September at

By BitcoDavid

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.

Mac’s Reach Exceeded His Grasp

By Jean F. Andrews

It was the end of August, 1974 and I was sitting in a crowded classroom next to 25 other students at Western Maryland College (now McDaniel’s College) in the bottom basement of the campus library. The professor, dressed casually in a light blue guayabera, walked into the classroom, picked up a piece of chalk and wrote down a list of the variables that make up a psychology of deafness.
His lecture style was intense; however, his southern accent relaxed the serious tone of his lecture. I looked down and flipped over my textbook, They Grow In Silence, and noticed the author’s picture. It was the professor standing in front of me. The only other authors I knew were dead, like William Shakespeare, Geoffrey Chaucer, W.B. Yeats. I had graduated from an English department the year before and now I was in a graduate program in Deaf Education. I had wanted to be English teacher but it was 1974 and the teaching jobs in regular education were taken up by young men dodging the Viet Nam draft. I had taken an ASL class in my senior year of college and thought that teaching deaf children through sign language would make for an interesting career.

I looked around the room and saw 10 to 12 of the students who were deaf and that a sign language interpreter was translating the professor’s lecture. Mac signed fluently and signed when students asked him questions. He frequently asked the deaf students to share their frustrating and lonely experiences growing up deaf. He talked a lot about his wife, Edith Vernon’s experience growing up deaf as well. Magically, Mac transformed the classroom into a platform for stories about the experiences of deaf people – the most unusual that I had ever heard or read about. And his papers, available to us in the library, on the Role of Deaf Teachers and understanding the Group Minority Dynamics of Deaf Culture were exciting to read. Mac weaved Deaf Rights into the Civil Rights and Women’s Rights movements way before ADA and IDEA made their impact.

That year Mac turned me and several of my classmates into published writers, movie stars and scholars. He published our papers in the American Annals of the Deaf. He cast us in documentaries he was making about deafness. And when we stopped by his office, he had a list of graduate programs at a variety of universities where he encouraged many of us to further our education and to get our Ph.Ds. Many of us in that classroom and in other classes taught by Mac, did just that. We went on to be college professors, researchers, CEOs of technology companies, psychologists, social workers, deaf-blind specialists, forensic specialists, mental health professionals, writers and administrators at schools for the deaf.

Mac’s gentle and consistent support was always only a phone call, a letter or an email away.
“A man’s reach should exceed his grasp,” said the poet, Robert Browning. And Mac’s reach extended beyond his grasp of the time we students spent with him in that crowded classroom 39 years ago.
Mac’s reach extended beyond us college students too. His research, writings, speeches, and advocacy have resulted in better lives for generations of Deaf people.

And we all lost a dear friend and colleague, whose humor, humanity, humility and vitality we will never forget.

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

A Brief Discussion on C.I. Debate with Jean F. Andrews

By BitcoDavid

There appears to be an ongoing debate on the value of Cochlear Implant technology within the Deaf community. Many people see these devices as a threat to ASL. Others believe its an attempt by the medical community and other hearing people to fix what isn’t broken. Still others feel that C.I.s can enhance the living experience of Deaf people with no detriment to either their Signing ability or their community.

Many doctors refuse to implant Deaf children who are not already oral. They believe that the child will continue to Sign, and that the opportunity to learn oral language will be squandered. Often parents of Deaf children are told that once the child is implanted, the family must stop using Sign altogether, hoping that immersion will force the child into speech.

Also raised, is the question of filtering. We learn to hear. We learn to differentiate between say, the person we’re talking to – in a crowded restaurant – and the ambient noise from the 400 voices surrounding us. Your brain does this automatically, but only because you grew up, training it to do so. Sign provides a natural filtering. You are looking at the person you’re Signing to, and she is looking at you. It could be quite a shock to take someone who has lived their whole life in silence, and to suddenly throw them into the deep end of the audio pool.

Some people also question the efficacy of taking a Signing child out of her Deaf school, where she has friends and is socially accepted, and placing her in a mainstream school – while she’s wearing this linkage on her head. Bullying of the Deaf and HoH is a real problem, and one which we – in the Hearing community – must address. But it’s unlikely that we’ll be able to put an end to bullying before any more children suffer from it. Many people feel that CIs can place their children in a position of being unnecessarily bullied.

In response to a piece entitled, How To Learn About Deaf Culture? Read Tom Holcomb’s Introduction to American Deaf Culture, by Jean F. Andrews, I posted the following:

I find the Cochlear Implant debate to be a fascinating one. On one hand, proud Deaf people feel that this is a feeble attempt at curing deafness – fixing that which isn’t broken. On the other, the world is definitely biased in favor of the Hearing, and CIs could provide Deaf children with an added weapon to carry into the battlefield of life.

In Rachel Coleman’s video – which we published here: – she states that although her child was raised signing, and was doing quite well, the child herself indicated a desire for the implant. This child was OK with being Deaf, but wanted the extra advantages afforded her by the implant.

Unlike many in this world, I have had my share of rough patches. I know full well, just how hard life can be – even if you’re firing on all eight. My attitude is, any asset we can provide to our children is one more asset they can exploit. I don’t think this technology will destroy Deaf culture – I think it will help it.

