First of all, congratulations on your victory on Dancing with the Stars. I am not a regular viewer of the show, and I am far for knowing even the basics about dancing, but it seemed to me, and everyone else, that you did a fantastic job.
I also want to thank you. The reason why I watched this season of DWTS is that I am constantly looking for role models for my son, whether they are hot models, math majors and actors like you, athletes like Derrick Coleman, or artists like Francisco de Goya. Being the hearing mother of a deaf son, I will never be able to walk in my son’s shoes, or in this case, ears. I have no way to know how he feels, how he perceives the world, or what he struggles with. He can tell me about it, of course, but I have no experience of it. That is why having references like yourself will be so important for him. So, when I tell him that he can be anything he wants, I can actually back my words with facts. For that, I am grateful, because you have broken many barriers, you have shown the world that being deaf doesn’t prevent you from winning big in broadcast TV, you have shared with us what dancing feels for you and you have even inspired a judge, and hopefully many more people, to learn sign language.
After all the niceties have been laid out, I am going to ask you for a favor: instead of fueling the battle between the Deaf community and the Cochlear Implant world, help me try to create a bridge between both. Your victory today puts you in a position in which you could really help achieve that. People from all sides of this controversy respect you. And that gives you power.
I have read as much as I have been able about you, paying special attention to interviews. And I actually don’t think you are purposefully fueling this debate. But you have ended up in the middle of it, because your enthusiastic backing of SB 210 has thrown you in the middle of it. SB 210 is a senate bill proposition which would enforce the learning of ASL and English for deaf kids in California. And here is where I have a problem.
I don’t think that forcing families to learn ASL is going to help. On the contrary, it may make them even more resistant to it. I don’t think any government should make that kind of decision on behalf of families, one way or the other. However, I think that promoting ASL and trying to reach families is very important, and the only way to go. And that is where people like me can help.
My son is profoundly deaf from birth. He is the first deaf person in both of our families, who happen to live in a different continent, speaking a different language. When we found out about our son, we weighted all the options. And after some initial hesitation, we decided to go with them all.
He is a bilateral Cochlear Implant user. Against the advice of more than one doctor and therapist, our son is learning English, Spanish and ASL. He is taking a little longer than some of his peers who are only learning English, but in my eyes, it will be worth it in the long run. He will be able to communicate in our hearing community in the US, with our family in Spain, and with the Deaf community. It’s a win win win. Even if I have been told time and again that I am wrong wrong wrong. And don’t think for a minute that it’s just the ASL. I have encountered as much opposition to teaching him Spanish. As you know, many professionals believe that ASL or a second language prevent a child from learning English. In our experience, ASL has only helped bridge what he is learning in his other two languages.
All that said, what I have dealt with is a lack of resources. It has taken us years to find an ASL instructor who would come to our house and teach ASL to the whole family, including our other two sons, who are hearing. This has put us years behind our son’s level of signing (it doesn’t help that we are older and have clumsy fingers, while he and his siblings are learning at the speed of light). It is also very hard to practice because many times people in the Deaf community are wary of Cochlear Implants users, and even more of parents like us, who made that decision for our children. And trust me, it was not an easy one.
There is not one right way to raise a deaf kid. There are as many right ways as there are families. And all of them should be respected. That would be a great start, and maybe from there we could start building a better world for our kids, a world in which all of them can be included, a world in which they want to learn ASL, not because they are forced to, but because they feel like it belongs to them. I may be too much of a naive optimist, but I’d like to think that if we all listen to each other, both with our ears and our eyes, we can achieve that. As the adults, it is our responsibility. And you have the potential to be the bridge between both worlds.
Could this be your next “dance”?
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