FULL EPISODE: Experiencing Deaf lifestyles and cultures in the U.S.

In her 20-year career teaching – and her experience in higher-education teaching deaf studies – Dr. Karen Lindeman has been laser focused on the science, intervention and understanding of students who are deaf or hard of hearing.

But what does it mean to be deaf? What is the different between lowercase “d” deaf – the scientific condition with hearing difficulty or inability – and uppercase “D” Deaf – the social beliefs, behavior, history and traditions of deafness.

We’ll get into all of this and more in this episode of PennWest POV.


Chris LaFuria (Intro): Alright thank you so much for joining us here today on PennWest POV. I am excited to welcome Dr. Karen Lindeman, a professor of Early Childhood Education in the PennWest system. She has over 20 years of teaching experience in both the private and public-school sector. She has worked as a teacher of the deaf, a Kindergarten teacher and as an Early Intervention Specialist. She has also served as an educational sign language interpreter. So today we are going to be talking a lot about American Sign Language. Dr. Lindeman teaches deaf studies here at Edinboro. In addition to teaching courses about play, child development, social studies methods and American Sign Language here at the Edinboro campus, she is also the program lead for the deaf studies program. Her research interests include creating developmentally appropriate practices for very young children and also authentic assessment and inclusion of children with special needs. So Dr. Lindeman thank you so much for joining us here today on PennWest POV, it’s exciting to have you.

Karen Lindeman: Thank you so much for having me. This is fun.

Chris: Okay, so what we are going to talk about today is your work with the deaf population. We’re going to talk a little bit about the science behind it, about the developmental nature of it, but we’re also going to talk about the stigmas about the deaf culture and what that means to people today. So, to start off, you’ve taught early childhood, you’ve taught intervention but now you’re teaching deaf studies. That’s what we really want to focus on. So, take us back to when you first got interested in teaching deaf studies. What is it that got you first interested, that you wanted to dig into the topic.

Karen: Oh, that’s a great question, because the early childhood piece and the deaf education piece really do go hand in hand. I was very young, I grew up near the Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf (WPSD) in Pittsburgh and I just saw a lot of deaf people, I saw a lot of signing. Now that I know how young children play, they play out their interests, I would play deaf.  So as young as 5 or 6 years old, I would dump my crayon box and get a belt. I would tie my crayon box to my waist and put strings around my ears and I would demand that my family sign to me. So as an early childhood person, I look back on that and think, wow what was I telling my family about my interests at a very young age. Luckily, I had a very perceptive mother who started sending me to WPSD, the school for the deaf, to engage in any way I could, whether it was to play volleyball, or to work in the classrooms. I was one of the youngest to take the adult sign language class with my mother’s encouragement. So, when it became time to go to school, college, I wanted something to do with schools but something to do with signing and deaf ed, seemed like the perfect fit.

Chris: It seemed like a fit.

Karen: Yeah, the perfect place. I looked for a four-year undergrad program because I knew at 18 that’s what I wanted to do. So that’s some of the passion behind our four-year undergrad program. We are now only one of two programs in the state of Pennsylvania that has a four-year undergrad deaf education program for students who know right now that’s something they want to do.

Chris: You mention there are only two schools and we are going to talk about some of the advancements and challenges of the deaf education field but for listeners who might not be in tune to deaf culture and the nature of deaf individuals, talk a little bit about the range and the spectrum of deafness. So, there are different levels, there’s different personalities, different physical natures of it, talk a little about the wide range. So, when I was in grade school, you were either deaf or hearing. We had a special program for people that were deaf. They were in our classroom some of the time but they had a special curriculum. Since we are seeing a lot of more inclusive approaches, classroom aides, and technology that has helped out a lot, talk a little about the people themselves; what causes these certain levels of deafness, what are some of the unique identities?

Karen: Wow, that’s a great question. So, I think we have to start by noting very distinct, different groups. One would be a group, that we actually write it with a lowercase d, deaf. This would be a group that does care a lot about their audiogram or what level of hearing loss they have. What I do with my teachers, into more a disability view of deafness, and then all the way to what we call a capital D, Deaf, culturally deaf, that isn’t too worried as much about their actual hearing access, as much as they are about the passion of their language the use, American Sign Language, their cultural group and things of that nature. I do want to point out that I am not deaf, as we are doing a podcast, but I am a deaf culture ally for sure. I try to get out in the deaf community and socialize and definitely be an advocate for ASL being used in a culturally appropriate way. But, unfortunately, a lot of the work that I do as a teacher of the deaf and training my students to be teachers of the deaf, are worried about the students who are disabled because of their hearing loss. I actually go as far as saying, it’s not the hearing loss that is the problem, it is the language delay that’s the problem. We have children that are born, let’s even back this up. I'm an early childhood person, by saying what’s the first sense developed in utero? It’s hearing. It’s the very first one. That’s why moms talk to their babies and they want the dads to read to the babies.

