An Evening with C.J. Jones

By Jean F. Andrews

C. J. Jones from Los Angeles, California, performed for 150 Lamar University students, faculty and community members last week in Beaumont, Texas. C.J. used visual storytelling, American Sign Language, mime, and audience participation to “bring down the house” with humor, laughter and heart-warming stories about his youth and early adulthood.  C.J. told the audience he was born in a world with a “double-whammy” being both Deaf and African-American. But he did not dwell on the negative impact of discrimination and oppression, which he no doubt was subjected to.  Siting in the front and center of the audience, what hit me was C.J.s enormous capacity for inclusion. He not only pulled in the CART reporters and the sign language interpreters into his comedy routine, he also pulled in his family in his stories. He then pulled in the adults in the audience who did not know sign language as he invited them to the stage and he gave them a quick and humorous crash course in ASL. He did the same with children. C.J. left the audience laughing “in stitches,” with inspiration and hope to realize one’s potential whatever circumstances come one’s way. C.J. is not only is a comedian, but he also is an actor, producer and runs two businesses.  He has a company, Sign World TV which employs both Deaf and hearing people.

C.J. Jones performance in Beaumont was part of Deaf Awareness Week.  To learn more about C. J. Jones and his work, visit

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

Banned From Using the Internet?

By Jean F. Andrews

What if you are deaf, serve time in prison and are released with the stipulation that you are banned from using a cell phone or the Internet? Could you survive?

Yes, but with great difficulty.

English: VodafoneEgypt role in cell phone/Inte...

VodafoneEgypt role in cell phone/Internet blackout (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Did you know that some released deaf inmates are banned from cell phone use and the Internet? This is a typical punishment for deaf persons who have committed crimes such as viewing child pornography online even though they may have never solicited a minor online or met a minor through online interaction.

Computer and cell phone technology is a luxury for hearing people. But for deaf persons, computer technology is a necessity for safety and survival as well as for daily communication needs in a world of hearing people who do not know sign language.

As hearing persons, you and I can pick up the cell phone and call our spouses, children, colleagues or doctors or contact an emergency service (911) with a simple voice-call on the telephone. This is not so for deaf persons who cannot hear or speak. Deaf people like do use cell phone technology as we do but instead rely on texting and use of a special online relay operator.

English: A Deaf, Hard-Of-Hearing or Speech-Imp...

A Deaf person at her workplace, communicating with a hearing person via a Video Interpreter, using a webcam and a program on her computer. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While you and I can also ask any hearing-speaking persons around us for assistance if we need it, this is not so for deaf people. Deafness is a devastating physical condition that isolates deaf people from hearing society because few hearing people know sign language. The Internet has been a miracle for deaf users because it opens the doors to communication in a hearing world and provides access through texting, videoconferencing and online relay operators. With the Internet, they can access signing relay operators who act as go-betweens between the deaf world and the hearing-speaking world. Or they can communicate directly with deaf friends using cell phone or computer Internet videoconferencing.

English: A cell phone tower in Palatine, Illin...

A cell phone tower in Palatine, Illinois, USA. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For deaf people to adapt to every day life, they must use the internet to communicate with family, doctors, offices, make phone calls through an online relay operator who translates their signs into text messages for others, for job searches, for emergency purposes, and so on.

Judges and prosecuting attorneys may not know how the deaf person uses texting and online relay services for their everyday life.

In fact, the ADA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act provides protection for telephone use for deaf individuals. Because auditory cell phones excludes deaf persons from using them, they are entitled to accommodations such as cell phones for texting and use of the Internet for online relay operators.

Today, there is software available that can be placed on the released deaf criminal offender’s computer or text cell phone that will monitor his or her use of the computer, Internet and cell phone texting.

Deaf persons should not be denied cell phone, texting device and computer use with the Internet. For deaf people, the internet is a necessity, not a luxury as it is for hearing persons.

