23 January 2016

A brief history of violence against deaf people in the United States

The United States has a long (and still thriving) tradition of violence and subjugation of minorities, and d/Deaf and hard-of-hearing people are no exception. On some of the physical and mental violence and oppression leveled at d/Deaf people:

1. Historically deaf children were forcibly institutionalized and bound and beaten to prevent them from using sign language.

2. Historically, attempts were made to forcibly sterilize deaf people and prevent them from marrying.

2a. The leading anti-deaf group in the eugenics movement still exists and advocates against deaf rights today: the Alexander Graham Bell Association.

2b. You can find Bell's detailed "eradication plan" in his lecture "Memoir Upon the Formation of a Deaf Variety of the Human Race."

3. Today, deaf people continue to be denied the right to education solely on the basis of their deafness:
4. Deaf people continue to be denied the right to work based solely on their deafness.
5. Deaf people are arrested without being told their rights, and jailed while denied an interpreter and pen or paper.

6. Today, deaf people are attacked and killed by the police for "failing to respond to verbal commands." Most recently:
7. Deaf people are endangered daily in hospitals without access to sign language interpreters or mental health professionals.

8. Sometimes within hours of a deaf child's birth, doctors inform parents their child is "broken" and can only be "cured" with CIs and preventing the use of sign language.

8a. Hearing children are encouraged to sign.

9. Doctors and tech companies knowingly inserted defective cochlear implants into the skulls of infants, children and adults (for years, for $).

10. Deaf boys are 3X and deaf girls 2X more likely to experience sexual assault than their hearing peers.

22 December 2015

Ableism in the Criminal Justice System: The Case of Ms. Opal Gordon

On 21 September, 2015, Ms. Opal Gordon was arrested by the NYPD for allegedly violating an order of protection. A Deaf person who's primary language is American Sign Language, Ms. Gordon was arrested without an interpreter on scene. She was transported to the 45th precinct in the Bronx, held for hours without access to an interpreter or even, according to the NY Daily News, a pen and paper, before being transferred to a cell at the Bronx criminal court, where she was held overnight.

The fact that Ms. Gordon was never brought an interpreter--despite her repeated requests for one--goes far beyond an inconvenience or preference; it is a gross (and illegal miscarriage of justice). The fact that the NYPD did not provide an interpreter means also that Ms. Gordon did not know what she was being arrested for, or what would happen next, nor was she made aware of her Miranda Rights.

What is even more disturbing is that the New York City Administration for Children's Services made an unannounced visit to Ms. Gordon's home several weeks after the incident, and they too failed to provide an interpreter. This brings into question whether ACS had communicated fully with Ms. Gordon in the past, and whether she understood the order of protection she was alleged to have violated on the 21st.

Ms. Gordon's case is yet another example in which the ableism, racism, and classism of our justice system are inextricably bonded together to form a pattern of systematic oppression against people with disabilities and minorities. Please share Ms. Gordon's story, along with the following points from Eisenberg & Baum Law Center for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing:

1. These cases address a complete systemic failure by the NYPD and ACS to prevent egregious discrimination against Deaf individuals. The NYPD has failed our clients, and Deaf individuals throughout the city, by blatantly violating not only to their legal rights, but their basic human rights, and our clients refuse to tolerate this abuse any longer.

2. The NYPD has been repeatedly warned that failure to ensure effective communication with Deaf individuals could have grave consequences on innocent peoples’ lives. However, the NYPD has made a conscious choice not only to skirt the requirements of the law but to violate a Consent Decree entered into with the Department of Justice in 2009.

3. First and foremost, our client wants to see change. If proper policies, training, and procedures were in place, these situations could have been prevented, and our client could have been spared these traumatic experiences. Our client wants to ensure that this does not happen again to any Deaf person.

-Eisenberg and Baum Law Center for Deaf and Hard of Hearing; Eric Baum, Esq. , Andrew Rozynski, Esq., Sheryl Eisenberg-Michalowski (Deaf Liaison)

02 December 2015

A Good Deaf Man is Hard to Find (in the World of Literature)

In recent months, deaf actors have launched a series of online protests to draw attention to ableist discrimination by Hollywood production teams. They lack opportunity not because deaf characters don’t exist, but because producers refuse to use actual deaf people to play them. In response to objections to his decision to cast a hearing actor as a deaf lead character in the film Avenged, filmmaker Michael Ojeda explained that “it really wouldn’t have been logical to have a deaf girl playing the role because it was so action-intensive; she would have got hurt.” Read more on The Believer >


