prison to one with a much harsher regime. The prison officer warns him to keep in line, but Nicky can’t lipread or understand what’s being said. His incomprehension is interpreted as insolence.

Wright will be in jail for life. While I feel her crimes were such that she needs to be there, it's hard for me to see how this system helps her rehabilitate and change. (And isn't that the point?) If anything, the enforced social isolation might make her more dangerous, and might be a danger to her mental health. Just wish I had an easy solution.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

407: Poll Results: Deaf Economy?

So the poll results look really interesting at this point! Of course this is totally unscientific, but still fun to do! I've left the polls up in case more people want to join in, but at last counts:

12% unemployed is almost three times the national average. And this isn't even taking into account some interesting points - that my blog is a blog and therefore you have to have a computer to see it, for example, limiting my population to those who can afford a computer or have access to one...

61% of respondents feel the effects of a difficult economy. Nobody was able to buy Benson Hall.

This question was inspired by some reading about the gender wage gap in the USA. Surprisingly, almost half of respondents felt they earned less than their hearing peers. You'll notice the numbers are lower for the last two questions: some of the respondents don't work, and some of them might not have felt comfortable answering this question.

12% find it impossible to find work... but a whopping 45% of DITC respondents feel their chances of finding/keeping a job are better than in the past. I spoke about this with one friend whose interpretation is that Deaf people are guaranteed token positions - but often have a hard time moving up or showing their abilities to the boss to get a raise.

What do you think it all means?

Tuesday, April 10, 2007


Please take these 4 confidential informal polls! I'm curious to poll Deaf in the City's Deaf, deaf, and hard-of hearing readers to see the state of the Deaf economy in America. So check out the poll and please respond! (It is COMPLETELY anonymous.) People do not even check for Deaf on the US Census, so I am curious to find information about Deaf America...

Are you currently:
Employed full time.
Part time.
Free polls from

How are you doing financially?
I'm doing so well I bought Benson Hall.
I'm able to save money and plan for the future.
I can save money, but any emergency would kick my ass.
I'm breaking even.
I think I owe T-Mobile something or other.
I'm so deeply in debt I have to ride my bike to make electricity while I VP.
Free polls from

If Deaf/deaf/hard-of-hearing, do you...
Feel you earn more than your hearing peers (people with same job?)
Feel you earn the same as your hearing peers?
Feel you earn less than your hearing peers?
Free polls from

FINAL: How would you rate your job security OR your chances of getting a job?
Better than before, very good!
Not as good as before, but okay.
It'd be tough/I spend all my time in programs
I could lose my job any time/It's impossible to find work!
Free polls from

Thank you for your responses!

Saturday, April 07, 2007

405: Murder Will Out

But Ridor has a good point about needing to have a Deaf juror.

There's been a lot of furor over the Daphne Wright case. A lot of Deaf bloggers are complaining that the trial is unfair, especially the always-great MishkaZena, who here asks for native ASL users to evaluate Daphne's ASL skills and voice their opinions on her need for a CDI (certified Deaf interpreter, a Deaf person skilled at communicating with Deaf people of all language levels and usage in American Signed Language who would ensure the defendant understands everything clearly.)

For the record, I agree with them. Yes, the evidence is strongly against Ms. Wright. I think she did it, for what it is worth, although I am not there and it is not my place to judge. But irregardless of her actions, she still has the right to a fair trial and there should be a right way to do it, and I think one of these ways should be to include a Deaf person on the jury, at least! It's not just about making sure that there is a jury of peers, but also giving the jury the benefit of the information from someone inside the culture.

I admit the evidence seems strongly against Ms. Wright, but the jury is asked to sort of be detectives and sift through lots of information to the truth.
Suppose there were a trial of a Deaf man and one of the points against him was he did not call 911 for help. If there is a Deaf person on the jury he might say, well, if there was no TTY around, how could he call for help? And that's a point the jury might overlook. Deaf people don't tend to think about running to the phone immediately.
Or vice-versa - a Deaf juror might be able to see a defendant signing in their native language and "catch" a lie where an interpreter would not. They could independently inform the group and the Judge if the interpreter is doing a good job. They would be able to explain certain slang phrases in ASL to other jurors better than an interpreter. For the same reason, a court SHOULD want a Deaf interpreter. The court turns this down because of 1) cost and 2) fear of giving too much support to the defendant. But it is silly because the Deaf Interpreter can be the ally of the court too and help get at the truth.

I suppose I think of having a Deaf person on the Jury as equivalent to giving the Jury its own Deaf interpreter... as well as provide the Jury with a more accurate view of the Deaf defendant, their facial and signing expressions... and any witnesses who may be Deaf... and any family members, whether Deaf or hearing...

On the other hand, you could also claim that the Deaf community is so small it's impossible for any Deaf community member to be impartial. Can you imagine?

Thoughts? Have a good weekend.

P.S. Someone asked about RSS feeds - I have no clue how to use those or post them on the website, if anyone wants to explain feel free!

Thursday, April 05, 2007

404: Deafhood and the Media

Have you been following the commentary about that Law & Order episode online? It's interesting seeing what people's reactions are... I notice a lot of aggressiveness in the Deaf community, with people clamoring "Everything must conform to MY idea of the Deaf identity" – or to some imagined ideal Deaf person. To me this is like someone saying the same thing about Black identity and woman identity: “Everyone must be like THIS to be Gay, like THIS to be Christian”, and to me people are saying this for much the same reason: fear. People are afraid, so they seek control. But this is counterproductive. Bernice Johnson Reagon* once said “There is nowhere you can go and only be with people who are like you. Give it up.”