Chris: Like the music on the stomach.

Karen: Yeah, exactly. So that’s how early the brain is starting to develop language and using that access to hearing. So, a baby who is born deaf, has no access to language. When you think about how, again my early childhood background, how much we use language to think, to problem solve, executive function. It is what we learn to eventually read and write. Good speaking and listening leads to good reading and writing. So, what I am most worried about are the children that are born without access to language, then causing them to be delayed. Sometimes cognitively delayed, without that access. So, we need to get families access to those hearing aids, we talked about cochlear implants and access to signing and ASL. We don’t want kids to identify themselves later in life, we actually refer to that as knowing deaf identify. We want kids, as they grow, to have a capital D Deaf identity. I am proud to be deaf, I have this passionate language that I love and use. So, I am training teachers to move kids toward this strong identity which means early access to language as soon as they possibly can.

Chris: I know your background is in education, are you familiar with some of the audiological conditions that people might be born with? What could happen to a child that causes deafness at any level?

Karen: It’s genetic, definitely a genetic component. Historically going back to the people in Martha's Vineyard, where they passed that gene on until almost the whole island at some point had some form of deafness. We have kids with microtia, that means you’re born without an outer ear. We can have kids with Usher syndrome, there’s lots of other syndromes that, thanks to technology, we now know. I have had families in my caseload, you’ve mentioned my early intervention work, so I go out to meet families right after their child is born. I don’t think we can talk about any of this without talking about the history and where we’ve come. When I was starting out, I got calls for early intervention for two-year-olds, three-year-olds, four-year-olds. Why? Because they are not talking yet. Mom has banged the pots and pans behind them in the kitchen and they don’t turn around. But now, starting in the year 2000, every state requires a new born hearing screening. So now we have babies at birth that are getting unfortunately, taking the cultural perspective, the deaf community is concerned that the mother hears right away the word fail. Your baby has already failed something because they’re deaf. But those are the families I work with starting right out of the gate. Right away they can get genetic testing to find out. I have had families in my caseload that their first baby is born deaf, they get the genetic testing and they still find out that there is a 90% chance they will have another deaf baby. Well now we know what to do, we know the plan. So yeah, we have come a long way with technology. We could go on and on about the cochlear implants. I always joke that when I was in college, cochlear implants seemed like voodoo. You stick a pin in someone’s cochlea and all of a sudden, they can hear. There’s a long electrode that we thread into the cochlea now that the FDA says a baby can have after 12 months. When I was starting out, that cochlea only had 6 electrodes on it that could be stimulated. Then as time and technology got better, 64 electrodes are now on the electrode that gets threaded into the cochlea. I literally can tell the audiologist that my child on my caseload doesn’t say the “she” sound and that would mean they know exactly which electrode on that to map and adjust, so that now the child can hear the “she,” breath sound. It’s absolutely amazing, the technology and the advancements that we have made. Which is very helpful because again I said it’s not the hearing loss as much as the language access. Get this, 90% of deaf children are born to hearing parents. 90%. So those children aren’t getting access to language because those parents aren’t signing out of the gate. These aren’t kids that are overhearing their parents discuss the budget, they're not hearing the television going on, all these ways incidental language learning is being missed. So, a cochlear implant is helpful. I’d like to add, it's not the fix. Many, many children don’t have success with their cochlear implant because it is a lot of work. It’s not glasses. Hearing aids and cochlear implants are not like glasses. We think of glasses as I can’t see very well, now I put these glasses on and can see crystal clear. I can see the leaves on the tree, I can make out the print on my page. It doesn’t work that way for a hearing aid and cochlear implant. It can only amplify what I have access to. So, hearing aids, if you only hear the “hard c” and “hard t” sound, but you can’t hear the vowel A. Cat is just the “c” and “t” sound, without the A in the middle. I can put hearing aids on you, but all I did was make the “c” and “t” sound louder but not the A.

