I was honored to be invited by our New Mexico chapter of the Deaf Grassroots Movement, to speak at the Round House (our state Capitol building), yesterday. May 4, 2016 was a day of Deaf unity across the country as simultaneous rallies were held at 50 state Capitols by Deaf Community activists - who are continuing to fight for their most basic civil rights - the right to language, education, and employment. I spoke as a pediatrician and shared my perspective regarding the need for visual language to ensure brain and cognitive development, so that deaf children can reach their potential as whole human beings.
On a personal note, this was the first time I have been invited to speak in front of a Deaf audience in ASL. And so on a day of Deaf History - the first nationwide day of activism - I am honored to have a personal milestone as a part of that.
(Please excuse any interpreter deviations from my transcript - hearing signers like myself are notoriously challenging to interpret, as we speak ASL with grammatical errors, etc)
"Thank you for inviting me to speak as your trusted friend. It means a lot to me. I am inspired by seeing all of you who put your everyday life on hold to come together and fight for your rights. It inspires me to join your fight and support you all. Thank you for this experience. I am touched.
Some of you know me. I am a pediatrician and I worked at the New Mexico School for the Deaf for 11 years from 1998-2009. I was the medical director. Some of you know me as a pediatrician in Albuquerque. Patsy, you brought your son to me, and that's how we first met. I was your son's doctor. Some of you know me through social connections in the Deaf Community. I also want to share that through the years I have had 4 deaf employees - well, 3 Deaf and one hard-of-hearing.
I want to give you a little more background. I began learning ASL in 1984. Since that time, over the past 30 years, I've witnessed your fight against barriers in communication, with finding employment, with access, with acceptance by hearing people. I've also witnessed your amazing Deaf spirit, your power, and your continuing fight on behalf of generations of deaf children and their right to progress.
I am here to speak as a pediatrician, a doctor of deaf children. I've also witnessed deaf children's hunger for language, for stimulation of their brain, their hunger for connection, their struggle for a healthy identity as a whole person, and for a place of safety and security to live in this world.
As a pediatrician I would like to share with you -- and probably you already know --- that most deaf children's brains are starved for language. Their brains are not developing to their full potential. Their brains are stunted by the lack of exposure to accessible language.
What is true is true for all children - hearing as well as deaf: They must have accessible language exposure for successful brain development.
It is very common that when a newborn is identified as deaf, hearing parents still expect that language stimulation and brain development will have to come through sound, as it did for them, and all the people they know. So, they naturally seek technology, like cochlear implants, to make this possible. They see it as a health problem that needs attention. The see their child as having a part that doesn't work - and they seek to have it fixed.
However, I have a different perspective. I see the deaf child as already whole; intact and with a natural hunger for visual input. I feel it is important that ASL be the first priority. ASL is not a tool for communication. If someone such as a doctor or educator says, "ASL is a good tool for communication." I say "No!" I reject that. ASL is a language and a language is so much more than a tool. A language stimulates the brain to grow and develop.
Think of Nyle DiMarco. If Nyle's parents thought that he was defective or saw him as broken, or less than whole, do you think he would be where he is today? Would he have been able to become such a rising star? Nyle's parents knew that he was fine. And he was exposed to visual language from the start. So, he was given the means to develop his true potential. He did not have to settle for a lowered bar. We see how skilled he is in handling so many challenges on the show. And he does it with aplomb. He is rising and the sky's the limit for him.
In contrast, we see deaf babies born into hearing families who want the best for them. But the parents are distracted by the advice of medical professionals who focus on improving their child's audiogram by increasing the child's access to sound. The notion from the medical world is that a better audiogram will solve more of this deaf child's issues in life.
Sound is fine. I don't have problem with giving a child sound. But it is not a substitute for language. An improved audiogram does not insure language acquisition, because sound is not the same as language uptake. More sound does not equal language development or brain development.
This, you probably already know through your life experiences as Deaf people. No one needs to tell you. But I am here to say that I have witnessed this. I am a doctor, and I know this too.
So we need to work together to ensure that deaf babies get accessible language . And I look forward to working with all of you on this.
Thank you. "