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NAD's Response to AG Bell's Letter

Below is the letter of response (April 3, 2016) to Alexander Graham Bell organization's response to the Washington Post article.

Winning “America’s Next Top Model” shot Nyle DiMarco to stardom, and this Deaf role model continues to win hearts across America with his moves on “Dancing with the Stars.” Many excellent articles have been written on his ascent, including a recent article by the Washington Post.

Nyle DiMarco is the latest in a long line of confident role models who demonstrate the power of being bilingual using American Sign Language (ASL) and English, and he unabashedly shares the powerful role his bilingual upbringing has had in his success. His success is unsurprising, as every child needs and deserves love and language. Families express their love to their children by communicating with them from the day they are born, as Nyle’s family did.

Such role models are an inspiration to parents who learn that their child is deaf or hard of hearing. As shown by these real stories, any deaf or hard of hearing child can achieve any dream – whether to be a model, a dancer, a medical doctor,[1] the next Academy Award winner,[2] a lawyer advising the White House,[3] or even a Receptionist of the United States.[4]

Yet, certain organizations and medical professionals continue to spread myths about sign language, primarily that a deaf or hard of hearing child will be less successful if sign language is introduced. This destructive approach is harmful to many families who deserve to know the benefits of sign language for cognitive development and education.

Numerous studies show that ASL actually enhances spoken language and auditory comprehension, even with cochlear implant users.[5] In addition, sign language has been shown to improve academic performance.[6] In fact, an article was recently published in the American Academy of Pediatrics’ journal outlining the clear benefits of learning sign language over an oral-only approach for any babies identified as deaf or hard of hearing.[7]

ASL usage is increasing, as ASL courses are among the most popular classes in high schools and colleges across the country, as well as in community programs for parents and other interested people. Even hearing parents of hearing infants are realizing the benefits of sign language as they teach their babies to sign and notice their babies are able to express their needs earlier than other babies who do not learn sign language.[8]

Families of deaf and hard of hearing children also deserve to know the harms of failing to provide their child with a fully accessible language.[9] Language deprivation as a result of misguided attempts to solely utilize listening and spoken language is real and devastating, and the effects are witnessed daily by many in our community.

Every deaf and hard of hearing child, even those using technology such as cochlear implants or hearing aids, benefits from being fluent in sign language as well as English (and any other language used at home).[10] Organizations and medical professionals who recommend that families withhold sign language from a child who has been identified as deaf or hard of hearing are grossly irresponsible.

All deaf and hard of hearing children deserve the chance to acquire language and succeed. Give sign language to every deaf and hard of hearing child to better ensure this acquisition and success; families do not need to limit themselves to only one option for their deaf or hard of hearing children. ASL enhances language acquisition for every deaf and hard of hearing child and does not take anything away from other development efforts such as speech.[11]

We ask every parent and family to communicate your love to your child through sign language. This love and communication will ensure your child succeeds with linguistic fluency.

About the National Association of the Deaf

The National Association of the Deaf (NAD) is the nation’s premier civil rights organization of, by and for deaf and hard of hearing individuals. The NAD advocates and pursues its mission of preserving, protecting, and promoting the civil, human and linguistic rights of 48 million deaf and hard of hearing people in the U.S. The NAD is based in Silver Spring, Maryland. For more information, explore nad.org or follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

[1] Numerous deaf medical doctors are practicing, and many are actively involved with Association of Medical Professionals with Hearing Losses (AMPHL), which has information available at www.amphl.org

[2] Marlee Matlin is the youngest person to ever win an Academy Award for Best Actress; her information is available at http://www.marleematlinsite.com

[3] Claudia Gordon is a deaf lawyer who served as Associate Director in the Office of Public Engagement and was the White House liaison to the disability community, as shown at https://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/author/claudia-gordon

[4] Leah Katz-Hernandez is serving as the Receptionist of the United States and she greets all visitors to the White House, as noted by President Obama in his remarks provided here: https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2015/07/20/ remarks-president-americans-disabilities-act

[5] http://vl2.gallaudet.edu/files/8613/9216/6288/research-brief-6-children-with-cochlear-implants.pdf;
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4237221/

[6] Hrastinski, I., Wilbur, R. (2016). “Academic Achievement of Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students in an ASL/English Bilingual Program.” Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education.

[7] Mellon, N., et. al. (2015). “Should All Deaf Children Learn Sign Language?” Pediatrics. Volume 136, Issue 1.

[8] http://vl2.gallaudet.edu/files/4613/9216/6279/ research-brief-2-advantages-of-early-visual-language.pdf;
http://www.gallaudet.edu/Images/Clerc/pdf/ Full%20Document%20of%20ASDC%20Sign%20Language%20for%20All-English.pdf; https://student.societyforscience.org/ article/early-intro-sign-language-has-lasting-benefits

[9] Humphries, T., et. al. (2012). “Language acquisition for deaf children: Reducing the harms of zero tolerance to the use of alternative approaches.” Harm Reduction Journal. 9:16

[10] Davidson, K., et. al. (2014). “Spoken English language development among native signing children with cochlear implants.” Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education. Apr;19(2):238-50.

[11] Researcher Dr. Laura-Ann Petitto has shown that “signed languages and spoken languages are processed identically in the human brain” and “[t]he human brain does not discriminate between the hands and the tongue; people discriminate, but not our biological human brain.” http://oes.gallaudet.edu/bl2/

AG Bell's Response to the Washington Post article.