Chris: You can’t amplify something that doesn’t exist or isn’t accessible.

Karen: Exactly. So many times, especially in education, they will put a child with hearing aids in a general education classroom and say, oh they have hearing aids on they will be fine.  

Chris: Oftentimes that is not the case.

Karen: Yeah, and it makes everything louder. It makes the fan in the room louder, it makes the kid that is tapping their foot in the back, it makes the kid next door who is tapping their pen, everything gets louder for that child. It’s not the fix.

Chris: So, when you’re working on the early intervention steps, what is ground zero? What is the first thing you do once you assess the situation and you find out whether it is an audiological condition or what you’re working with?  Where does your early intervention start? Because this is basically someone who is unable to acquire language or access language, and you have to start finding out ways to communicate with them, communicate with the parents who might not understand what’s happening. Where do you begin and what are the steps after that?

Karen: I love that you started with parents because early intervention is a family model. This child has to exist within a family. So obviously, yes, I could share some of the most important or memorable parts of my career going into a family’s home where they have received this diagnosis, they have this failed new born hearing screening or early audiogram, we use a brain stem response to see where things are and I help them walk through. Really what any parent would go through finding out their child has a “disability,” coming to terms with it, making decisions for that child, and empowering them, that we can get access to language. And I honestly don’t care what language it is, do you want it to be auditory, let’s get the hearing aid, let’s go cochlear implant. But, there is not a 100% chance that this hearing aid and cochlear implant are going to do everything, so let’s get signing. Let’s start giving them the basics. Well let me back up, what are the basics I teach in ASL 1? So, you’ve got yellow, blue, green, dog and cat. The language my students need is that rich language, of hearing people having discussions and hearing the intonation of voice and all the vocabulary and all the meanings. We like to get deaf community members who are fluent in ASL to come visit the families as well and to get our families out into the deaf community, meeting people who could be excellent language models for that child and those parents.

Chris: I feel like the more information you can provide, whether it’s the resources available or success stories. When you’re a parent and you hear something, like you said if it says on the test, fail, as soon as you hear that you already feel like you’re going to be behind and that this is a disaster. What are we going to do? I feel like it takes a little bit of empowerment to let them know that it is not a failure and there are ways to make this a fruitful life for this person, or that there aren’t as many things in the way that you might think. Just starting with empowerment and encouragement I’m sure goes a long way.

Karen: Yeah, and that’s one of my early articles from when I first decided to get this PhD that I now have. I wrote about my experience of starting a junior deaf club and it was just that exact experience. I wanted all the families to come together, for other parents to meet each other, for the older kids that were now successful or fluent signers or fluent with English and were successful in public school. For my families of babies to meet these kids and meet these families and go, exactly what you said “Oh, this is going to be okay.” I have the older kids that are now at a school for the deaf and I remember seeing one in a store and I said, “Wait, where’s your cochlear implant?” Of course, I signed it. He said "Oh, I don’t need that anymore because I’m at a school for the deaf, where I have complete access to everyone and everything. My teachers sign, the custodian signs, the principal signs, the lunch ladies sign, I don’t need a cochlear implant.” I also have families of very oral children. They’ve used their cochlear implant, they’re in public school, they don’t have sign language interpreters. They’re making the best of the auditory access they have and using speech. So, our families need to see that this is the range, this is the choices, and anything in between is an option.

Chris: And that’s a general reflection of the education community. You have a school or a population of people with unique needs, unique identities but also unique solutions. Not one solution or tool is going to work for everybody, there’s no catch all for everybody. Being able to have that individualized or cultural zed technique is empowering to parents and the deaf population.

Karen: Absolutely and you sound like you sat in my intro to Deaf Ed class, where it’s not a one size fits all. I have four years to train my future teachers to understand everything from a child who just has bilateral, or hard of hearing that uses a hearing aid who is going to be in public school, and for every model in between. Or maybe it is a child with deaf parents. A deaf child with deaf parents who is fluent in ASL, whose first language is ASL, and I have to teach them English. An ironic fact, right now, and it’s sad because this statistic has been around entirely too long, deaf children will graduate high school only reading at a third to fifth grade reading level.

Chris: And that’s current statistics?