Here is Dr. Andrews’ reply:

Tom Holcomb presents one view of the Deaf community about CI. There is diversity in the Deaf community about the CI. About 10% of students and faculty at my institution who are Deaf wear the CI and consider it beneficial while still using ASL as their dominant language and considering themselves part of the Deaf community.

While CIs have resulted in some speech production gains for young deaf children, we are still not certain of the long term effects in terms of their language and literacy growth.
There is also little documentation of surgeons, audiologists and SLPs on the many deaf children who fail to benefit from CIs.

More often than not, ASL is not provided as an option by pediatricians, SLSs and pediatric audiologists and this is unfortunate. There is no evidence that ASL hurts a deaf child’s speech. In fact, the opposite is true. Signs help support the acquisition of speech because it provides the underlying concept for the child.

Dr. Laurene Simms at Gallaudet University is leading a national reform movement aimed for Early Child Educators and parents. She and her colleagues are developing curriculum for parents and Early Childhood Educators that present both languages–ASL and English as early as possible. It is called the bilingual/bimodal approach as many deaf CI children will use speech and signs with their hearing families but then switch to ASL with deaf peers and adults.

Both languages–ASL and English–should be presented to the deaf child as early as possible. And more research in Emergent Literacy is needed to document how deaf children develop both languages through the use of picture books, parent/shared reading and teacher/shared reading.

So, CIs are not detrimental in themselves. Short-term, they are a feel-good solution to hearing parents and professionals who are elated when the deaf child says “mama,” or “thank you,” or “hello” or “how are you?” ASL carries the child much further and quicker. ASL allows the young deaf child to go beyond social, superficial chit-chat and develop cognitively rich concepts, and thus learn to think, reason and communicate at an early age like their hearing peers, but using ASL.

What is detrimental to the long-term development of the deaf child is how CIs have been indiscriminately used with deaf children without signing support and the Deaf community’s input.

ASL is proving its value everyday, and in every walk of life. Deaf, Oral Deaf, CI patients, HoH and yes, even amongst the hearing. Many Hearing learn ASL to become Interpreters, teachers at Deaf institutions, or simply to communicate with Deaf family and friends. It has demonstrated a usefulness in environments where hearing is difficult, such as construction sites or sound stages. Above all, Hearing parents of Hearing infants are beginning more and more, to use Sign as a way to introduce their children to language and speech. Numerous studies now reveal that visual language is easier for pre-lingual children to assimilate.

Deaf people can make use of this stunning advance in medical technology – Cochlear Implants – without sacrificing any of the benefits of their community or of their language. Furthermore, a Deaf child who does gain oral proficiency, will attain all the cerebral advantages of being multilingual, long before her hearing peers.

There are 2 things that I feel need to be said. First, this is implant technology. So, yes, doctors are putting cybernetic devices inside your body. That troubles a lot of people. Mankind isn’t as smart as we like to believe we are, and the thought of installing tiny machines inside our fellow Human beings can be pretty scary. Secondly, this technique replaces a damaged or non-functional ear-nerve connection. Deafness due to brain damage may not be corrected by CI technology.

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.

A Quick Addendum to the “Little Books” Post

By BitcoDavid

Jean F. Andrews asked me to post the following citations:

Little Books are the intellectual property of Dr. Jana Mason from the University of Illinois and Dr. Christine McCormick from Illinois State University. They gave Jean permission to use them for the Alabama Study, and also to distribute them to other researchers, parents and early Childhood educators for research or for use in training.

I cannot upload the discs in ISO format, but if you are interested in obtaining a set, please contact Jean F. Andrews directly at Send a postage prepaid self addressed mailer, along with a brief statement of intent of usage, and she will be glad to forward you copies.  Reproduction and redistribution is prohibited.

Thank you for understanding.

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.

The Child First Campaign/Alice Cogswell Act, Read About It And Vote

By Jean F. Andrews

Mr. Conservative (School Punishes Deaf Child for Using Sign)

Mr. Conservative
(School Punishes Deaf Child for Using Sign)

Dr. Ron Stern, superintendent of the New Mexico School for the Deaf, spoke to the Texas Association of the Deaf in Galveston, Texas on August 3, 2013 about the Child First Campaign. This is a national movement that is working toward ensuring that deaf and hard of hearing children receive full access to educational, language, communication, and socially appropriate programming through multiple pathways of language learning. Fundamental to the Child First campaign, is that at the IEP (Individualized Education Program) meeting where each child’s unique needs are determined, parents need to be informed of educational options for their child that include multiple pathways of learning.

Readers may wonder why such a movement is necessary. Wasn’t IDEA or Individuals With Disabilities Act supposed to do just that?

Unfortunately, IDEA has failed to deliver its promises of accessible education for deaf and hard of hearing children. Indeed, the concept of “inclusion” has been misinterpreted and misapplied to deaf and hard of hearing children.

Inclusion has become a big illusion, a bigger delusion and the biggest exclusion for many deaf and hard of hearing children in the history of Deaf Education.

As part of its Child First campaign, the Conference of Educational Administrators for
School for the Deaf (CEASD) has developed a proposed bill called the Alice Cogswell Act of 2013. If passed, this bill would amend the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to “promote and better ensure delivery of high quality special education and related services to students who are deaf or hard of hearing.”

