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.

A Show of Hands—An Evening with the National Theater of the Deaf

By Jean F. Andrews

On Friday, November 13, 2015, at the University of Houston’s Jose Quintero Theater on campus, the National Theater of the Deaf entertained a mixed audience of hearing and Deaf members. They presented a show called “A Show of Hands.” Behind a bright green vertically slotted curtain, you could only see the hands of actors in bright pink gloves. With other Deaf and hearing actors on the stage, they created hilarious dialogue, created scenery, cracked jokes, and taught American Sign Language (ASL). The audience enjoyed poems, stories and jokes. My favorite was a signed poem about flowers. For the politically minded, there was also a skit about the hair of a politician with actors taking the role of the hair, the wind, and the politician. You can use your imagination to figure out how the story went. The actors performed in ASL with spoken words voiced over so it was a bilingual experience. The performance was delightful to see as shown by the frequent hand-wave applause of the audience and to hear the staccato giggles of the children in the audience throughout the show.

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

Prevalence of False Confessions in the US

By Supporter Contributor Carli Leavitt

English: Omar Khadr is interrogated by two Can...

Omar Khadr is interrogated by two Canadians while a female CIA agent oversees. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 2010, Stephen Brodie, who is deaf, was exonerated after serving 20 years in prison for child sex abuse. The 5-year-old victim explained that her attacker had a “strange voice” which eventually lead police to Brodie. He was interrogated for over 18 hours, oftentimes without a sign language interpreter present. As is the case with 1 out of 4 people who are wrongfully convicted, he eventually confessed to the attack even though he provided details that didn’t match the crime and also confessed to circumstances the police had fabricated.

As of November 2016, there have been 1,700 exonerations across the United States, totaling 15,288 years that innocent men and women have spent behind bars for crimes they didn’t commit. On average in the US, an innocent person will spend just under 9 years in prison before being exonerated. When the death penalty is on the table, the shocking prevalence of wrongful convictions becomes even more terrifying.

English: Awarded to Pete Shellem for his Inves...

Awarded to Pete Shellem for his Investigative Journalism leading to exoneration of 4 innocent individuals. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Confessions are seen as the ultimate sign of guilt. So, how is it that people, 27% of all exonerated inmates to be exact, could possibly submit false confessions? While false confessions for horrific crimes such as rape, child sex abuse, or murder seem completely unfathomable, they happen more than one would think. The interrogation process can be grueling, confusing, and overwhelming, leaving even innocent people desperate to make it stop.

Another factor is the sheer trauma of the whole situation. If the victim was a loved one, this adds another level of emotional stress to the interrogation process. The suspect is reeling from the news of the crime then forced into a highly stressful situation of an interrogation. If you combine this intense abnormal situation with a communication barrier like hearing impairment, the results can be disastrous. Many people feel helpless, scared, and confused during the interrogation process, made even more apparent by a lack of food or sleep prompting even innocent people to admit guilt to crimes they didn’t commit.

We as a nation are starting to see the holes in the justice system as DNA exoneration is becoming more common, but for every case with significant DNA evidence, there are many more without. If wrongful convictions are as prevalent as it seems, imagine the true number of innocent Americans living behind bars, or worse yet, on death row.

I’m a young professional and graduate of UC Santa Barbara with a passion for social justice. I commonly write articles on the prison system, exoneration, and criminal defense. I’m based in Southern California and spend my free time riding my horse, surfing, hiking, and practicing yoga. To see more of my work, go to


ASL Immersion Learning at Northeastern

By BitcoDavid


My Sign tutor recommended I watch the following video. It offers a unique insight into Deaf culture and the problems associated with intercommunication between our two languages, English and ASL. I had hoped to embed the video, but the original publisher blocked embedding on their YouTube page. Below please find the link to watch it on YouTube.

There are a number of obstacles a Sign student must overcome in order to master the language. Classes, DVDs and meetups aren’t sufficient. Like English, to a lesser degree, it’s not just a matter of memorizing vocabulary and learning grammar rules. Sign is a cultural language. Learning it requires learning some of the Deaf experience. A gesture or facial expression that a hearing person would find offensive, may be merely descriptive amongst the ASL community.