She also said, “If you're in a coalition and you're comfortable, you know it's not a broad enough coalition.” The American Deaf community is nothing if it’s not a coalition, a melting pot of people of complex ethnicities and identities and diversities united by the common bonds of experience as Americans, a language, and a history. It makes sense we would deal with being Deaf in different ways. To really understand Deaf people and Deafhood, you have to let go of your personal illusions. These illusions are made by the baggage which forms our lives–the attitudes we encounter from doctors and priests and family members and each other which we react to, take in, accept or reject. We've moved, in human understanding, from the religious perspective to the medical perspective to the sociocultural perspective, and garnered our very own cultural and personal baggages from each. By understanding ourselves we get rid of this baggage. We discover our Deafhood. We find out what's been packed away. Like those exhibits at the Museum where you start with the Universe and end with enlarged microscope photographs of atoms and electrons. The outer to the inner.

But by focusing too hard on other people we are counter productive. So many of us have our own set beliefs delineating what it means to be a Deaf person–I've got my own, I'm honest about it. They're sometimes helpful, because they're part of our personal identity constructions. For example, I believe a Deaf person should stand up for Deaf people's rights, because by extension I stand up for my own. That's part of my identity construction of a Deaf person. And a lot of what I’m reading online is anger about the identity construction of specific Deaf ... television characters. What we saw on Law & Order was a well-researched and FICTIONAL story about a crime, one that broke some stereotypes by portraying a Deaf person as an active antagonist. Much criticism of the show was based on the fact that people couldn't see the situation happening in real life. The fear, apparently, is that hearing people will watch Law and Order and automatically think all Deaf people are hiding automatics. People fear this episode will create another stereotype for us to have problems with as Deaf people. I am not so sure. People know this is fictional. I watch the Sopranos, but I certainly don't think every Italian in a track suit is a mobster.

I think a lot of people were looking for this show to validate their identity construction of Deafness, and unfortunately that's impossible. Everyone has their own identity construction. The question should be, did you relax and enjoy the movie like you enjoyed the even-more-unrealistic Spiderman, or did you put the weight of validating your entire personal cultural identity on one episode of Law & Order (or History Through Deaf Eyes, which got similar criticism for including Deaf people who graduated from Clarke?)

One example of this is comments I’ve seen about how characters in this episode had varying levels of speaking ability. They were concerned people would walk away with the idea that all Deaf people could speak if they wanted to. Therefore, the logic goes, no Deaf people on television or in the movies should speak. Yet there are Deaf people who do speak! Today we call them hard-of-hearing; in Dr. Ladd’s book he describes the BSL term as DEAF-CAN-SPEAK, which might be considered more Deaf-friendly. So this identity construction IS possible. To the people who are complaining, it just isn’t their identity, and it might be threatening to their identity. Like Bernice Johnson Reagon said, they aren’t comfortable. They find themselves in a coalition, and it is difficult. Some things they see go outside of their boundaries of comfort. Some of them may go back to memories of pain. And one of the most important things to remember during all this is that their discomfort, their pain, and their perception that there is a threat must be respected! The thing is difficult!

Other cultural groups have exactly this same problem, which is cool because, you know, parallel experiences are yet another validating stamp on the passport of Deafhood. Black people were very frustrated by the portrayal of Black people on television, and in many ways still are, declaring stereotypes unfair just like we have been. So has the Gay community; so too did women in the past – and there was a day women weren’t even allowed on stage, and all women were portrayed as simpering, huge-breasted fools by men who knew little better and little else… (The first Juliet Capulet was a boy.)

Another major criticism of the show I saw while reading comments and essays was that the storyline focused on an issue polarizing to the Deaf community. I think that’s an unfair criticism–the show generally tackles tough issues. Should they change for the Deaf community? Do a Google search for Deaf and Cochlear Implants come up almost immediately. I think if people were able to suspend their disbelief a little instead of scrutinizing every minor detail they'd probably have enjoyed it just as they enjoyed every other episode. (And how much of Law and Order is realistic anyway?) The cool thing is that I bet quite a few hearing people did, and learned a lot about Deaf people as a result. But I do wonder, after all this: are we doomed to these battles on identity and politics? Is it possible that the personal and the political, in the Deaf community, are so closely tied they can't be separated? Time will tell....

*Ms. Reagon is part of Sweet Honey in the Rock, which includes an ASL interpreter in its roster for tours, and performed at Gallaudet University.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

interlude: are you deaf? take this survey!

UPDATE: I didn't mean to appear discriminatory in this post! Hearing graduate students should feel free to advertise too...

Take a ten-minute survey! From a grad student friend of mine, Mel:

Hello dear friends,

If you are DEAF, I am calling upon your kindness in hopes that you will take 10 minutes to copy/paste (or click) this link, into your URL and complete a very short multiple choice survey about the barriers that Deaf people experience in terms of accessing mental health treatment. It's for my thesis, so I need at least 30 responses in the next month, and anything you can do to help will be repaid by the karmic forces that govern the lives of graduate students. ANY Deaf person from any state, any educational level, any language usage, and so on would be welcomed as a respondent.

Please forward this to every Deaf person in your address book. When you follow the link, your responses will be entered completely anonymously.

Thank you in advance,
Mel Whalen

Deaf people doing research on Deaf people for the betterment of Deaf lives? Rocks! DEAF ROCKS! DEAF PET ROCKS! DEAF PETS ROCK!

Other Deaf graduate students doing projects? PLEASE! Feel free to advertise any surveys, links etc. in the comments!