Parents, devastated with finding out their child is deaf, are prey to promises by uninformed doctors, audiologists, super-funded organizations who say that if the child get early implants and engages in rigorous, monolingual English oral only training by early childhood their deaf child will no longer need special education services.

While these professionals are filled with well-intentioned fervor their position lacks science.

Studies in the science of language learning (psycholinguistics), language rules (linguistics), cognition (thinking skills), emergent literacy, and social emotional development (social skills) have demonstrated that deaf and hard of hearing children need multiple pathways for language learning, academic achievement and socio-emotional growth. To limit the child to just one pathway, is simply not supported by science.

This is not to say implants and hearing aids don’t provide some benefit to speech production. In some cases they do. But it is only one pathway and rarely is this pathway fully opened because of the hearing loss. Even with the best cochlear implant surgery and outcomes, and the best speech and auditory training, still many children fail to develop speech or language.

Indeed, speech is speech. Speech is not language. Speech does not ensure thinking skills. Speech does not ensure emotional and social happiness. Nor does speech ensure academic achievement. Speech, language, thinking, emergent literacy, academic achievement and social emotional growth come about through multiple pathways of language learning.

Speech is only one avenue. Deaf and hard of hearing children need multiple avenues.

Deaf adults know this. They have “lived the journey down multiple avenues.” Any program involving deaf and hard of hearing children should always include deaf adults at every stage of development from early intervention to higher education. If they don’t contain deaf adults, parents should be suspicious that important information is being held back from them.

Indeed, to exclude the Deaf community in educational programming is losing a major resource.

What the Child First Campaign wants to ensure is that parents are informed that there are multiple pathways to language and emergent literacy learning for their deaf and hard of hearing child. Educational programming that reflect the multiple pathways of language learning need to be brought to the table at the IEP meeting. Sign for prison. Sign for prison.

Why would readers be interested in the Child First campaign? In my assessments of Deaf inmates, I have found that many are victims of poor educational practices that limited their access to both signing and English. Consequently, when jailed or imprisoned, it is difficult for them to get their Constitutional Rights. They are not able to read legal documents like Miranda, the Guilty Plea Questionnaire, and Inmate handbooks that describe the rules and their rights. Deaf inmates have difficulty understanding interpreters because of their impoverished sign skills as well as they have difficulty working with their lawyers. Most of these Deaf inmates have language and literacy histories where they were limited to only one pathway to language learning in their homes and in their early schooling.

To learn more, go to Consider voting for the Child First Campaign/Alice Cogswell Act on the website to ensure that parents are informed of the multiple pathways for speech, language, emergent literacy, thinking and social skills for their deaf and hard of hearing child.

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

How To Learn About Deaf Culture? Read Tom Holcomb’s Introduction to American Deaf Culture

By Jean F. Andrews

Tom Holcomb, writer-scholar-teacher who is Deaf, captures the heart, mind and soul of the Deaf community in his book, Introduction to American Deaf Culture.

Respect me as a member of a cultural-linguistic group, don’t pity me as a member of a group of disabled individuals.

While sign languages are not universal as each country has its own indigenous sign language, Deaf people worldwide have universal shared experiences that few know about.  These include adopting similar solutions for effective living in a dominant hear-centric society, the use of a sign language, the congregation of like-minded deaf people, and the sharing of information.

Holcomb begins each chapter with a painting or drawing of a Deaf artist and ends with a poem written by a Deaf poet.  Readers will also learn about the vibrant culture of Deaf people, its history and heritage, sports, organizations and leisure activities, the politics in education, their feelings, aspirations and goals,  protective legislation and laws for Deaf rights, policies that have harmed deaf children such as the history of the exclusion of Deaf teachers and the keeping of ASL and how information about Deaf culture is routinely kept from parents with newly diagnosed deaf children.

The book has its uplifting parts. For instance, Holcomb inspirationally chronicles the journeys and accomplishments of diverse Deaf Americans as well as international Deaf people. Readers will also learn how technology has been a boon and bane. Videophones , text pagers, email, instant messaging, VRS, VRI, captioning, voice recognition technology and the like have provided access to communication but cochlear surgeries, auditory technology such as cochlear implants, hearing aids, and genetic engineering have sought to eradicate the Deaf culture as well as stimulate the economy by capitalizing on treatments for deafness for financial gain.   Parents and professionals interested in Deaf culture will benefit from this book.

Medical school students, doctors, audiologists and Au.D. candidates and other professionals who unknowingly impose “contrived solutions” on Deaf people rather than involving Deaf adults in decisions affecting young deaf children may find this book refreshing and enlightening.

The book is available through by going here.

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

June 2013 at

By BitcoDavid

Boy, this month just snuck up and bit me! Here, a day late, is June’s retrospective embed.

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.

Adapted Little Books

By Jean F. Andrews (obviously, one of my favorite Web sites.) (obviously, one of my favorite Web sites.)