ASL Convention, March 2008, in Austin, Texas (US)


Signers touch one another in order to get attention. If I need to say something to a Deaf friend who doesn’t happen to be looking directly at me, it isn’t considered at all rude to take his arm, or tap him on the shoulder. Hearing people would view that as an invasion of personal space, or even a sexual assault. The facial expression used to show someone as big-boned or pleasingly-plump is outright offensive to a larger English speaker. I was with a Deaf friend who was looking for his girlfriend, shopping in a mall. When we came upon an information kiosk, I signed to my friend, “Why don’t we just page her?” His disturbance at my ignorance was palpable. “No good. How hear her?” he signed back, visibly irked at the stupid Hearie. I take paging someone from a kiosk for granted. The Deaf take being unable to page someone from a kiosk for granted.

It’s that cultural schism that necessitates an immersion methodology, if the student truly wants to master this amazing, beautiful and surprisingly expressive language. Oh, and if you don’t think ASL is expressive, get a Deaf person angry. I think it may in fact, be more expressive than English.

Northeastern University offers an immersion based boot camp in ASL. The program lasts one week, during which a) the student attends classes and lectures given in Sign, with no English interpreter, and b) the students aren’t allowed to fall back on English when speaking to one another or the faculty member. It’s a week long voice-off Sign marathon that would make even the strong second-language Signer quake in his boots. Students do not have to be members of the N.U. Deaf Studies program, or even enrolled in the school, but there is a diagnostic assessment that you must pass in order to qualify.

Here’s a link to the page.

Last year’s event took place in June, but as I understand it – and I could be wrong – this year, 2016, it is scheduled to occur in April. Several friends who study ASL have told me that the event is well worth the price, and most people sign up for the next year, right away. There is a refund policy, but read that carefully. They stagger the amount of your refund based on how early you cancel. Either way, seating is limited and the program fills up quickly. My advice would be to register as soon as possible to secure yourself a place. They do fill up, from what I’ve been told.

Me? I couldn’t imagine something I’d rather do – except maybe compete in the Masters Boxing Competition. But that’s a story for another Blog site.

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.

An ABC Story

By BitcoDavid

The American manual alphabet in photographs

Fingerspelling alphabet (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are two essential reasons why it is harder to learn ASL as a second language, than spoken languages. First, Sign is a conceptual language rather than a symbolic one. The word table, in English, doesn’t mean a thing with four legs that sits in your kitchen. That would be your dog or your grandma. It is only that all English speakers agree from birth that, that particular combination of letters represents the item we’re talking about.

Sign on the other hand, relies on actual concepts. The sign for table shows visually, what the thing is. So it is necessary for the skilled signer to make her signs visually representative of the concepts she’s trying to express. The sign for a small coffee table would be noticeably different from the sign for a huge table in a dining hall.

The second issue is really an extension of the first. Sign relies on space, facial expression and body language. This is really tough to master. It’s not just a simple case of learning vocabulary and grammar. There is no difference in words, between he is going to the store, and I went to the store. The difference in those two sentences would be expressed by using sign space and facial expression. So, I would be talking about an individual and I would point to a predetermined area within my signing space, to indicate that I am talking about that person and not about myself. Similarly, I would use a palm over my shoulder to indicate past tense. A choice between two options is indicated by shifting body weight.

A tool has been developed to help students learn the art of pantomime and facial expression, as well as to get a basic feel for the language. In ABC stories, you don’t generally use traditional signs, although you can where you need them. The idea is to use pantomime and facial expression to convey your idea, but there’s a catch. Each gesture has to contain within it, the letters of the Fingerspelling alphabet – in sequence. So for example, you might use the gesture of swinging a baseball bat but you’d be holding the bat with “a” handshapes. You’d follow that gesture by using a “b” handshape over your eyes to symbolize watching the ball soar over the grandstand. Believe me, it’s harder than you might think.

Here, for your enjoyment is my ABC story.

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.

First Digest Post in a While

By BitcoDavid

We haven’t had a digest post in quite a while, but when enough news happens in a short period of time, it becomes necessary to cover it in a single post.