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

How to Promote Early Reading Acquisition: First Promote ASL

By Jean F. Andrews

XO Sign Language

XO Sign Language (Photo credit: Wayan Vota)

Reading continues to be one of the major obstacles for deaf adults in obtaining their Constitutional Rights. Reading court and legal documents is next to impossible. Even with a sign language interpreter the concepts are difficult to grasp.

In the ivory tower the debate is whether the reading process is qualitatively similar or qualitatively different than for hearing children. While the jury is still out on this theoretical argument, the reality is that the majority of deaf adults are busy learning two languages throughout their lives.

Learning sign language

Learning sign language (Photo credit: daveynin)

ASL is typically acquired quickly and English – reading and writing – is learned as it is mediated by the visual ASL. This ASL to English process happens too late for many deaf adults. An early ASL /English program is one answer to ensuring early reading acquisition.

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

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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 in congratulating Dr. Andrews on this well deserved promotion. –BitcoDavid]

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Supporter Contribution by Dr. Damara Paris

By Jean F. Andrews

[Author’s Note: Dr. Paris is an assistant professor in the Dept of Deaf Studies/Deaf Education at Lamar University. She has done research with Native American Deaf Communities. — Jean Andrews]

Native American and Deaf Communities: Parallels of Oppression

Damara Paris, Ed.D, CRC, NCC

English: A collage of Native Americans dressed...

English: A collage of Native Americans dressed in European attire. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Recently, the news has been rife with reports about the Washington Redskins and the controversy over their usage of “redskin” as their mascot. Native Americans began protesting in earnest during the Washington Redskin/Denver Bronco game and more protests are scheduled during future games. A good article to review about the historical connotation of the term “redskin” can be found here:

In many ways, there are parallels in how members of the Native American and Deaf communities have experienced oppression. It was not long ago that the Deaf community campaigned against offensive terms such deaf and dumb, deaf-mute and hearing-impaired. While increasingly infrequent in usage, such labels still crop up in the media.

These two distinct communities have endured tactics to homogenize their cultures into the majority, or dominant, community. In 1880, the infamous Milan conference passed a resolution that deaf students should be taught through oral methods, banning sign language in schools. For almost a hundred years, the native language of deaf individuals were suppressed, and reports of punishments of students who used sign language ranged from authority figures hitting their hands with rulers to banishment in isolating rooms.

This Census Bureau map depicts the locations o...

This Census Bureau map depicts the locations of Native Americans in the United States as of 2000. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 1879, one of the first Indian boarding schools (Carlisle in Pennsylvania) was established to remove Native American children (often forcibly and under threat of jailing their parents) from their tribal communities into schools that expected students to change their clothing, cut their hair, and discontinue use of their native languages. Many of these schools, under the guise of helping Native Americans assimilate into the European-American culture, would quell resistance of students through starvation, physical beatings and public humiliation. Many of these children were quite young when separated from their families, and were not allowed to contact them until after they graduated. Once they became adults, they did not return to their tribes and many of the customs and languages became dormant, or disappeared altogether.

English: "American Sign Language" in...

American Sign Language in Stokoe Notation. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Attempts at genocide impacted both cultures. Native Americans often refer to stories about settlers giving smallpox blankets to tribes to reduce their numbers, with some historians debunking these stories as myths. There has been documentation, however, of at least one incident shortly after the French and Indian War ended in 1763 in which a British general suggested to one of his subordinates that they use diseased-ridden blankets to reduce the Native American population. An outbreak occurred near Fort Pitt shortly after this dialogue occurred (Knollenberg, 1954). The prevailing viewpoint in the mid-1800’s was that the “only good Indian was a dead Indian” (Meider, 1993). Whether from smallpox blankets or war, the drastic reduction of the number of Native Americans over the centuries cannot be ignored.

This is not dissimilar to the Eugenics perspective in the 1800’s in which advancement of the human race was a key priority. One of the most famous eugenicists, Alexander Graham Bell, published articles that actively discouraged marriage between Deaf people in order to reduce the inheritance of deafness (Edwards, 2007). There have been published reports about the abuse, sterilization, and murder of deaf individuals during the Holocaust from 1933-1945 in Hitler’s quest for a master race (Ryan, 2005).