[Editor's Note: After some embarrassing tech issues - which you may have caught, but have since been corrected - Jean F. Andrews has graciously filled us in on the Adapted Little Books. This information is also available in the comments section of In a Related Story…, originally posted on 6/19 - BitcoDavid]

Adapted Little Books is a series of emergent reader primers originally created by Dr. Jana Mason of University of Illinois and Dr. Christine McCormick of Eastern Illinois University. The 20 reproducible storybooks can be bought on Amazon.

As part of a research study we had native deaf parents translate the stories into ASL for purpose of distribution at the Alabama School for the Deaf – and their students’ parents. We had teachers provide one story session per week, integrated in their language arts program. Our goal was to give children a fun time enjoying independent reading. We are documenting their growth in letter, word and story abilities. Our research will be published this year. Little books is a program developed Byrd Mason and her colleagues and is supported by more than 25 years of research with hearing children. We adapted Dr Mason’s work with signing deaf children by adding ASL and are pleased with our results.

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

In a Related Story…

By BitcoDavid

Our contributor, Jean F. Andrews wrote this as a response to a comment on her last post. After reading it, I thought our readers who had not seen the original comment thread, would be interested in it. It may be useful to those of us who are not parents of Deaf children – but are interested in learning Sign – because she mentions Adapted Little Books. I’m thinking said books could be useful to Baby Signers like myself. I did a couple of different searches, and couldn’t find any exact reference to what Jean writes of, but I’ll get her to spill the beans for us. I think a see Spot run kind of thing might be just the ticket. I can translate Les Miserables down the road.

Yes there are many advantages to early access to ASL and that is well documented in the research literature.

However, we must not loss sight of the fact that our aim is to help children who do not have this early advantage. They come to school at age six or seven and their parents are often so frustrated with speech and hearing clinics who despite the best intentions have not been able to promote a basic language with their deaf children. In our reading acquisition research with families we have found them to be simply busy…with work, with family life, that many do not have the time to learn another language. It is a challenge of our profession to provide parents with training that fits into their schedule such as through YouTube, videophones, and the internet. One strategy we have found is using “Adapted Little Books,” These are short English phrase books that are translated into ASL (short stories about 2 to 3 minutes) that build a common core vocabulary in ASL and in English. These materials are free to parents and teachers.
Our deaf children are learning ASL and English at the same time and this is our teaching reality that we must address. Instead of saying…”you should have…or if only you were a deaf mother…etc. etc. Those are dead-end thoughts.

Meanwhile, from the Christ on a Crutch Desk comes this little nugget.

ABC reports that a New Jersey public school has threatened a 12 year-old girl with suspension if she continues using ASL to communicate with her friends on the school bus. got the story from Chazz Griffith, a member of the #Keep ASL In Schools Video Group on FaceBook.

School officials have threatened a hearing-impaired girl with suspension if she uses sign language to talk to her friends on the school bus, the girl’s parents say.

Danica Lesko and her parents say sign language is the only way to for the 12-year-old to communicate, especially while riding to school on a noisy bus.

But officials at Stonybrook School — which is not a school for the hearing-impaired — and district officials in Branchburg, N.J., apparently believe signing is a safety hazard. They have sent a letter to the Lesko family ordering Danica to stop using sign language on the school bus or risk a three-day suspension.

The March 30 letter from her principal that said Danica was “doing sign language after being told it wasn’t allowed on the bus.”

The Leskos may file a lawsuit over the sign language ban, claiming officials are violating Danica’s civil rights and violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“She has a hearing problem, and now she’s being punished for using sign language,” Mary Ann Lesko, Danica’s mother, told The Star-Ledger of Newark. “It’s absurd.”

Danica’s parents told the paper that other students who rode to school with their daughter made fun of her, and refused to stay in their seats as they teased other girls who were using sign language. They said school officials are singling out Danica and not addressing those who should really be reprimanded.

Schools Officials: Safety First

In a statement released through the school district’s attorney, David Rubin, the Branchburg Board of Education refused to discuss the details of Danica’s case, saying only that its version of events differs from the parents’ version.

However, the board insisted it has not violated anyone’s rights and is only trying to protect other students who must ride on the school bus.

“The Board is committed to providing reasonable accommodations to all students with disabilities, and is satisfied that there has been no violation of that policy in this case,” officials said in the statement. “The Board is also committed to assuring the safety of all students who travel on District buses, and will continue to take appropriate steps to accomplish that goal.”

One deaf-rights advocate said Danica’s parents have a strong basis for a lawsuit because sign language could be a considered a foreign language, and school officials could be violating the girl’s First Amendment right to communicate.

“Why should there be a ban?” asked Charlotte Karras, outreach coordinator for the Edison, N.J.-based Alliance for Disabled in Action. “It’s a violation of her communication rights. She’s said it’s the only way she can communicate with her friends … It’s [the ban] against the ADA and violates the First Amendment and her family can file a discrimination suit citing the Americans With Disabilities Act.”

Karras said her organization would be willing to help the Leskos with any legal action.

Danica’s parents say she began losing her hearing last November, when a classmate allegedly shot a bottle rocket near her ear. They have already sued the Branchburg School District over that incident.

Block quoted in full from ABC news. I always endeavor to bring you original content, and if I take a news story from another source, I usually rewrite the story with citations, rather than simply reprint the entire story. In this case however, I feel it’s important enough to present it in this format.

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.

