Book Review by Jean Andrews

By Jean F. Andrews

Backspace by Steve C. Baldwin, published by Savory Words Publishing (2015)

Image: Amazon

Set in southeast Texas, Dr. Steve Baldwin crafted a briskly paced murder mystery filled with family violence, addiction, bullying, blackmail, deceit and greed, murder, and incest.  In the early 1950’s, stuck in an unsympathetic hearing world filled with ignorance, misinformation, and shame, Joanne Webster, an 18 year-old girl who is deaf has few options but to be her family’s maid. She manages to find solace in long walks in the piney east Texas woods picking flowers living in her own dream world surviving by her own instincts with a few pitying friends and family members to console her.  In author, Steve Baldwin’s words, “Joanne was a lonely soul craving meaningful two-way communication.”  Baldwin deftly creates memorable characters from Joanne, a naive deaf girl, to the annoying and unscrupulous Zenith hearing aid dealer who tries to sell a hearing aid to Joanne’s family, to uncouth bullying youths, to a jealous older sister, to a police system that is incompetent in finding Joanne’s killer, to a court system that is too hurried to provide justice, and to a deceitful and greedy doctor.  But sixty years later, a “Lone Ranger,” comes to town. A young and handsome Deaf doctoral student with social justice leanings takes it upon himself to find our more facts about the case. He meets a sign language interpreter and together they solve the mystery of the identity of Joanne’s cowardly killer.

English: A picture of an Ardent hearing aid fr...

Ardent hearing aid from the 1930’s. Orkney Wireless Museum Image: Wikipedia

Baldwin’s story will not only captivate murder mystery fans, but also deaf studies enthusiasts. A prolific writer and historian by professional training, Baldwin captures the history of treatment of deaf people in the 1950’s and how deaf people were often hidden in their homes and not provided education. He balances his deaf characters from an illiterate deaf girl to a highly literate Deaf doctoral student who is bilingual in American Sign Language and English, so Baldwin does not leave the readers with Deaf stereotypes as many novels do.  He also shows that during this era, hearing families did not learn sign language so deaf persons, like Joanne, were socially isolated from daily family life and had to rely on gestures and body language.   To further depict society’s response, Baldwin showed how Deaf people were often made fun of and thought to be less intelligent than hearing people, when in reality there were just as intelligent but simply couldn’t hear.

Coincidentally when Dr. Baldwin told me about his book, Backspace, I was deep into my own academic writing updating a textbook and reviewing literature on visual attention and deafness by neuroscientists whose laboratory experiments revealed that deaf people-both signers and non-signers have more enhanced peripheral vision. (You will see in the story that Joanne, a non-signer was able to detect jumping squirrels and flying birds in her side-space quicker than John, her hearing companion saw them.).   So, as my fingers turned the e-book pages, I was delighted to see how Dr. Baldwin cleverly wove this science into his story. Readers will quickly understand how space figures into Joanne’s demise.

I highly recommend this book. With a click of your mouse, you can buy it through Amazon for the price of $3.99, download to your Kindle and begin reading it in less than a minute.

Jean F. Andrews is a Distinguished Professor Emerita of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education at Lamar University.

More on Si5S

By BitcoDavid

This character is manually expressed by the image on the front cover of the book. Image: (edited for size and color by BitcoDavid)

A few months ago, we did a piece on Si5S, a written form of ASL. Si5S deserves your attention because it nullifies the argument that ASL isn’t a language due to the fact that it has no written form. But its relevance goes beyond that. For one thing, it can help non-Signers learn the language. Because this isn’t a hieroglyphic writing system – but rather a method for notating actual signs – ASL students can use it as a mnemonic aid for learning physical signs. In fact, an essential part of learning your first language – be it English, or whatever – was your learning to read and write. You had some limited speaking skills from as early as about 2-years of age, but you didn’t become conversational in your native language, until you could read.

A segment of the several-hundred-odd characters are intentionally left handed. If the writer signs with his left hand dominant, he would use these characters rather than their right-handed counterparts. The reader would know that the writer is left-handed.

I recently acquired the official Si5S textbook, by the system’s creative team, Robert Arnold Augustus, Elsie Ritchie and Suzanne Stecker and edited by Elisa Abenchuchan Vita. I have only skimmed through it in the past few hours, but I’m beginning to understand it much better than I did when I wrote the original piece.

