Local News

Advocates for the Deaf Rally for an Apology

Posted June 14, 1999

— Advocates for the deaf are in Raleigh rallying for an apology from the state's top doctor. They are upset over remarks made by David Bruton, Secretary ofHealth and Human Services, who reportedly said teaching deaf children sign language is akin to child abuse.

The rally started around 10 a.m. and focused attention on the age-old debate about the best way to educate deaf and hard of hearing children.

Jessica Barber is deaf; the 2-year-old has received a cochlear implant, which converts sound into electrical impulses that are sent to the brain as simulated sound.

Because of the boost from technology, Jessica's parents Eric and Kris Barber decided their daughter will not learnAmerican Sign Languageuntil after she has mastered English the same way hearing children do.

"She has been tested for speech and language and is almost at the level of her hearing peers that have been hearing for two and a half years," Eric Barber says. "It's really fantastic the level of progress she's made in only a year and three months of having sound."

But not every person with a hearing impairment is so fortunate. Members of the deaf community and their supporters want to get their message across. Using sign language to communicate is just as important as using spoken words.

One mother of two deaf children says her experience serves as an example. "We went the oral route," she says. "That didn't work because of frustration levels. She couldn't communicate. We tried cued speech for a while. Her frustration levels were just really through the roof. And then we went to sign language, and it was amazing. A light popped on, and she was able to communicate," says Lusella Hargrove.

Hargrove says Bruton has his facts wrong. "If you're not able to communicate with a child, in my opinion that's child abuse," she says.

Representatives from theNational Association of the Deafwere at the rally to give their support. They are calling for Bruton's resignation.

"We're not against speech development. That is the farthest thing from the truth," says Nancy Bloch, Executive Director of the association. "But we're advocating the provision of instruction in both English and American Sign Language," Bloch said through a translator.

The Barbers believe that in learning two languages at the same time, Jessica might lean more heavily on what comes easier, sign language.

For them, the decision was easy. "I can't imagine making the conscious decision in today's environment to commit her to a life where she can't communicate with the hearing community where 99.9 percent of the world can hear," her father says.

Bruton was not available for an on-camera interview, but he did fax WRAL a letter he sent to the Director of the state'sDivision of Services for the Deaf and the Hard of Hearing.

He says his comments were misunderstood and there is no one best way to educate all children. He called for the end of sign language being theonlyway to communicate and says it is wrong to deny children the opportunity to speak.

Bruton goes on to say that academically, deaf children in North Carolina have received very poor student evaluations.

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