Casualties of our Educational System: The Illiterate Deaf Inmate

By Jean F. Andrews

Teaching a deaf child how to read and write is an area that has perplexed befuddled and flummoxed deaf educators for hundreds of years. Why is reading so difficult to teach? What is it about the alphabetic code of English traps deaf children, youth and adults into lives of illiteracy? Is hearing really necessary to learn to read?

Interestingly, deaf children of deaf parents learn to read more easily than most deaf children of hearing parents. This is because deaf children with deaf parents learn sign language early and upon this language base they can build English language skills in reading and writing. By logical extension, it would seem that deaf children would only need to be taught sign, then base English on that sign. But this does not always happen so smoothly. This is because most deaf children are learning both sign and English at the same time and this slows their development.

Another aspect of learning to read and write revolves around classroom instruction. In preschool and kindergarten classes there is a lot of  matching activities where children match letters to sounds, words to pictures, signs to words, rather than having children read storybooks and texts. Now there is nothing wrong with these matching games as children often enjoy them.  But the focus of quality reading instruction should focus around shared book reading–both provided by the teaching in translations of stories into sign, and by independent book reading by the child on their own. But how can a deaf child read a book if he or she does not have the vocabulary?  That is the Catch-22. Indeed, many deaf children do not have the vocabulary to independently read storybooks on their own. However, there are picture books with simple words and simple phrases that teachers and parents can use develop in children a love and enjoyment of holding a book, or an e-book, and reading a story.

There are numerous reading paradigms that reading researchers bring to the table, in the journals and at conferences. For instance, do deaf children use phonology or do deaf children bypass phonology and go directly to print? Do signing deaf children use a special kind of visual phonology, using the repetition and rhythmic features of ASL and fingerspelling? Neuroscientist Laura-Ann Petitto thinks so. Petitto and her work with other cognitive scientists, linguists and psycholinguists, bilingual researchers, literacy researchers and neuroscientists at the Visual Language Learning Lab ( VL2 lab) at Gallaudet are producing research findings that may send reading instruction into new exciting directions.

Today, while researchers in deaf education are seemingly oceans apart, in their views about reading acquisition and development, they are in the same boat. Deaf educators do have common ground. Their common ground is that they agree of the harsh penalties and social injustices we impose on the Deaf community when we do not teach young deaf children how to sign, read, write, think and reason. And one only has to visit a deaf inmate in a state prison or city jail to meet these casualties of our educational system, whom we failed to teach how to read.

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

In A Prison Times Three

By Jean F. Andrews

While some children learn to read effortlessly and on their own, I had to wait until the first grade. After my teacher taught me the 26 letters of the alphabet with the sounds they make, and taught me 20 to 30 sight words, she handed me a primer, my first book. Before my very eyes, the magic of story unfolded. I lurched forward through the talk to print connections, put it all together, until it made sense, I was on my way. Reading took me to worlds far and wide, real and imagined. And I have not put a book down since.

My ease in learning to read is not so with most deaf and hard of hearing children.

Book Club for Youth in Federal Prison - Global Giving

Book Club for Youth in Federal Prison – Global Giving

For them it is a lifelong struggle to access visual language–both signed and written. The struggle begins at home in a sound-base environment and continues to school, another sound-based setting and if they have scrapes with the law, it continues into still another sound- based setting, the prison.

My colleague, who organized a book club for hearing inmates in our town’s prison, says his book club is transforming minds. Inmates read books and get together with him to discuss ideas from the novels and share their own experiences about situations and characters they read about. Not a bad way to spend their time while they are doing time.

But if you are deaf, it’s a different story.

The 3 Weird Sisters from Macbeth.

The 3 Weird Sisters from Macbeth.

Most deaf inmates can’t read beyond the second grade level. It would be impossible for deaf inmates who are illiterate to get into the biography of Malcolm X or To Kill A Mockingbird or Macbeth or read Robert Frost’s poetry. My colleague’s prison book club has created a shared humanity, an oxymoron in such an incapacitating and punitive setting as the prison.

While deaf inmates reading levels are lower than the average reading level of most deaf high school leavers which is 3rd to 4th grade, still deaf non-offenders have information sources around them through the Internet, YouTube, VRS, their signing deaf and hearing friends, signing hearing friends, Deaf sports, and Deaf associations and ASL/English bilingual e-books.

Alex Dixon - Flickr

Alex Dixon – Flickr

Not so, for deaf inmates.

Deaf inmates live in cells without books or signing companions. Not only are they locked up physically; they are locked within the prison of illiteracy and within the prison without signers. It is prison times three.

What a terrible, excruciating lonely and cruel existence.

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

Picture Glossaries in Jail: Do They Work?

By Jean F. Andrews

"Jail" in Sign Image:

“Jail” in Sign

“A picture is worth a thousand words. ” While this is true most of the time such as in family and nature photography, pictures don’t tell the whole story for the Deaf or ELL (English as a Second Language) offender. To address their language needs, jail and prisons officials are hiring graphic art designers to develop glossy, picture aids to assist the Deaf and ELL inmates. For instance, one jail in the south developed a pamphlet made up of a glossary of 25 terms such as “correctional officer,” “jails,” “pat down search,” “bail bond”—all illustrated with one colored picture for each term, followed by the word presented in English, Spanish, French, Italian, Chinese, and Haitian-Creole. These materials I would term “good will” materials as

they show awareness and respect for the offenders’ primary language.