Karen: Current statistics, but a deaf child to deaf parents will typically read on grade level and graduate with peers. Why? Because they have access to language the second they’re born. They have an L1, a strong L1. We call that for learning English as a second language. They can learn English because they are fluent in ASL and they become good readers and good writers. They become doctors and lawyers, and all the deaf power community things. Whereas my deaf students born to hearing parents it takes so long to get to that language model, whether it be because it takes so long to get the surgeries or implants and hearing aids that work. Or getting parents to a level where they are fluent in signing and be a strong language model. I have lost so many years that the language is delayed, by the time I actually get to reading and writing. I have a huge range to prepare my students for, everything from this bilingual, bicultural view of teaching deaf children, all the way to just being hard of hearing.

Chris: So, in addition to your work here at Edinboro, you also maintain a caseload for the Chautauqua County Early Intervention. Can you talk about a success story or a moment that you had, where you were like back when I was a kid and I was learning ASL up until now, like I feel like this path has been fulfilled. I feel like I have been led to the job that I should have that has made it all worth it for you. I know there are probably a lot of incidents that you could think of, but are there any in particular that stand out to you?

Karen: Well, a couple come to mind. One would be, and I was actually thinking about them when I explained that all the mom had was this failed hearing screening, she had gone for an audiological evaluation, the county had set us up. I went out and saw this baby. I think he was 12-weeks-old in a carrier and mom at a dining room table and I was asking her to get the paperwork so I could read over the audiogram with her. I’m going over what we call a friendly audiogram, more user friendly. I realize this child is really harder of hearing than profoundly deaf. So, I am showing her these are the sounds he is going to miss, but these are the sounds he can probably hear. And she had this moment where she looked at me and she said, “He’s not probably going to use sign language?” I said no, probably with some good hearing aids, we’re going to get this up to almost typical hearing. He’s going to be hard of hearing for the rest of his life. And the tears that came to her eyes. I remember her asking if we could call her husband on speaker so that he could hear all of this. This whole view of what she thought was going to be for her child was not. And I thought, I was the one that got to come in and explain all this to her, give her hope and explain it. I love to this day seeing pictures of him in elementary school with his beautiful hearing aids on and is completely successful and doing well. I guess other ones would be hearing that my students who were in public school and using an interpreter, struggling socially, going off to the school for the deaf, to get a girlfriend, to be on the homecoming court, to play a sport and just seeing them do things that he wasn’t going to have the opportunity to do in a public school and come into his own identity. It’s an awesome feeling to know that he’s found and made sense of this, he’s being successful. I guess my last thought about my “Aha!” moments have really been within the last 5 years of watching the students I train, go out and now have those experiences themselves. This morning I just came back from seeing one of my student teachers that’s in one of the local public schools working with a child, and it’s absolutely amazing to me that I get to sit in the back of the room and think, wow look at her go, look at her signing.

Chris: You’re not just preparing teachers but also people that are advocates for the deaf population. People that can help break the stigma, people that can provide more access to those who might need it. But also, they’re teachers so they’re going to help the next generation grow and flourish and that has to be cool to see people that you trained go off and make that difference.

Karen: It’s interesting that you used the word advocacy because we talk a lot about that in our classes and it actually came up this morning, that I’m constantly trying to help my students advocate for them to have access to general ed curriculum, to have access to a linguistic overprotection, give them a strong language model. Give it all to them. And constantly advocating to the school district, advocating with their parents. So much advocacy, it’s just really what a teacher of the deaf does, for all those students, even if it is a child with hearing aids that’s in a public-school classroom, you need to go in and advocate for him not to sit next to the fan. Advocate for preferential seating, advocate for them getting their notes beforehand, if they’re in high school. Advocating for when they use an interpreter and how to use an interpreter, and yes, they’re expensive I understand, but the child deserves access.

Chris: So, I think so far, we have used three different A words to discuss deaf culture. We have talked about accessibility, we’ve talked about ally ship and advocacy, but the one that I think would be really interesting to learn more about is just simple awareness. So, we have known about deaf culture, we have known about deaf people for a long time, but it almost seems like in the last 5-10 years, we’re becoming more aware of the science behind it, the need for inclusion and differentiation and also the need to realize that these are people that need things, that want things, just like everybody else. So, if you watch any major sports games or watch an award show or even some heavy metal concerts, you’re going to see an interpreter there for a lot of them. I was just recently watching on Apple TV the movie, “The Kodak,” which is one of the first movies to be nominated for best picture with an all sign language and all deaf cast. I don’t know if that would have existed 15-20 years ago. So, talk a little bit about, whether through your efforts or through the national dialogue, how have we become more aware of deaf people, of the science behind it. What are your thoughts on those?

