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NTID/RIT Facutlty & Staff Open Letter To AG Bell

Deaf News: American Sign Language Version - Open letter to the AG Bell Association from NTID/RIT facutlty and staff.

ROCHESTER, NY -- National Technical Institute for the Deaf and Rochester Institute of Technology facutlty and staff share the American Sign Language video letter to the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (AG Bell) - Recently, there is an appalling wave of reaction by the Deaf community in regards to AG Bell's response to Washington Post's "The Reliable Source" who accuses Nyle DiMarco dispelling the myths about deafness.


To the President, CEO, Board, and Members of the AG Bell Association,

We have a wealth of knowledge today from both historical scholarship and the collective, lived experiences of Deaf people about AG Bell. We know that AG Bell was a strong supporter of the eugenics movement. He supported language oppression, leading to a legacy of linguicism in Deaf history. Eugenics began and was practiced here in the United States before being adopted in Nazi Germany. Thus, Bell was part of the development of the notion of a “better stock of human beings” which clearly indicated that Deaf people were unacceptable. Bell’s ideology shows repeated pattern of language oppression, systematic destruction of Deaf people’s culture and way of life. Such systematic ways of destroying any culture needs to be stopped right now.

The World Federation of the Deaf (WFD) organization has reported that 70 million Deaf and Deaf Blind people around the globe use sign language. Additionally, WFD has worked closely with the United Nations in developing the Convention of Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). The UNCRPD focuses on the rights of Deaf people including recognition of the human right to sign language as a first language. The CRPD, therefore, recognizes and promotes the sign languages of Deaf people worldwide. A related CRPD principle reaffirms the education of Deaf children through sign language followed by reading and writing skills in the language of their home countries. The recent letter from the AG Bell Association mentions sign language as simply one of many “options.” Thus, the AG Bell Association has blatantly denied Deaf children the human right to sign language that has been asserted by WFD/UN CRPD.

I’ve noticed among Deaf students here at NTID that they tend to communicate most successfully through sign. These students are diverse: many from international countries and from various states; their educational backgrounds include experiencing mainstream schools and Deaf schools. When they all come together and need to communicate effectively in the moment, they all use sign. Speech doesn’t work well because many of the international students do not lipread English nor use spoken English. When they come together, they all can sign and smoothly collaborate. This experience is evidence that it is signing which allows diverse students to be successful communicators.

For many years, AG Bell has reinforced the concept that speech is equated with the ability to learn language which is misleading and erroneous. Focusing on developing literacy is different from speech training. Being able to use speech may be a convenient way to communicate with many people, but it does not lead to literacy--that is, skills such as the ability to think, reason, negotiate, read and write. Research has indicated that in America today there are about 30 million people who use speech fluently, but who cannot read and write. When you give your child language, you need to remember that Deaf children always are bilingual or multilingual. Today in 2016, we have a lot of research that AG Bell’s assumptions have been wrong.

In 2008, the President and CEO of AG Bell Association wrote a letter to the Pepsi Company chastising them for having shown a commercial which included Deaf people signing. It was just one short commercial shown on one day out of a whole year’s worth of commercials. Yet, the President and CEO of AG Bell were so upset that they felt they needed to respond. At NTID/RIT, the students, faculty, staff, community members and members of the Orange and Brown Coalition decided that we must confront you about this injustice. We demanded that you rescind your letter to the Pepsi Company and apologize for offending and misrepresenting Deaf people. At the same time, people at NTID/RIT began to question the integrity of having a building named in honor of AG Bell on our campus. Students began to study Bell’s history and notice his pattern of oppressing Deaf people’s language and culture as well as his destructive impact on the individual lives of Deaf people. Because of this history, they felt NTID/RIT should not show honor much less tolerance for people who represent such actions. After much discussion, the name and plaque honoring AG Bell was finally removed from our campus. That was in 2008.

Now, in 2016, you have again written a letter publically insulting Deaf people, Deaf culture, and ASL. You seem resistant to learning. Your pattern of harassment and insults to our culture and our language is unacceptable and must stop. It is harmful to parents, children, and adults. We have had enough.

NTID/RIT Faculty/Staff members from the Department of Cultural and Creative Studies:
Dr. J.Matt Searls,
Mr. Joseph Hamilton,
Dr. Deirdre A. Schlehofer,
Dr. Aaron Kelsone, and
Ms. Patti Durr


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