04 October 2015

Review of Deaf West's 'Spring Awakening' on Broadway


Photo by Joan Marcus, courtesy Deaf West Theater.
It starts in silence. Maybe it's a shift in lighting, or in the way the actors carry themselves—though they've been on stage, curtain open this whole time—but the audience senses something and is rapt almost instantly. Center stage, Wendla (played by deaf actress Sandra Mae Frank), examines her 19th-century pajama-clad self in a glassless mirror frame. On the other side of the frame, her hearing counterpart, actress Katie Boeck, stands in modern clothing. Read the rest on Vice.com

09 September 2015

Interview with Deaf DJ Robbie Wilde


I was a little nervous to interview Robbie Wilde. I had seen his name around and knew peripherally of his work as "the deaf DJ," but what I could find of him on the internet was only the usual hearing-powered drivel: an "inspirational" character who triumphed over his "handicap" to harness the power and beauty of music. Not that this is Wilde's fault—perhaps borne of genuine curiosity, perhaps brain-damaged by Mr. Holland's Opus, people who can hear just cannot resist a deaf person showing even the vaguest interest in music, so you can imagine the clich├ęd frenzy around Wilde's making a whole career out of it.





08 July 2015

Sign Language Interpretation at 2015 Edinburgh Book Festival

Editor's Note: True, I've got a vested interest in the Edinburgh Book Festival. I'll be there, talking about my book, Girl at War. But aside from my personal excitement about these events, I also find it remarkable that the festival coordinators are working so hard to make this week--one of the biggest book festivals in the world--so accessible to Deaf readers. I can't think of a comparable effort made here in the States, so if you're a UK Deafie, I'd urge you to put in a request for interpreters for your favorite authors' events, and spread the word!


23 June 2015

THE TRIBE is Not a "Deaf Movie": An Interview with Yana Novikova

Deaf interpreter Maleni Chaitoo, Editor
Sara Novic, and actress Yana Novikova
From vice.com:
When I first heard that The Tribe had been sweeping awards at festivals worldwide, I was skeptical. The film, written and directed by Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy, is set in a Ukrainian boarding school for the deaf and made exclusively in Ukrainian Sign Language (USL). I was intrigued, but assumed people's excitement had more to do with the novelty of sign language than any merit of the actual film. I expected remarks on how "inspiring" it is to see deaf people acting, the way hearing people often declare themselves inspired when a deaf person does something they deem "normal." Then I watched the film. Read more on Vice.com >

25 May 2015

From the Editor: What it's like to be a Deaf novelist

My first novel has recently become an audiobook to which I will not listen. The characters have been assigned voices and accents and inflections that I’ll never hear. This is not a complaint, exactly; to have written a book that someone wants to publish in any and all formats is a writer’s dream. But to hold some disc or drive that contains a thing I made, transformed into a new thing I can no longer understand, is a predicament in which few writers find themselves.
This disconnect will appear with increasing frequency as I embark on a series of literary events following the launch of my novel. As an audience member I have been to my share of readings in New York. I go because I am in love with books; I go to be with my friends. But even as a spectator they require a lot of concentration, and sometimes when I’ve worked myself into a cross-eyed headache I turn off my hearing aids and dip below the surface of the sound, let myself drift in the quiet. At my own events I won’t have the choice to opt out.

Read the rest on The Guardian >

27 March 2015

Raise your Voice: Accessibility and Travel Study

Researchers at the College of Brockport (a SUNY school) need your help--they're conducting a study on accessibility in travel and tourism industries (hotels, etc.) and would love your input. You can share your experiences, opinions, and ideas using this survey: http://www.gumus.com/survey/

12 February 2015

Reminder: ASL is a Real, Live Language. We Promise.

In New York City, every time there is a severe weather announcement, the mayor gives a press conference with an ASL interpreter beside him. Immediately thereafter, the lowlier news outlets write condescending posts about the interpreter's strange, wild, or over-the-top expressive signing. [Note: Chances are, you've seen or heard about these kinds of news stories before--remember the collective conniption the media had over Lydia Callis and her interpreting during Hurricane Sandy ? There are many others, more recent than that, too. I won't do these media outlets justice by linking back to their posts here, though if you're so inclined, you'll find the links in some pointed tweets at several culpable news agencies.]

These news stories are problematic for several reasons:

08 February 2015

Repost: Signs of Segregation-- Linguistic Differences in Black ASL

With schools and communities long segregated in the US, American Sign Language developed differently amongst racial groups. A look at "mainstream" and Black ASL shows stark differences in certain vocabulary, at once serving as a painful reminder of our segregated past, and bolstering the linguistic truth of ASL as a living, evolving language, rather than a set of gestures or a manual code for English. Read about it on The Washington Post's blog.

26 January 2015

Emergency Information Regarding Winter Storm Juno in ASL and Subtitled

If you live in or around the New York City area and need information about travel, school closings, or other issues pertaining to the storm and the state of emergency, visit Notify NYC for links to videos in ASL (with English subtitles.)

For example, here's a video on who to contact about school closure questions: