Terrell Brittain Advocates for Deaf Renters

By Jean F. Andrews

Deaf people are treated unfairly by housing leasing staff, according to a front-page story in the Houston ChronicleJanuary 27, 2014 by news reporter Jayme Fraser. In fact, office managers are reported to have rudely hung up on deaf inquirers who call in using relay interpreters. Why is this situation still happening in this era of Civil Rights and the American with Disabilities Act? Fraser further reports that the National Fair Housing Alliance organization is collecting cases where more deaf people, seeking housing, were treated unfairly. Fraser interviews Terrell Brittain, a young, articulate deaf professional who has a master’s degree in Deaf Education, and is currently employed as a professor of American Sign Language Interpretation at the University of Houston. Brittain recounts his bad experiences and rude treatment when trying to contact leasing office staff, both while he was in college as well as now – as a professional. Fraser quotes Harold Rosenblum, CEO of the National Association for the Deaf who attributes this case and others to “a problem with poor training.”

Poor staff training is only the tip of the iceberg. The problem is much deeper. While Brittain’s treatment by the leasing office staff was inexcusable and illegal, fortunately for Brittain, he has the communication skills and education to confront the leasing officials in order to clearly articulate this complaint. Many deaf adults seeking housing are not as fortunate. These deaf adults are functionally illiterate. They are the victims of a poor educational system that postponed their exposure to a visually based sign language and failed to teach them to read and write. Consequently, many are underemployed or unemployed.

They have difficulty articulating their needs and seeking their Constitutional Rights. Many of these deaf adults get caught up in the criminal justice system and are unable to defend themselves because they do not have the background knowledge or communication skills to work with an attorney and understand their trial.  If you go to Huntsville State Prison and interview deaf inmates there, you will find out what Dr. Katrina Miller, professor of Rehabilitation counseling at Emporia State University, found out in her study of 99 Deaf Prisoners in Huntsville State prison.

Dr. Miller found that many deaf inmates incarcerated there, told her they did not have interpreters during their trials and do not know why they are in prison. Unlike Terrell Brittain, who can communicate his complaint and seek a legal resolution, many deaf adults struggle to obtain their Constitutional Rights with more serious consequence than no roof over their heads; they can face a life behind bars.

Jean F. Andrews is a Reading Specialist and Department Chair of Deaf Studies/Deaf Education at Lamar University.

[Editor's note: You may notice something different in Dr. Andrews' bio. She is now the Chair of her department. Please join DeafInPrison.com in congratulating Dr. Andrews on this well deserved promotion. --BitcoDavid]

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My Insperation

By BitcoDavid

Derrick Coleman is the first Deaf NFL player. He has been featured in inspirational commercials, and has helped bring the Seattle Seahawks to the Superbowl against the Denver Broncos. Here’s a letter written to Mr. Coleman by a young girl.

BitcoDavid is a blogger and a blog site consultant. In former lives, he was an audio engineer, a videographer, a teacher – even a cab driver. He is an avid health and fitness enthusiast and a Pro/Am boxer. He has spent years working with diet and exercise to combat obesity and obesity related illness.

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What Aktion T4 Can Teach Us About Ourselves

By BitcoDavid

This poster (from around 1938) reads: "60,000 Reichsmark is what this person suffering from a hereditary defect costs the People's community during his lifetime. Fellow citizen, that is your money too. Read '[A] New People', the monthly magazine of the Bureau for Race Politics of the NSDAP." Image: Wikipedia

This poster (from around 1938) reads: “60,000 Reichsmark is what this person suffering from a hereditary defect costs the People’s community during his lifetime. Fellow citizen, that is your money too. Read ‘[A] New People’, the monthly magazine of the Bureau for Race Politics of the NSDAP.” Image: Wikipedia

Named after the chalet in which it was drafted, Aktion T4 was officially adopted in Sept. of 1939. The law enabled the government of the 3rd Reich to commit euthanasia on those it deemed Lebensunwertes Leben – Life unworthy of life. The aged, the infirm, the birth-defected, the intellectually challenged and the Deaf. On paper, the program officially ended in August of ’41, but unofficially it continued until the end of the War. In an interesting philosophical twist, one of the groups helped by this dubious program were the Mentally Ill. And since, according to the Nazis, subversiveness was considered a form of insanity, this law allowed for the killing of anyone viewed as an enemy of the state.