This is not fingerspelling, although all 26 fingerspelling characters are represented. It is also not – as I said above – a hieroglyphic representational writing system. The characters don’t represent things, like trees or bridges. They represent signs.

Notice the upper left character in the above graphic. On top, you see the hand as it would look, being viewed by someone looking at a signer. On the bottom, you see the Si5S character for that handshape. The character is reversed, because Si5S is written from the writer’s perspective. The symbols represent what the actual signer is seeing. The character’s foundation is something that looks somewhat like a musical half note. That represents the thumb contacting the finger tips in a O-hand posture. The staff of the half note represents the index finger – sticking up. The smaller vertical mark represents the pinky finger. Finally, the little dash inside the circle represents the thumb – folded over. If that dash were sticking out to the left, this would be the written form of the sign for “I love you.”

But those are static images. Si5S includes diacritical marks to show movement, location and direction. The sign for “tell you” is a different sign from the one for “you tell me.” Similarly, the characters for those signs reflect that difference.

Above is a graphic that shows the stationary views of the potential poses for the basic open palm. Each alteration to the primary U-shape shows the position of the fingers. In a writing environment, these symbols would be accompanied with more marks to indicate the other parameters of an ASL sign.

As I said, the book contains a massive number of characters – far more than English writing. Each character represents a movement or a handshape as used in signed ASL.

Si5S is a game-changer. This brilliant system could not only change the lives of native ASL signers, but could change the way hearing people learn sign.

You can learn more here, here or here

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 Making of the Film “Love is Never Silent”

By Joanne Greenberg

I wrote the book In This Sign, parts of which were made into a Hallmark Hall of Fame production.

 MAY 20 1963; Joanne Greenberg scrubs up Son Alan, age four; She finds room for literary career on Lookout Mountain.; (Photo By The Denver Post via Getty Images) Credit: The Denver Post / contributor

MAY 20 1963; Joanne Greenberg scrubs up Son Alan, age four; She finds room for literary career on Lookout Mountain.; (Photo By The Denver Post via Getty Images)
Credit: The Denver Post / contributor

The book had been out for some years and had won an award for its portrayal of Deaf people and their hearing children. Because my husband and I had become part of the Denver Deaf community – he had been a rehab counselor with a deaf clientele – I had come to know some professional Deaf people and actors in the Theater of the Deaf. This wonderful group had brought classical and original drama on tour to Denver every year or so. That year it was Parade, an original drama about the deaf experience and culture. It was funny, moving, and profound. I went backstage after the show to congratulate the actors. I learned that they had one day to tour before they continued on to their next city. I joined the tour the next day. In a mountain town where we went, a grandmother, whose deaf daughter had been part of the theater’s summer program, was delighted to see the troupe and opened the town to the cast, calling ahead to make the off-season closed places open and welcoming.

Coming back on the bus, someone mentioned that I had written In This Sign and I asked my seatmate if she had read it and if she liked it. She had read it. “Did you like it?”


“Why not?”

“It had Deaf people who were poor and ignorant, and I don’t like that presentation.”

I disagreed. “My characters are heroic. I define a hero as someone who takes the yard of cloth he or she is given and makes a suit and two pairs of pants out of it.” We talked about other things and I left the bus. The woman I had spoken with was  an actress in the theater and her name is Julianna Fjeld-Corrado.

She called me a week later by relay, and said that she had read the book again and had seen what I meant about heroes. She asked if I would option the book to her for the making of a film.

“Have you ever made a film?”

“No, but I want to make this one.”

I liked the idea and spoke to my agent, who laughed at the whole thing. Julianna asked me if she might meet with my agent, bringing an interpreter. I said yes. Later, my agent called and said she had been strongly impressed. We optioned the book for one dollar, for the first year, to increase by fifty cents each year there after. [This is not a typo. In order to facilitate this important project, Ms. Greenberg took no payment for her book rights. — Ed.] We signed a contract.