Sign for "Interpret" In ASL, one would add the sign for "person" to signify an interpreter. Image:

Sign for “Interpret” In ASL, one would add the sign for “person” to signify an interpreter. Image:

But these pictionaries don’t really provide the access that Deaf and ELL offenders need. During the jail intake procedures and during the offenders’ stay in jail there is a basic need for more in-depth, 2-way communication between the

inmate and the jail officers. Deaf and ELL offenders need qualified interpreters to explain to them the jail inmate handbook as well as the procedures for grievances while in jail. If they are sexually or physically assaulted, they need to know the procedures in getting help.

In short, picture glossaries “look good” to the outsider. But nothing replaces the need for qualified sign language interpreters for Deaf offenders, and other language interpreters for the ELL offenders.

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

Probation Forms and the Deaf Offender: A Complex Matter With a Simple Solution

By Jean F. Andrews


Re-Offender (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Probation is a court order that allows a person convicted of a crime to remain out of jail. An individual on probation must follow certain court-ordered procedures and keep from getting into trouble with the law. Probation violations both occur when an individual either breaks the rules or fails to keep the terms of their probation, including getting arrested for another offense. Probation violations have significant consequences and penalties. When a probation violation occurs, it may result in the person returning back to jail.
For obvious reasons, offenders must understand the conditions of their probation and work with their probation officer to make sure these conditions are met on time. For instance, a court may mandate drug treatment or an anger management class, depending on the charges. For deaf offenders who are illiterate, understanding the conditions of probation, particularly reading the probation forms can be a nightmare. More often than not, deaf offenders are not provided with qualified interpreters consistently throughout their probation meetings. Further, the deaf offender may not be able to read the probation forms he or she must sign detailing the conditions for probation because they read below the 3rd grade reading level. And when the deaf offender takes the forms home, she or he cannot refer to them as a memory aid because forms are written at the 9th grade reading level or above as I found with one readability analysis of one probation form. That means you would need at least a high school reading level to comprehend this form.

Look. Even on a demo form, the perp is a Black male No comedy like reality. -- BitcoDavid. Photo courtesy of Quick-Court

Look. Even on a demo form, the perp is a Black male No comedy like reality. — BitcoDavid. Photo courtesy of Quick-Court.

To illustrate the linguistic complexity of probation forms, here is a sample sentence with a feared consequence.
Failure to answer all questions honestly or failing to fill out the forms by due date could result in a warrant for your arrest.
How can a deaf offender fill out the form honestly? How can he fill it out at all if he does not understand what he is reading? Such scenarios as this one are common. In one case, a deaf offender on probation was not aware of the fee schedule change as his probation officer failed to explain it to him and the deaf individual could not read the form he was given with the fee schedule changes listed on it. In another instance, an offender on probation was required to go to Anger Management classes but she could not get an interpreter nor could she read the class textbook which was written at the 9th grade reading level.

Probation forms are filled with difficult vocabulary such as termination, requirements, receipt, written confirmation, brackets, regarding, issued, self-addressed stamped envelope, cashiers check, that a deaf offender with a low reading level would have difficulty understanding. The probation forms are also filled with complex sentence structures, if-then cause and effect clauses, time clauses, sequencing, structures which low level reading deaf offenders stumble through. As such, both the linguistic complexity and the content of the forms with its sequencing of events and ideas on what the deaf offender should do, should not do, and the when and where the forms must be filled out and what conditions need to be made are complex and confusing for the deaf offender. Hearing offenders who are illiterate can simply ask a family member or the probation officer to explain the rules because they have a shared spoken language. However, deaf offenders are “up the creek without a paddle,” when such probation forms are placed in front of them and they are not provided with a qualified sign language interpreter. They are left to flounder and fail and oftentimes they end up back in jail because they did not understand the conditions for probation.

The solution is simple: Provide qualified sign language interpreters in all interactions with signing deaf offenders and probation officers.

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

[Editor's note: Jean has touched on many important issues with this piece, but another probation / parole issue that needs mentioning is the use of urinalysis for drug testing. These tests are known to be wildly inaccurate - all the more so when administered by a non-professional such as a probation officer or cop. Something as mundane as a poppy-seed bagel can be enough to get an offender violated and sent back to jail. People should know that they have the right to refuse a urinalysis test, and instead to opt for a blood test administered by a medical professional. --BitcoDavid]


Deaf – Blind Inmates: Are They Being Served Appropriately in Jail?

By Jean F. Andrews

According to a recent newsletter by HEARD, as of March 31, 2013, there are 407 deaf and deaf-blind prisoners in 38 states, Washington, D.C. and in the Federal Bureau of Prisoners. Within these numbers, we do not know exactly how many are deaf-blind or deaf and visually-impaired inmates there are in prison.

Deaf-blind and deaf-visually impaired inmates are most vulnerable to human rights abuses and often do not receive adequate accommodations in jails and prison. Take for example, the case of Ms. Jones, an African-American deaf-visually impaired woman who has been incarcerated numerous times, mostly for misdemeanors. Ms. Jones is profoundly deaf , has limited vision in both eyes, uses American Sign Language (ASL) as her primary language, and reads at the second grade level. To effectively use a sign language interpreter, the interpreter must sign very close to Ms. Jones’ face. She can use a videophone but she must be situated very close to the screen to see the signs of the other person.

At each of her arrests, Ms. Jones was not provided with an interpreter. In her last arrest, she was charged with possessing drugs but none were ever recovered and she did not have an interpreter during the arrest to tell her side of the story. While in jail, she was not provided an interpreter during the booking or during the medical intake. She was not able to explain that she was diabetic and took insulin, and spent three days in jail without her insulin. While in jail she was given a copy of the inmate handbook and a number of forms to sign but she could not read them given her low reading level of second grade. No interpreter was provided to translate these documents. Consequently, she did not learn about the rules she was required to follow while in jail but instead had to depend on another inmate who had rudimentary fingerspelling skills. Upon release, she frequently violated her probation because she did not understand the fees and regulations she had to follow. Because she did not understand the rules of her probation, she violated them and was subsequently jailed.

Ms. Jones’ story points to the inequities of the criminal justice system particularly for those inmates who have more than one disability. Ms. Jones’ deafness, visual impairment, and diabetic condition combine to make special accommodations necessary in order for her to have her rights as designated by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Policy  in jails and prisoners need to reflect awareness of these unique needs of deaf, deaf-blind, and deaf and medically fragile inmates,  and include training for jail officials in order to ensure deaf blind inmates are given their Constitutional Rights.

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

Texting, Chat Rooms and the Deaf Sex Offender

By Jean F. Andrews

Even though many deaf adults read below the third grade level, there are cases where they regularly use texting and enter chat rooms to engage in conversations with people they have not met. There have been cases where deaf adults have engaged in conversations with hearing minors for purposes of sexual encounters.

Some deaf adults are often not aware of the legal consequences of soliciting sex from minors. Some deaf adults have been victims of sting operations. These situations pose challenges for the courts because on one hand these deaf adults may be linguistically incompetent to answer questions from the arresting officer or detective, to understand the Miranda Warning, as to work effectively with an attorney and to stand trial.

When charged with the sex offense they may not understand the consequences of pleading guilty and having to register as a sex offender. They do not understand the repercussions being a registered sex offender has on their living arrangements and job prospects. To complicate matters, there are psycho-social as well as linguistic factors that must be considered if they are to receive a fair hearing or trial. Most attorneys and judges are not familiar with these complex factors. Instead, they often assume if the deaf person can use a texting device and can enter a chat room, then they are literate in the English language.

Texting and chat room conversations do not require high levels of literacy and this type of discourse is radically different than the discourse in the jail, prison and courtroom. The picture gets even more complex if the deaf person is sent to a treatment program. There are few facilities in the country that specialize in the deaf sexual offender. Most facilities are designed for the hearing offender with staff that have no knowledge of deaf culture, ways of visual teaching and learning, and do not provide accessible information through a qualified interpreter.

At issue here, is not whether the deaf person is guilty or not of the offense. The critical issue is that a deaf offender must be provided the same access to communication and information as the hearing offender from arrest, to incarceration, to trial, to probation and parole. English is typically not the most effective mode of communication for the deaf offender even though they use texting devices and enter chat rooms regularly for social reasons, both legally and illegally.

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

Book Review of Outcasts and Angels: The New Anthologogy of Deaf Characters in Literature by Edna Edith Sayers, Galluadet University Press (2012).

By Jean F. Andrews

CHOICE is a publication which reviews books for academic settings. This book appeared in the April 2013 issue of CHOICE.

Outcasts and angels: the new anthology of deaf characters in literature, ed. by Edna Edith Sayers. Gallaudet, 2012. 361p bibl afp ISBN 9781563685392 pbk, $35.00; ISBN 9781563685408 e-book, $35.00


User:ProtoplasmaKid explaining Wikipedia and W...

Explaining Wikipedia and Wikimedia projects for deaf and hearing impaired children through an interpreter. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Fiction helps readers know and understand cultures other than their own in more empathetic and compassionate ways than informational nonfiction can’t accomplish. This anthology does just that. Edna Sayers (Professor of English at Gallaudet Univ.) gathered 32 short stories published from 1729 to 2009 that feature deaf characters. Through clever plotting and character creation, the authors of these stories reveal attitudes of hearing people toward sign language, the challenges and limitations of lip-reading, the difficulty of understanding deaf speech, and the infantilization of deaf people.

Sayers notes that the only story in this anthology that advocates for signing is Joanne Greenberg‘s And Sarah Laughed. Sayers also offers writers a useful formula for what she calls a “nonexploitative treatment” of deaf characters in literature: there are at least two deaf characters in a story, these deaf characters converse with each other, and their topic of conversation is about something other than being deaf or the deaf community. This stimulating compilation of short stories with deaf characters will endear, enlighten, provoke, and amuse all readers. This book is highly recommended for undergraduates and graduate students; professionals; general readers.