It was the German people who finally put a stop to T4. Or so they were led to believe, anyway. People began to learn of the deaths of their family members, while being cared for in institutions. Primary caregivers were sent notices regarding the deaths, and many times these notices made no sense. We’re sorry to inform you of the passing of your grandfather, who fell down a flight of stairs while taking his morning walk.

But Gramps was a paraplegic!

People started asking questions, and when officials couldn’t come up with answers, the public became outraged. Hitler was forced to rescind the law. Even in the most oppressive, the most invasive and the most mechanized of Fascist dictatorships, the public could use its voice to effect change.

U.S. eugenics poster advocating for the removal of genetic "defectives" such as the insane, "feeble-minded" and criminals, and supporting the selective breeding of "high-grade" individuals, c. 1926. Image: Wikipedia

U.S. eugenics poster advocating for the removal of genetic “defectives” such as the insane, “feeble-minded” and criminals, and supporting the selective breeding of “high-grade” individuals, c. 1926. Image: Wikipedia

Nazi Germany however, wasn’t the only country with Eugenics based laws on their books.  The United States was one, among several nations, who doggedly followed policies of Social Darwinism in the search for Nietzsche’s Übermensch. Forced sterilization and euthanasia of criminals, imbeciles, and the mentally ill began in America in the 1880s. Many experts claim that the Nazi concept was in fact modeled on the American Eugenics movement. And in America, the benchmarks that determined one’s fitness – one’s worthiness to live – were physical and intellectual health, as well as social class and ethnicity. In fact, between 1934 and 1942, over 60% of Americans supported Hitler’s activities in Germany. Some of that support was due to race based and eugenics based policies. By the 1970s, when most of our forced sterilization laws were rescinded, all 50 states had participated in some form of forced sterilization or euthanasia.

The Strong and Straight Aryan carrying the weight of the genetically disabled. "You are bearing this, too." Image: Disability History

The Strong and Straight Aryan carrying the weight of the genetically disabled. “You are bearing this, too.”
Image: Disability History

The common thread amongst German and American eugenics teaching, is that the defective are a burden on the functional. German text books for school aged children, regularly posed story problems where the student was asked to decipher what the state could save by not having to support a given number of useless eaters. Propaganda posters and magazines touted the costs of caring for the feeble minded and the genetically inferior. A disability was actually an unconscious act of treason. Here in the U.S., a vast amount of money was spent, drawing scientific causality between genetics and criminality, race and criminality and social class and criminality. We were taught that the (White) rich were cultured philanthropists, held to a strict moral code, while the poor were ignorant, stupid and prone to lives of crime. The rich were genteel nobles, where the poor were abusive drunks and drug addicts. The Irish, the Blacks, the Jews and the Native Americans – all shared these genetically inherited traits. Ironically, although the Jews were believed – both here and in Germany – to control all the world’s banks and finances, they were still seen as members of the lower class. Rich meant something other than simply how much money one had.

Die Weisse Rose, Sophie Scholl. Image: Tumblr

Die Weisse Rose, Sophie Scholl. Image: Tumblr

As shocking, as tragic and as horrifying as this history is, there is a larger point that bears relevance today. Aktion T4 stands as an example of what can happen when a society goes mad, and declares war on itself. When a majority element feels threatened by a minority element and declares them, the Other. Those people. Suddenly, words loose their meaning. Labels can be affixed with no basis in fact or context. A child downloading music files can be labeled a Terrorist. A college kid looking to make a few extra bucks can be labeled a drug dealer. Bankers and stock brokers can steal the life savings of millions of people with impunity, while teenagers are executed for merely being present at a crime scene. We begin to fear everyone, and with that fear, we hand over the keys to the store. We allow armed paramilitary forces to overtake our streets, and private corporations to overtake our schools and our prisons.

Sophie Scholl was a young woman smitten by a crush on an eloquent orator. She joined an organization called Die Weisse Rose – the White Rose.  For the crime of leafleting a college campus, Ms. Scholl was labeled a terrorist, imprisoned and executed. She was 21 years old.

Aktion T4 Gedenktafel aus Stahl im Gehweg vor ...

Plaque commemorating the dead from Aktion T4, Berlin. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In March of 1933, the German Reichstag burned down. Within a month, the government passed the Enabling Act, allowing Hitler to dismantle their Constitution, and assume the title of Der Fuhrer – Dictator of Germany. Although the Jews and the Communists were held to task for the fire, and although confessions were taken and criminals executed, questions as to the origin of the fire still abound.

In August of 2002, I was teaching. During a particularly boring lecture, I ambled over to an open window. I pointed out the window at a random guy on the street, and yelled, “That guy’s an Iraqi! Let’s get him!” I am sad and horrified to report that more than just a few of my students jumped up, ready to take up the cause of beating an innocent man for the crime of being an Iraqi. And these students were musicians at an art school. If they were jocks at Northeastern, I probably wouldn’t have been able to stop them.

He who cannot learn from history is doomed to repeat it. Let’s don’t repeat history. Let’s end all our wars. Those we’ve declared on other nations, and those we’ve declared on ourselves.

BitcoDavid is a blogger and a blog site consultant. In former lives, he was an audio engineer, a videographer, a teacher – even a cab driver. He is an avid health and fitness enthusiast and a Pro/Am boxer. He has spent years working with diet and exercise to combat obesity and obesity related illness.

Dumbing Down Deaf Education

By Jean F. Andrews

Bush signing "No Child Left Standing" Law Image Credit: Weld for Birmingham

Bush signing “No Child Left Standing” Law
Image Credit: Weld for Birmingham

Following the NCLB mandates for achievement testing, linking teacher salaries to student test scores, the National reading Panel, the Common Core Standards and other expert panels–what is next to further dumb down deaf education?

Where are graphic arts? Painting and sculpture? Reader’s theater? The dramatic arts including dancing? What about ASL literature, ASL poetry and ASL storytelling? Quality English children’s literature translated to ASL? Deaf history? Math, science and social studies curriculum that is accessible in two languages—ASL and English?

Instant Mannequin by ADNA

Instant Mannequin by ADNA

Today, we are narrowly focusing our vision in deaf education to fit a non-existent cardboard deaf child who has a high-test score on a standardized test primarily in English. Our tax dollars pour into institutions that continue to deprive and delay deaf children’s early acquisition of both ASL and English. Public education for deaf children is fragmented. Our deaf children are Deaf culturally illiterate. Instead of capitalizing on deaf children’s visual learning strengths we sabotage their success by focusing on what they can’t do—hear like hearing children.

We also obstruct our own desires as teachers for success in the classroom by providing deaf children with a curriculum that does not teach, motivate or provide enjoyment of learning, but instead focuses on teaching to a state test. We fail to motivate children by our knee-jerk response to every “expert panel” and law that comes down the pike. Such misguided educational efforts are “shooting ourselves in the foot.” They simply don’t work. Blaming the “deafness” is an easy answer instead of looking critically at our educational institutions stale with convention and lacking in innovation.

Image Credit: Author Joyce Oroz

Image Credit: Author Joyce Oroz

Seldom, do we ask the critical questions–are these laws and panel recommendations necessary to teaching deaf children how to think, to express themselves in ASL and English, to feel at home in “Deaf” and hearing worlds? Do they motivate deaf children to want to enjoy life long independent learning? Do they motivate deaf students to go back into the Deaf community as leaders to solve the English literacy and other educational challenges that hearing professionals have been unable to solve?

While we are skilled in obtaining grant monies from the government for projects, many project managers fail to include culturally Deaf researchers who may very well assist in solving these challenges of underachievement and illiteracy.

Priorities in deaf education need shifting to include both languages–ASL and English– from early childhood to postsecondary and professional training.  Indeed, we need earlier and continuous bilingual and bicultural education to provide full access to both the languages and cultures across all levels of schooling.

We need to include more culturally Deaf researchers are part of our research teams. To not to include Deaf professionals at all levels of research and training is negligent. Inclusive strategies as these may very well stop the rising tides of the dumbing down of deaf education.

[Editor's Note: We thank Jean for this excellent post. Another area in which we are involved, and one which you can help, is the #Keep ASL in Schools campaign. A video is currently in production, and I have been chosen to handle the editing chores. Click on the link to learn more, and to join the campaign. -- BitcoDavid]

Jean F. Andrews is a Reading Specialist and Professor of Deaf Studies/Deaf Education at Lamar University.

Nowhere Man In Nowhere Land

By Jean F. Andrews

John Lennon’s sad lyrics in “Nowhere Man In Nowhere Land,” resonate in the life of Junius Wilson (1908-2001). Wilson was a Black Deaf man who was incarcerated for a rape he did not commit. His first six years at the State Hospital for the Colored Insane developed into a total of 76 years. During this time, he was surgically castrated . Back then, deaf and disabled people in jails and mental hospitals were considered “undesirables.” Even when Wilson was found to be mentally competent in the 1960’s, he was still held in the mental hospital because hospital staff did not know where to send him.

As a “nowhere man” invisibility surrounded Wilson for his whole life with hearing people. Born deaf in 1908 to a hearing family, his parents did not know how to communicate with him. They struggled with their deaf son’s anger and frustration.

But Wilson’s “nowhere man” status changed in 1916. At this time, at the age of 8, he entered the North Carolina School for the Colored Deaf and Blind in Raleigh, the first school for Blacks in the U.S. Here he learned a language—the Black deaf sign language or “Raleigh Black signs.” Through storytelling, folklore, humor passed down from deaf peers and adults in the Black deaf community, he acquired language. Here he learned and used “black signs” that are different than “white signs,” as Black deaf persons were segregated from White Deaf persons.

At the Black Deaf school, Wilson was “Somewhere.” He found his Black Deaf identity as he was immersed in a community of people like him. He found his “home” at the deaf school. Now he was “visible” to his peers and the adults around him. He could express his wants, desires and feelings.

But all this abruptly changed in 1924. As a student, he went to the fair in town and did not come back when he was supposed to, disobeying his supervisors. He was a teenager, expressing his independence and rebelling against the tight rules of the school. For this infraction, the school’s response was harsh. Wilson was expelled.

http://ifp.nyu.edu/category/history/page/3/

North Carolina State Hospital for the Negro Insane
http://ifp.nyu.edu/category/history/page/3/

His “nowhere man” status returned as he was back home with his family. Being an independent teenager, he frequently rebelled. He exploded in anger and frustration because none of his family knew sign language or understood him.
In 1925 he was accused of attempting to rape his cousin and found to be insane at a lunacy hearing. There was no interpreter present to get his side of the story. No one was there to assess his mental competence. He entered “nowhere land,” again when he was committed to the North Carolina’s State Hospital for the colored insane in 1925. The hearing hospital culture and community did not recognize Wilson’s language or Black deaf culture.

Indeed, Wilson’s deafness and disability made him the “nowhere man in nowhere land,” his status for much of his life. He was forced to work on the farm at the State hospital doing for decades doing what others wanted him to do. His education, his potential, everything he had to create his own life with his own aspirations and dreams were taken from him. While incarcerated, he could not hear what the others were ordering him to do. He could not communicate with the other inmates. His deaf cultural behaviors of touching and tapping people may have been misunderstood.

Chart showing number of sterilizations in North Carolina From 1928 to 1983.http://www.uvm.edu/~lkaelber/eugenics/NC/NC.html

Chart showing number of sterilizations in North Carolina From 1928 to 1983.
http://www.uvm.edu/~lkaelber/eugenics/NC/NC.html

In 1932, he was surgically castrated as many other inmates who were considered criminally insane, mentally deficient, sexually perverted and deaf and dumb. Institutions were practicing eugenics. Thus the stereotypes of people with disabilities as being “oversexed,” or “animalistic,” were prevalent, as explained by Susan Burch and Hannah Joyner, in their book, “Unspeakable: The Story of Junius Wilson.”

In 1960, the staff at the hospital realized that Wilson was not insane but they did not know how to bring him back into society. His lifetime at the hospital had made him dependent and vulnerable without language or an education. Finally, in the 1990’s, the social worker John Wasson found out that he was not insane and lawsuits resulted.

The lawsuits resulted in a house, a driver and a pension for Wilson. According to Wilson’s biographer’s Burch and Joyner, he lived out his life still at the hospital but in his own private cottage with his own private chauffer to take him shopping and to town.

Given an education, opportunity, language and immersion in the Deaf community, Wilson may have made a very different life than the one he lived out at the mental hospital. He may have been a “somewhere man” is a “somewhere land.” He could have learned a trade, got married, had children, and developed hobbies. He could have “had a point of view,” and his world could have been “under his command.” He would have reaped the benefits all of us do such as having an education, interests, opportunity, and support networks of family, friends and community to realize our potential.

Even though Wilson lived during a different historical time faced with such issues as Jim Crow segregation, eugenics and institutionalization, injustices for deaf inmates are still prevalent today. Indeed, there are many deaf inmates who are “nowhere man”, deprived of their Deaf culture, community and language during their arrests, bookings and incarcerations. They are in “the “nowhere land” of police stations, jails and prisons without have the same access to information and services that hearing inmates have.

Source: Susan Burch & Hannah Joyner (2007). Unspeakable: The Story of Junius Wilson. Chapel Hill, The University of North Carolina Press.

Jean F. Andrews is a Reading Specialist and Professor of Deaf Studies/Deaf Education at Lamar University.

Further Reading:

https://www.google.com/search?q=Unspeakable%3A+The+Story+of+Junius+Wilson

 

In retrospect: On the state of seeking Deaf Smith

By Jean F. Andrews

[Author’s Note: If you live in Texas, you know about Deaf Smith, a popular hero among deaf and hearing Texans alike. Dr. Steve Baldwin a prolific writer, presenter and trained historian, shares his Deaf culture research with deafinprison readers. Dr. Baldwin gives us a fresh perspective on Deaf Smith’s role in Texas history. (Jean Andrews)]

***

In Retrospect: On the State of Seeking Deaf Smith by Dr. Steve Baldwin

Deaf Smith County Texas

Deaf Smith County Texas (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Since the inaugural 17-part exhibit of Erastus “Deaf” Smith’s 225th birthday celebration on the ground floor of the Texas State Capitol rotunda from April 18 to 20, 2012 and subsequent tours across the state, which ended on October 25 in Dallas, I decided to sum up my experience as the primary exhibitor, researcher, and writer since I first seriously studied about Deaf Smith (1787-1817), the famous “Texian” spy, scout, ranger and pioneer about 32 years ago.

Of course, the method of studying, researching and theorizing evolved over time with the advent of technology, Internet, new information, accessible papers, better archives and libraries. To go from a thin folder of information about Deaf Smith in the Baker Library for American History that was renamed Dolph Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin to two standard file boxes of my personal collection testifies for hard work, dedication, focus and a passion that has not abated over time. One word of advice to sincere future researchers and writers: do not bother to locate Smith’s missing and unmarked gravesite in Richmond, Texas since early 1830s burial sites are difficult to pinpoint due to customs, pine coffins, unclear town maps and complicated legal issues.