For ten years, Julianna went from production-company to script-writer to film-maker to advertising-department of various corporations. She was rebuffed at all of them until Warner Brothers said thy would make the film, and then changed its mind. Hallmark got interested and said they would make the film, but the TV channel nixed the idea because – among other things – Julianna and I had specified that the film have Deaf actors to play the roles of the Deaf characters – a first. The interpretation of the Sign wouldn’t be captioned, but would be made integral within the script, unobtrusively echoed by hearing characters.

Year after year it went. I was so unhappy at all her thwarted work that I listened to her stories of refusal with growing sorrow and irritation. All that for no reward: “Are you so deaf that you don’t know what no means?” She only grinned and said, “I guess not.”


A second try at Hallmark and this time, they said yes. Two top actors from Theater of the Deaf – Ed Waterstreet and Phyllis Frelich – were signed on as leads and other bit parts were also played by Deaf actors. The hearing bunch included Sid Caesar, Cloris Leachman and Mare Winningham. Julianna played a bit part, as well as being co-producer. All of that was a first on theater or TV.

The film covered the second part of the book. I had been challenged by the problem of how to render translation to give a flavor of Sign without making a literal translation, which comes off sounding unlettered. The decisions made in the film honored that. It was a good film. Darlene Craviotto Directed. We got an Emmy.

[Editor’s note: I would love to screen this film, on We couldn’t post it permanently, but we may be able to get Hallmark to allow us to show it – in its entirety – for a brief interval. In order to make that happen, I would need to show them an interest. Please comment here with the hashtag, #LoveisNeverSilentScreenCampaign. Share on FaceBook and Twitter. If we can generate enough interest in this beautiful and historic film – the first film to have Deaf actors in Deaf roles, one year before Children of a Lesser God – we can convince Hallmark to allow us to screen it. — BitcoDavid]

Joanne Greenberg was born in 1932, in Brooklyn, NY. She was educated at American University and received and honorary Doctorate from Gallaudet University – the world’s only college for the Deaf. She has written 2 books on the subject and has spent decades working with state mental hospitals for appropriate care for the mentally ill Deaf.

Outcasts and Angels: Stories featuring the Deaf

By BitcoDavid

Nadine Gordimer and David Grossman

Nadine Gordimer and David Grossman (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As many of you know, for about the past 3 weeks, I’ve been working to translate and caption the video “What is ASL?” by Deaf activist and Signing whiz, Lilcoco Love. But she’s a native Signer, and I’m… well… I’m me. It’s an awesome video, and she’s got a lot to say. About ASL, Deaf culture, and the belief by some English speakers and even some Deaf, that ASL hampers English and reading development. We’re friends on FaceBook now, and I’m hoping that not only can I get her help with the video, but perhaps I can get her to write a piece for us, or even to record a new video. I’ll keep you posted, either way.

In the meantime, there’s this:

I originally posted this on ASL Learners by – our FaceBook group – and received some interesting comments. my comment was about how the girl in the video, sits down with an ASL book, spends one night in the diner, studying it – and is a Signing genius the following night. In my post, I said that I’ve been struggling with immersion level learning, for at least 2 years now, and I’m not as good as this girl, after a night of cramming. I go on to say, that I thought I’d have this knocked out in about 6 months, and my tutor, Randy Tweedie, tells me that I’m still looking at about 4 more years to become conversational.

ASL in family

ASL in family (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Again, let me stress that ASL is a language, and just as you wouldn’t attempt to learn German, or Japanese – from a book, overnight – nor can you learn ASL that way. Furthermore, since ASL is not a spoken or written language, it’s actually even harder for 2nd language users to learn.

But, I’m a cynic.

On the other hand, I also received a comment that really hit home. This commenter simply asked, “Why doesn’t the Deaf kid ever save the Hearing kid?”

Really. Why are there so few strong Deaf leads in literature and film? Well, there are. You just need to know where to look for them. Enter “Outcasts and Angels – The New Anthology of Deaf Characters in Literature. This book, edited by Edna Edith Sayers, features short stories written around Deaf characters. And best of all, our publisher, Joanne Greenberg has 2 entries. She’s joined by such names as Ambrose Bierce, Isak Dinesen, Nadine Gordimer, Flannery O’Connor, Juozas Grušas and Julian Barnes.

It is available through Amazon, or from Gallaudet Press.

But wait. There’s more. For those of you who follow us on FaceBook, you might get a kick out of Jack’s new page. That’s right. Everybody’s favorite Internet Rock star and Dog-about-Town – Jack – now has his very own FaceBook page. There’ll be no living with him now.