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

When Will They Ever Learn…

By Jean F. Andrews

In their popular 1960’s folk song, Peter, Paul and Mary sing the ballad, “Where Have All the Flowers Gone.” In the ballad, is the echoing refrain, “When Will They Ever Learn,” that points a firm finger at a society engaged in the Viet Nam War, wondering sadly, Where have all the flowers, soldiers and graveyards gone?  This sweet refrain, can also be applied to the many police departments across the country in Florida, Texas, North Carolina and Colorado who repeatedly refuse to give deaf suspects and inmates sign language interpreters during questioning as well as during important events during the arrest and jail intake, processing, orientation and during needed educational and rehabilitation services. Consequently, across the country, police departments have repeated lost legal cases and have had to pay hefty settlements costing the tax payers hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Mary Travers' obituary page.

Mary Travers’ obituary page.

There is an easy solution.

Simply make it the police department policy to do the following as recommended by the Department of Justice.

A police officer, upon discovering an individual is deaf, by law, must offer the individual an opportunity to request a sign language interpreter. One way the officer may do so is by providing the deaf individual with a visual representation (illustrated below) allowing the deaf individual to make a choice. It depicts the ADA recognized symbol for sign language and includes two hands signing “yes” and “no”. The deaf individual can select “yes” or “no” by pointing to, circling, or signing the choice.

Picture in when Will They Ever Learn.doc

Deaf individuals too would be wise to copy this visual and keep in their wallet in the event they are stopped by a policeman.



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

Deaf Suspect Gets Settlement

By Jean F. Andrews

Englewood, Co.

English: A Video Interpreter sign used at vide...

The Video Interpreter symbol. Photo: Wikipedia

On August 13, 2011, William Lawrence was arrested for an outstanding warrant. Lawrence has been Deaf since birth and had diminished English capability. He was handcuffed and questioned with no interpreter present. Lawrence went several days, unable to communicate with anyone, and didn’t receive an interpreter until he was eventually transferred to Jefferson County Jail.

Englewood police used hand written notes, and spoke to his roommate as their methods of communicating with Lawrence, both of which are inadequate and violations of the ADA.

The settlement amount is undisclosed, but a condition of the settlement is that Englewood Police Department is now required to provide a certified ASL interpreter to Deaf suspects during arrest and questioning.

Englewood Police Department has made no statement but conditions for the settlement cleared them of any wrongdoing or further liability.

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

ADA ignored by Denver Law Enforcement

By BitcoDavid


This is the internationally recognized symbol ...

This is the internationally recognized symbol for accessibility (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Susan Greene of the Colorado Independent reports that the DOJ has begun an investigation into the city of Denver‘s failure to provide ASL interpreters for Deaf inmates. Denver commonly refers to itself as an accessible city, yet it is being cited for repetitive violations of the ADA.

In a suit filed by Major Jon Michael Scott, who spent time in Denver jails on numerous occasions since 2006, the city is claimed to have violated his civil rights by refusing to provide him communication with COs and other law enforcement. Authorities knew of Scott’s Deafness, yet during bookings, classifications and medical interviews, no interpreters were present. Denver does maintain at least one full time interpreter on payroll, and subcontracts to several others.

The city has already fought a court battle against 3 other plaintiffs in another case. In fact, in that case, an inmate – Shawn Vigil – hanged himself in 2005. Vigil had been in custody for 1 month, and although the authorities knew of his deafness, they failed to realize that he was also functionally illiterate. Illiteracy being a common problem amongst the Deaf, Vigil was unable to understand the intake form that would have enabled him accommodations. In 2010, Denver settled and agreed to pay just under 700,000 dollars to Vigil’s mother, and the other two plaintiffs. After all is said and done, and before taxes, Vigil’s mother will receive about 1/7 of that figure.

Our own Jean F. Andrews is quoted in the original article:

Jean Andrews, a professor of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education at Lamar University in Texas, says hearing impairment is one of the least-detected disabilities. If deaf people have a little bit of speech, lip-reading or note-writing ability, they’re often presumed to be able to get by.

“That’s fine if they’re ordering a pizza. But it’s complicated at critical junctures such as jail settings when you’re being booked, classified and medically evaluated,” she says.

As Andrews tells it, courts throughout the country “seem to get it” that deaf people need sign-language interpreters in courtrooms. Scott, for example, got the interpretation services he needed when appearing before a judge.

But behind the scenes, Andrews says, the ADA goes ignored all too often by law enforcers and jails.

Studies show that the average reading level for an imprisoned deaf person is 3rd or 4th grade. This makes it tough for some inmates to understand handbooks explaining the rules of their incarceration. Jail environments present special challenges because sounds – guards shouting cues and buzzers signaling meal times or bed times, for example – are crucial. An inability to hear the clang of a metal door or the signal for a lockdown can mean write-ups or worse for a deaf prisoner. Deafness can create vulnerabilities to rape and violence.

“They don’t have anyone there to tell their side of the story. They’re vulnerable to being preyed upon. They’re vulnerable to suicide. A deaf inmate has no one to talk to and no one to answer any questions. It’s like throwing us into a jail in an Arabic country and expecting us to understand what’s going on,” Andrews says. “The reality is that jail can be a horror for deaf inmates.”

To see the original piece, go to the Colorado Independent.

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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