Karen: I have lots. I would say go back to the 80s, 1980s. There was a movement that happened at Gallaudet University. Gallaudet primarily focuses on having access for deaf and hard of hearing students. There’re other colleges, like the National Technical Institute College for the Deaf at RIT in Rochester, NY. But Gallaudet was really the first. So, in 1986 or so, they voted for a new president at the university, like we do. There were 3 finalists, only one of the finalists was deaf and the other 2 were hearing, or maybe I have that backwards. Either way, a hearing president was elected and the community erupted. They rioted. They picketed. There became a national event of these students rioting and picketing and demanding a deaf president now. We actually refer to it now as DPN, Deaf President Now. That was the first time we think historically that deaf people were on the news as not being disabled but as a true cultural group demanding access and representation. And I know for myself as a child in the 80s, I remember seeing deaf people on the news and I remember hearing the talk of, I think my family thought all deaf people were disabled, like “Oh, wait they go to college?” And you have to remember we didn't have the internet back in the 80s, we’re not googling things. This was just on the 5 o’clock news, a group of deaf people picketing. They won. The students had a list of requirements. I love that the last one was that they receive no punishment for anything that they just did and it worked. And 51% of the board of Gallaudet must be deaf and I. King Jordan was named the first deaf president of Gallaudet. And I really think that was the beginning of the rest of the world seeing deaf people as a cultural identity and someone who uses a different language. You’re right back then you only got to take an ASL or a sign language class if you took and visited a school for the deaf or a community. I couldn’t get credit for them, even in college; because we didn’t think it was a language.

Chris: Or an enrichment class. Like, let's learn ASL today. It’s almost viewed as a token or something like hey, there’s a big population that needs this.

Karen: So, then we get closer to the 90’s and we have Marleen Matlin winning an academy award for “Children of the Lesser God.” She goes up on stage and she uses her voice, which, the deaf community was a little upset about. But then she goes on the talk shows, right. She’s on those shows with her interpreter. So again; the world is seeing a famous deaf, competent, not disabled at-all-person; able to win an academy award. And now, slowly starts to propel our culture into, “Hmm, maybe there’s something else there.” We’ve got in between there, things like coming to at least an academic agreement that ASL is a language, and it does have its own syntax, its own grammar structure; it is alive and well. Like the sign for microwave when I was a kid, it morphed and changed until the whole country had an agreement. Things that we use for internet and upload, download, and things on the internet, all those signs. We now understand, linguistically, that it is a language. So, I’m proud to say that the new PennWest has American Sign Language as language credits for general ed. Again, that would not have happened when I was in college years ago. There is a signed form of English, meaning someone who signs a symbol for each English word they say, that’s very regimented, and that’s using English words and that’s using the English vocabulary. But, that’s ASL. That’s what a lot of people think it is always fun in ASL one when I start right out of the gate with my voice, and I’m just signing to them and teaching them the structures of questions and of simple sentences. That’s what really makes it a language, is that syntax and that conceptual accuracy.

Chris: I think another thing that has come a long way is our awareness of the language itself, in relation to foreign languages or other countries. So, a lot of the signs, some that I can think of, are actual demonstrations of what you’re trying to say. But ASL is American Sign Language, it’s a different sign language in English. It’s a different language in France. So, talk about that awareness. You’d think just because you’re signing something, you don’t need a separate word for something internationally. But every culture, every country, has their own version of it.

Karen: Exactly right. So, it’s American Sign Language. It was brought over from the Frenchmen. So, we have a lot of features from French sign language, and ASL has a lot of things in common. We have a lot of signs where you might wonder, why do we use an H for that. Or, if you look it up in French, oh it starts with an H. So, we definitely have some pieces. I mean, our word order; I always tell students that if you’ve ever taken French, you understand that word order. It’s very similar to ASL. And some of those that you mentioned; Britain sign language. They use two hands for the alphabet. Which, we only use one hand. It’s a language unlike any other language, that evolves and changes and is definitely connected to the country and culture, where it comes from.

Chris: So, fast forward from the 80’s and 90’s to where we are today. Let's talk about two different paths here. We have some of the successes and the growths that we’ve made over the last couple decades. But, there are still challenges that exist for deaf people. Talk a little bit about both of those. You mentioned a little bit about where we’ve come and the technological advancements, but talk about advances and challenges that we still face today.