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

There is one more historical characteristic that Native Americans and Deaf community members share. Diligence. Despite the efforts of dominant communities to weed them out, both cultures have survived and even thrived. Thanks in part to William Stokoe whose breakthrough research demonstrated American Sign Language (ASL) was a true language, Deaf people have become empowered to use their native language. As a result, they have transcended societal perceptions to become doctors, lawyers, researchers and professors. There is a resurgence of Native traditions, and some of the tribes have fared better as they have become empowered to establish businesses. Tribal historians are documenting languages with increased urgency before they are lost altogether.
And there is evidence that these two cultures have actually intersected. Plains Indian Sign Language (PISL), shared by both deaf and hearing members of tribes in what was formerly known as the Plains, has been studied for its contributions to ASL (see As two cultures that have visual languages in common, it is a pleasant discovery that approximately 30% of PISL can be found in ASL.

Edwards, R.A.R. (2007). Chasing Aleck: The story of a dorm. The Public Historian, 29 (3), pp.
Knollenberg, B. (1954). General Amherst and germ warfare. The Mississippi Valley Historical
Review, 41 (3), pp. 489-94.
Meider, W. (1993). “The only good Indian is a dead Indian”: History and meaning of a
proverbial stereotype. The Journal of American Folklore, 106 (419), pp.38-60.
Ryan, D. F. (2005). Deaf people in Hitler’s Europe: Conducting oral history interviews with deaf
Holocaust survivors. Public Historian, 27(2), 43-52.

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

[Editor’s note: is very grateful to Dr. Paris for this wonderful contribution. In researching this article for the edit, I discovered that other than one of her references came from Sadly, jstor is not a free service, and if you wished to do further study on your own, you would need an account. I did look for copies of these texts on Wikipedia and on Amazon, but they were not to be found. Hey, I don’t run the Internet – I just work there. — BitcoDavid]

It Takes Time to be an ASL/English Bilingual

By Jean F. Andrews

The sign for Learn. Image: Lifeprint

Learning ASL and English does not happen quickly. It takes time as do all first language and second language learning. Delays in language learning is a fact in many deaf persons’ lives. But it does not have to be. Being deaf does not cause a language delay. It is the lack of access to language in the environment that causes the language delay. According to many studies, having Deaf parents who sign as well as accept their child’s deafness provide the best environment for language learning. According to Dr. David Geeslin, bilingual/bicultural environments that are set up in classrooms replicate the same home environment that Deaf parents provide. In his study at the Indiana School for the deaf, he found that it takes seven or more years for deaf children of hearing parents to show academic growth on standardized achievement tests.

Many Deaf inmates typically have language histories that show they were not signing until junior high or even high school.  Such delays in sign exposure severely restrict their abilities to use an interpreter when working with their attorney or understanding the courtroom proceedings. Simply put, they don’t have the language skills nor the conceptual and world knowledge base accumulated by hearing children through hours and even years of  parent, teacher and peer conversations.

Some prisons have a critical mass of deaf prisoners and have created their own bilingual/bicultural communities within the prisons. But these are few. Judges often ask defense lawyers, how can you get your deaf client linguistically competent to stand trial? An easy answer is; it takes time to be an ASL/English Bilingual.

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

Reading and Deaf Researchers

By Jean F. Andrews

Portrait of John Bulwer

John Bulwer, 17th c linguist who proposed a manual alphabet for the Deaf

Since I’ve been in higher education, I’ve seen an increase in numbers of graduate students who are deaf apply to deaf education programs. I have also seen the increase in the hiring of professors who are deaf in different institutions where I have worked. The topics of their research papers are typically related to Deaf culture, and to the use of ASL and fingerspelling in the teaching of reading. If literacy is to improve, it will take deaf researchers to provide us with insights on how to use ASL and fingerspelling to teach English reading.

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

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