Attorneys Pat Bliss, right, and Reginald Gracia speak to the Florida Commission on Offender Review on behave of Felix Garcia on Wednesday, Nov. 19, 2014, in Tallahassee, Fla. Garcia, a deaf Florida man who supporters say was framed for murder by his brother has a chance to get out of prison. Garcia is serving a life sentence for the murder of Joseph Tramontana Jr. during a 1981 Tampa robbery. (AP Photo/Steve Cannon)

Attorneys Pat Bliss, right, and Reginald Gracia speak to the Florida Commission on Offender Review on behave [sic] of Felix Garcia on Wednesday, Nov. 19, 2014, in Tallahassee, Fla. Garcia, a deaf Florida man who supporters say was framed for murder by his brother has a chance to get out of prison. Garcia is serving a life sentence for the murder of Joseph Tramontana Jr. during a 1981 Tampa robbery. (AP Photo/Steve Cannon)

First off, this past Thursday, October 1st was Felix Garcia‘s birthday.  Pat Bliss sent me the following:

October 1st is Felix’s birthday. He’ll be 54. Felix has endured some challenging times this year and if you would like to encourage him and send him a birthday card here is his current address:

Felix Garcia #482246
RMC – Main Unit
P.O. Box 628
Lake Butler, FL 32054

I really meant to get this posted last week. I’ve been swamped with other projects, and I just didn’t get a chance to get this up in time for his birthday. For that I apologize to Felix, and to those of you who would have liked a card to arrive in time. All I can do is to say, we’re with you Felix, and we honestly and sincerely hope that next years cards can be sent to a civilian address. Again, please accept my apology with these belated birthday wishes.

People meet and teach each other ASL for free. Image Credit: BitcoDavid

People meet and teach each other ASL for free.
Image Credit: BitcoDavid

Second, California is currently debating a change to their education code, that will create a protection for ASL as the official language of the Deaf and HOH. If this law passes, all students who have language problems in the English speaking world, will have ASL classes available to them. Likewise, Hearing students who want to go into Special Education, as well as ASL clubs and classes in mainstreamed schools, will be offered the opportunity to learn Sign. the following video was made by students in an ASL club in an unidentified California High School. If you’re interested in learning more, the name of the law is SB210, and here’s the .gov link:


Sign videos are an incredibly important tool for anyone struggling to learn Sign. It’s a uniquely difficult language to learn, because you need to see it rather than simply hear or read it. Following experienced signers is much more difficult than simply memorizing your own vocabulary. This video not only deals with a critical issue, but because it was made by students, it happens to be very easy to follow. Captions are provided, making it even easier to associate new signs with English words.

I think it’s critically important that those who make Sign videos caption them, not only for those Hearing people who would be interested in what is being discussed, but also for those of us who use these videos as one of the tools in our arsenal, for learning this extremely complex language.

Abreham Zemedagegehu, who is deaf, poses for a portrait at Akin Gump law firm in Washington on Sept. 21, 2015. He is being represented pro bono by Akin Gump in a lawsuit he filed alleging neglect in the Arlington County, Va., jail. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)

Finally, we have this article which was brought to my attention by Jean Andrews. It came from the Washington Post, written by Matt Zapotosky. We are always happy when a major media outlet covers our cause, and I would take this opportunity to thank Wapo for helping to bring the plight of Deaf inmates into the public conversation.

The way Abreham Zemedagegehu tells it, the six weeks he spent in the Arlington County, Va., jail nearly amounted to torture.

A deaf Ethio­pian immigrant with limited ability to speak or write English, Zemedagegehu says he missed two or three meals a week because he could not hear the announcement that it was time to eat. He says he went his entire stay without medication for back pain, struggled to communicate with jailers and was unable to make phone calls to friends outside.

Read the rest of the article 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.

A Quick Update

By Jean F. Andrews

Recently, I covered the International Congress on the Education of the Deaf, in Greece. Here’s an update on that story.

The French Sign Language (LSF) vocabulary word...

The French Sign Language (LSF) vocabulary word, letter or number “international” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the Maryland Bulletin (Spring, 2015, p. 12), James E. Tucker, Superintent of the Maryland School for the deaf  in Frederick, Maryland wrote about the recent lack of sign language interpreters at the 22nd International Education of the Deaf Congress held in Athens, Greece in July of 2015.

While there were over 650 presentations from scholars from around the world, they were not accessible to the 122 Deaf participants because 40% of the sessions did not have International Interpreters. The Deaf attendees drafted a resolution for future conferences to provide universal language access to participants in International Sign Language and English (printed, captioned and spoken) and included guidelines for the scheduling and budgeting of for qualified International interpreters as well as real-time captioning

English: Mount Lycabettus, Athens, Greece. Fra...

Mount Lycabettus, Athens, Greece. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

World Federation of Sign Language Interpreters Facebook page can be found at:


Also see:

Here’s the two organization’s statement on the Mandela Memorial.

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

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