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.

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.

Book Review: Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman

By Joanne Greenberg

English: Piper Kerman at the 2010 Brooklyn Boo...

Piper Kerman at the 2010 Brooklyn Book Festival. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is a memoir of fifteen months spent in Danbury Federal Prison work camp. In the range of prisons, this was the highest (best); the others were downhill from there. Piper had been a drug dealer, left the drug game, and ten years later was arrested in connection with a sweep arrest of her former gang members. This woman brought to her experience the absolute best possible strengths – she was healthy, young, attractive but not beautiful, cultured but not pretentious, and flexible.

The book reads well. The reader is brought into Piper’s  prison life as she goes through different levels of the experience, and the reader admires her ability to adjust to what are often uncomfortable but never horrific situations. Later, in jail, pending an appearance in court, things are not as manageable. The writing is smooth and interesting. I had some quibbles with her take on her fellow inmates. I don’t know of any group anywhere as comfort giving, stimulating, appreciative, or loving as how she describes her

fellow prisoners. The administration didn’t count at all. They appear and disappear in a mist with one or two exceptions that she managed to work around. The positive relations that she had with her fellow prisoners made me a little suspicious. I think she was using them to show how useless and ridiculous the modern American prison system is. I agree with her, but I can’t help feeling a little bit manipulated.

This book was highly recommended to me by a friend, and I haven’t had a chance to discuss it with her. I can see why the book would be very popular, because it strikes all the right notes. The prison system sucks, but ordinary people are the salt of the earth. As you already know, this is not the case. Most of the people I picked up when I was doing rescue just thought they were going someplace else. Occasionally, though, we got scuzzballs. I thing the police get bitter because of the scuzzball ratio and this influences their outlook.

The book can be purchased through as well as other outlets.

Joanne Greenberg was born in 1932, in Brooklyn, NY. She was educated at American University and received and honorary Doctorate from Gallaudet University – the world’s only college for the Deaf. She has written 2 books on the subject and has spent decades working with state mental hospitals for appropriate care for the mentally ill Deaf.

Militarized Cops and Drug War Victims

By BitcoDavid

Cheryl Ann Stillwell. Image: the Grey Train

The Huffington Post recently featured a story by Radley Balko, author of Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces. The article centers around the death of Cheryl Ann Stillwell, a middle-aged single woman, shot to death in a police raid gone awry.

According to Balko, Stillwell was a recluse, afraid of the drug activity she witnessed in her neighborhood. Stillwell did own a handgun, and she had installed surveillance video equipment in and around her home. But it wasn’t the undesirable element whom she needed to fear, it was a militarized SWAT team, enforcing a warrant with no name and no address – merely a description of her house as given by an unidentified informant, seeking to save his own skin.

Image: Narconon

This tragic tale is really a he said, she said of complex lies and deception. A story of police so bent on capturing drug dealers, that they will rely on coercion and hearsay. Stillwell, apparently was on a doctor’s prescription for Oxycontin, of which she gave 2 pills to a neighbor who claimed to be suffering from pain. Shortly afterward, the neighbor was arrested, and in order to cop a deal, turned in Stillwell.

At five-thirty in the morning, on December 22, 2005, SWAT team agents armed to the teeth, kicked in her front door. It was to be one of 3 raids, that day. In a haze of sleep, Stillwell went for her gun, but forensic evidence reveals she didn’t fire it. One of the officers claims to have seen her finger twitch on the trigger – in the darkened house. She died in a hail of gunfire.

And in Florida, to this day, all drug related search and arrest warrants are carried out by SWAT teams.

But Cheryl Ann Stillwell isn’t the only victim here. As America’s insatiable desire for narcotics increases, coupled with her insane need to criminalize drug use – as she seeks to lock up more and more of her citizens while further militarizing the police in the War on Drugs, we all become the victims. Cheryl Ann Stillwell never got her day in court. She never had her Miranda rights read her. At 5:30 in the morning, a small paramilitary force – a junta – busted into her home and killed her in her bed. And we are OK with that.

To learn more, go to Raid of the Day, or Drug Raid Gone Wrong. To pre-order Balko’s book, go to Amazon.

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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