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Petition to Designate the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf as a “Hate Group”

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The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) defines a "hate group" as any “group with beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people - particularly when the characteristics being maligned are immutable.” We assert that the AG Bell Association for the Deaf (AGBAD)’s beliefs and practices fall within this definition, and AGBAD should be designated as a "hate group" by the SPLC.

Background

 Most Americans know Alexander Graham Bell (Bell) as the inventor of the telephone, but few are aware that the central interest of his life was deaf education and he was a proponent of the eugenics movement. Bell first gained notoriety in the early American eugenics movement because of his interest in the study of heredity and animal breeding, and he became an early supporter of eugenics to improve human breeding. His views on immigration, deafness, and eugenics overlapped and intertwined. Some of his work included calling for legislation that lead to an “evolution of a higher and nobler type of man in America.”

 His views against persons who are deaf were particularly harmful and misguided. He pushed for legislation that would prevent deaf adults from marrying each other and stated publicly, “The first thought that occurs in this connection is that the intermarriage of deaf-mutes might be forbidden by legislative enactment.” In addition, Bell fought for the destruction of deaf culture (“Not only do local societies exist, but there are State associations for promoting social intercourse . . .”), and he, and his predecessors, have fought against any formal recognition of American Sign Language (ASL) by the mainstream public or by linguists. Bell’s philosophy that deaf culture and the deaf community should be destroyed for the sake of the assimilation of deaf children is an idea that gained popularity in deaf education in America during his time, and this philosophy continues to be highly influential in deaf education to this day.

 In honor of Bell’s eugenics legacy, the AG Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (AGBAD) was founded in 1887 and continues today in its “mission to support the families of deaf and hard of hearing children by connecting them with and certifying the professionals who help them hear and talk.” AGBAD has spent over a century spreading myths about sign language, primarily that a deaf or hard of hearing child will be less successful if sign language is introduced. AGBAD promotes an “oral-only approach,” which includes withholding sign language from deaf children in the belief that it would enhance speech abilities. See http://www.agbell.org/in-the-news/response-nyle-dimarco/

 For over a century, this destructive educational philosophy has caused real harm to deaf children by denying them of their fundamental right to language and communication. Even in this day and age, many families, who deserve to know the benefits of sign language for cognitive development and education, are not allowed to make fully-informed decisions.  AGBAD is led by hearing people who believe because they can hear, they are superior to deaf people and hence, their views on deafness preempts the views of the true experts on deafness, deaf people themselves.

 Language and Communication is a Fundamental Human Right

 When AGBAD encourages parents of deaf children to withhold language for the sake of learning to speak and lip-read, those children may not have any language exposure until after they begin school. Language deprivation so early in life has been shown to have lasting harmful impacts on linguistic, social, and emotional development. AGBAD refuses to recognize numerous studies showing that educating deaf children bilingually, with both ASL and English, actually enhances spoken language and auditory comprehension. In addition, AGBAD refuses to recognize research, including a recently published article in the American Academy of Pediatrics’ journal, which shows the clear benefits of learning sign language over an oral-only approach for any babies identified as deaf or hard of hearing. These studies all show that children greatly benefit from language exposure as early as possible.

 This harmful pro-assimilation narrative is the same used by other groups who have already received a “hate group” designation.

 Forced assimilation is a common tactic used by other “hate groups” to destroy the culture, language, and identity of the minority group. For example, the centuries of attempts to destroy and assimilate the deaf community parallel similar attempts to assimilate Native American and immigrant populations by using tactics such as segregating children from their community of birth and withholding or discouraging the child from using the natural language of their community. In addition, many anti-LGBT organizations employ hate-speech tactics similar to those used in “oral-only” education of deaf children by encouraging parents of LGBT children force harmful “conversion therapies” on children for the sake of assimilation. We now understand these anti-LGBT “therapies” that try to change the natural identity of a child have had severe consequences, such as increased depression and increased risk of suicide. Analogously, some deaf adults who have survived oral-only education and/or intensive speech therapies have reported similar effects in addition to experiencing a crisis in identity.

 Conclusion

 If AGBAD was finally designated with the “hate group” designation it deserves, advocates could (1) better educate families of deaf and hard of hearing children about the crucial need for language exposure in early years of life; and (2) better inform the general public about the current impacts of the eugenics legacy on the deaf community. By signing this petition, you will be asking the SPLC to live up to its mission to of “fighting hate and bigotry and seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of our society” by publicly condemning AGBAD for over a century of hateful attacks with the intent to destroy a culture and language and assimilate deaf and hard of hearing children.

 

For more information, see:

 The Bell Effect: https://thebelleffect.com

 World Federation of the Deaf: http://www.wfdys.org/wfdys-board-member-braam-jordaan-made…/

 Tracy Stine, My Letter to Parents of Deaf Children: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/…/my-letter-to-parents-of-dea

 Ryan Commerson, Re-Presenting DEAF: https://vimeo.com/12817361

 Open Letter from Dr. Brian H. Greenwald, professor of history: http://www.thebuffandblue.net/?p=14440

 



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