ST. LOUIS-To most people familiar with early detection of hearing loss and early intervention, these approaches to treating babies born deaf or hard-of-hearing are like motherhood and apple pie. After all, in less than 20 years, the movement to address hearing loss as young as possible has made it routine that babies born in the U.S. with hearing loss receive audiologic treatment—typically including cochlear implants or hearing aids—within the first year.
And, as a result of early diagnosis and treatment, the chances are now very good that such children will develop speech and language skills comparable to those of their normal-hearing classmates. Who could be against that?
The answer is Audism Free America, a small but committed group whose stated mission is “to promote and protect the civil liberties of Deaf people and their linguistic birthrights.”
A DEMONSTRATION AND DEMANDS
Members of the group were on hand this week for an Audism Free America Rally, timed to coincide with the 11th annual Early Hearing Detection and Intervention (EHDI) Meeting, which was held March 4-6 in St. Louis. About 50 protesters took part in a march on Sunday to the Marriott Hotel, site of the EHDI meeting.
Audism Free America came to St. Louis with a number of demands for EHDI, including that it “shift its approach to Deaf infants and their families from a pathological/medical bias to a positive/culturally-additive model in identification.” It said, “To ensure this, parents need to be informed at the time of identification that American Sign Language is a linguistic human right for a Deaf child and Deaf/ASL early service providers are trained to work with them.”
Audism Free America contends that if a child is born deaf, the deafness is not a condition that needs fixing. And it has coined the term “audism” to describe “attitudes and practices based on the assumption that behaving in the ways of those who speak and hear is desired and best.”
Among the group’s other demands were for EHDI–and also government bodies, including the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Department of Education–to increase funds “for bilingual (ASL and English) materials, early educational programs… and Deaf mentoring programs.”
The group also called upon EHDI “to hire Deaf people who use and support ASL/Deaf Culture in leadership roles at national and state levels.”
EHDI LEADER RESPONDS
Karl White, PhD, is founder and director of the National Center for Hearing Assessment and Management, which organizes the EHDI meeting. In an interview with a reporter for stltoday.com, he explained that EHDI participants recognize deafness as a culture that “doesn’t need to be fixed.” He added that EHDI programs ensure that parents of deaf children know their options, which might include cochlear implants.