English: I took photo with Canon camera in Chi...

From the Deaf Smith Museum in Childress, TX. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

However, my alarming concern now is the lack of quality research because of the onslaught of vlogs and blogs that appear to epitomize inaccurate historical information about Smith’s life and feats. The worst case of plagiarism from the book (1973) by the definitive biographer of Deaf Smith named Cleburne Huston (1894-1989) came from a national deaf magazine. None of the magazine writers, albeit no respective bylines, actually took the time to research and verify their material, visit archives, and even worst, give their citations the necessary documented credit. Consequently, my role went from historian to vigilant against blatant plagiarism and online piracy of published work and the lack of historical accuracy.

English: Deaf Smith Elementary School

Deaf Smith Elementary School. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Let’s move on from the wanton disregard for honest publishing and researching to the three most common questions that came from school-aged students during the fall exhibit tour. First query: “Was Deaf Smith really deaf.” Based on contemporary 2nd and third-party witnesses and other documented information, Smith was deafened and his hearing became progressively worst, as he got older. His speech shape was fraught with high-pitched sounds, but intellectual enough to be understood. Research shows that he was quite the loner, hunted alone with his hearing dog, and abhorred group discussions or social life on the frontier.

The second most common question was: “Why do we have very few written documents from Deaf Smith himself?” First of all, he was quite a busy backwoodsman, always hunting, surveying, exploring or defending a Central Texas town from marauding bandits and warring Comanches. Although he had a good command of English, spoken or written, he was not a consistent literary man. There are relatively very few first-person accounts on record. However, thanks to his historic legacy and many legends in Texas, his fame was well documented in periodicals, diaries, journals, newspapers, family history, historical paintings and biographies of his contemporaries.

The third common question was: “How was Deaf Smith able to achieve so many incredible military feats in a span of seven months?” Keep in mind that he was chosen personally by General Sam Houston because of Smith’s reputation as a proven scout in early 19th century Texas. Such an assignment speaks volumes about Smith’s reputation as being the “eyes of the Texian army.” Based on his visual acuity, Smith knew the land, rivers and critters of Texas by heart, mind and soul, albeit smelling and feeling. He proved his leadership by commanding a spy and scout company, which made pivotal decisions that tipped the war in favor of the Texas independence in April of 1836. That band of soldiers saved Houston’s troops more than once, numbering about five documented activities, including the destruction of a strategic bridge.

English: “Surrender of Santa Anna” by William ...

“Surrender of Santa Anna” by William Huddle (1847–92), 1886 The painting “Surrender of Santa Anna” by William Huddle, shows the Mexican strong-man surrendering to a wounded Sam Houston. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If one would goggle the painting called “The Surrender of Santa Anna,” there is the evidence that Smith played a prominent and crucial role in the Battle of San Jacinto. In fact, the painter, William H. Huddle (1847-1892) literally interviewed the veterans who substantiated Smith’s role as the true hero of the victorious battle. In a nutshell, Smith was a seasoned soldier, determined person, proven survivor, courageous warrior and attitudinal barrier fighter.

In closing my special article for this website, I wish to announce that I intend to donate my Deaf Smith collection of documents, artifacts, research notes, photos, my filmed play, a monograph, and historic prints to the University of Texas at Austin. Such a collection in one of their libraries, be it the Briscoe Center or the Brockett Center, will allow future researchers to continue my passionate research and publish more new and accurate information about Texas’ most amazing military hero who was not “afraid of whizzing bullets” or “felt the bite before the bark of the dog.”

Steve Baldwin and “Deaf Smith.” Courtesy Jean F. Andrews

Contact Dr. Steve Baldwin for his publications on Deaf Smith.

dfsmithtx@aol.com

Steve Baldwin Image courtesy of Jean F. Andrews

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