Karen: Oh sure. You said access, we said advocacy and awareness. So, access is still an issue. Over the pandemic, a lot of deaf people were very frustrated with let’s say Instagram. Because they were great, like Tik-Tok and all those videos flying by that they have no access to. Because people weren’t captioning their videos, they weren’t giving them access. Podcasts; do not give deaf people access. Except for, a new rule was just created that does require podcasts to provide the transcript, along with it.

Chris: Which we will be doing for this show. We’ll make the transcripts available in the notes.

Karen: So just things like that that we don’t realize as our culture is moving forward. Another A word, if you want to add it to our theme today; audism. We have racism, sexism, ageism, and audism. We really value hearing as this way to communicate and get information out. So, we need to be aware when we are not providing access for those people. I’m trying to think of some other challenges. Even thinking back to the pandemic, so they would say oh okay we’re doing this medical alert, right. And people are dying. This is bad. And the interpreter is so tiny in the corner of the screen and the deaf people are like, great, I can’t see it. So, it’s this whole thing about how we get the interpreter up on the screen next to it. And yeah, we still definitely struggle with access. Again, I’m not deaf myself, I’m an ally for sure, so I’m constantly looking for ways to impact our hearing people. For example, I always tell the students that I don’t want them in helper mode. I don’t want them in a move that they feel makes them go around and help deaf people. Because they don’t need our help. Actually, sometimes it’s the hearing person that needs the help.

Chris: How do I understand someone who’s deaf? How do I know what they need, value, want?

Karen: Or I even go as far as; I love that story when I was in Walmart or something, and I saw a deaf person at the counter, going back and forth, and gesturing, and they were writing. And I stopped for a second and thought, “Okay, well I can go into helper mode and try to help them. But, they’re probably pretty capable, intelligent, adult human beings who just so happens to use another language.”

Chris: They value their independence too.

Karen: Yeah, so instead, I went over to the Walmart employee and said, “Do you need help?” And she said yes, I just need her to take this back, or leave it here, or whatever. So, I signed those two things and she just said oh great, thanks, and walked away. If you view it as hearing people need help communicating with the deaf community, instead of seeing them as being needy.

Chris: Also, we did talk about awareness, but I think that we focus a lot on the grand scheme awareness. But not on the small things that can make a huge difference. It almost borders, and you mentioned audism, it’s almost like a micro-aggression towards people that are deaf. Say your company sends an email out and you’re not able to have a reader read it for you. Or, it’s a video that has absolutely no captioning, or transcript. So, it’s not the fact that we don’t have this technology, but that we’re not aware when we’re creating this content that needs to be available to those who have vision impairments, or people that are deaf. It’s almost like; on a big scale, we are aware. But, on a smaller day to day, things that really matter, somethings seem to get overlooked.

Karen: Yeah, and the technology is there. It is absolutely amazing, and I know for myself, that during COVID for example; putting my own classes up. We have some students who are deaf, and some who are hard of hearing in our program. So, trying to find that real time captioning; where do I put the interpreter on the screen. Because technology is so amazing, and it just came along so quickly. Just put anything on YouTube, wait a little while, and the captions will appear for you. And I know I learned how to caption some things over the pandemic myself, because I realized; wow, my classroom teachers that are out working with deaf and hard of hearing children in public school, and captioning things, and making sure the interpreter is accessible and teachers are wearing microphones and all of that. Students have access to curriculum.

Chris: We’ve talked a little about the science behind it. The educational aspects of it. And with the explanation that either you or I are deaf, and we can never fully understand to be in the culture. Can you talk a little bit about uppercase Deaf culture and some of things that they hold dear to themselves, some of the things that they might consider as cultural appropriation of somebody who’s not deaf, uses? I remember an episode from the TV show, Scrubs, where a father brings his son in for a normal check-up. And the doctors discovered that he’s a perfect candidate for a cochlear implant. But the father pushes away, he says no he doesn’t want it. Turns out that was the only connection he had with his son, was their connected deafness. So, he almost felt like having that cochlear implant would take away a special bond he had with his son. So that’s just a pop culture reference that I could think of, but, I am sure you are aware of other topics of deaf culture that might be at the forefront.

Karen: Yeah. I am not deaf myself but I do want to be an ally so, I would say first out of the gate, they would prefer a deaf person to teach American Sign Language because one of the things they absolutely value is ASL. ASL is their language, not mine, not my first language and so we have done that. Our second and third ASL classes are taught by deaf community members. And again, why is that important? I can’t sign on a podcast, but there are some signs that hearing people have taken and changed. One simple one would be the sign for dog. So, dog, and I know this because I have studied ASL, academically and linguistically, but we call a finger spelled loan sign. Meaning that you actually just finger spell d-o-g and if you do it fast enough, d-o-g, d-o-g, it’s the sign for dog. But it is a finger spelled sign that is used over and over. But you get a hearing person, or maybe someone that doesn’t know that linguistic background or history of it, it looks like you’re snapping. So now sometimes you get hearing people that have added a snap and a clap at the side of their leg, it looks like you’re calling a dog. They go so this is how you sign for dog, snap, clap, snap, clap, when no, actually it’s not. That’s not how you sign dog. Those kinds of things happen. We’ve kind of got linguistic rules in ASL, that are about the difference between a verb and a noun. So, like the word chair, you would sign two times, it’s the sign sit two times so since it’s twice it’s the noun chair. But, if you sign it once it’s the verb sit. The number of times and the way you sign it changes its meaning. A hearing person without that linguistic training might come in and go, well that’s kind of confusing so I think I am going to sign “c” for the chair and I’ll do this for sit, so we’ve got these weird hearing things that have influenced the language and are changed the language, when that’s just not how it was.

Chris: It’s not needed.

Karen: And that’s just something of an example of a hearing person coming in and kind of messing with ASL and the language. Another example would be the I love you sign, you might have seen it, you put your pinkie, and your thumb and your pointer out, and it’s actually an emoji now. So, we’ve got that I love you sign, it comes from ASL, it comes from deaf culture. Well hearing people have just taken it and we’ve made earrings out of it, we’ve made necklaces out of it, we’ve got cookies, and you want it on a Christmas ornament, you want it on a blanket, a bag, a lamp, whatever, and it has become this smiley face of ASL which is a little of what you referred to as cultural appropriation, not something, it’s not how deaf people would use it. And as hearing people we take it, we’ve taken things from them that’s valuable and important to them. So, they pull back, they want to say well it’s for us so they limit access to it. And the sitcom that you mentioned, there was definitely a time when cochlear implant first came out, that the deaf community was very upset about this because we were billing it as a way to fix deafness.

Chris: As a way to solve the disability, yeah.

Karen: Well solve the disability, they were seeing it as a way to basically get rid of their culture and their language. Right? So, if every baby born, we could do a new born hearing screening. If we find out they are deaf, we are going to put this surgery, this implant, in you and now boom, we don’t have deaf people anymore. Well that means we don’t have ASL anymore which means we have wiped out an entire cultural population. So, you can see their pull back, their wait a second, you’re taking something that we really value. But, I don’t think that is going to happen. I think the deaf community; and again, I’m speaking for people I do not represent, but as someone who does see babies on a regular basis who have been born with a new born hearing screening who are getting cochlear implants. I tell my students a cochlear implant is a hammer, it’s a tool. It’s a tool that a child needs to learn how to use. I say to my students; if I gave you all a hammer right now, would you go build a house. Well, no, right, probably not. You need a lot of training, you need a lot of other people, you need wood, you need time, you need experience. And that’s all we’re doing. We’re giving young children this tool. But, if they don’t put the time in, and if their family doesn’t take them to all the SLP appointments and all the audiological evaluations for all the mapping, and they don’t work really hard at trying to use an auditory skill that; we just talked about in the beginning of the podcast; started to develop in utero, right? And we’re not giving kids the access to it at 1-2 years of age, it’s a lot of work getting the brain to use something it hasn’t used, and if they don’t put in the time, and they don’t have the work or the training, that hammer is useless. So, we still need to give them ASL, we need to give them deaf community members, we need to show them rich language models. Successful, wonderful deaf people that are living very full lives. That’s the model I want to give these children and these families. And great, you know what, if the cochlear implant works out, and they can make sense of it and use it. Awesome, great for them.

Chris: So, as we wrap up here, I always like to ask this final question to anyone that comes on. Since your background is deaf education, let’s take that approach to; where do you see this field going in the next 5-10 years? Whether it’s new technology, whether it’s new practices, new assessments, anything. Where do you see this field, deaf education, going?

Karen: Wow. It’s hot right now. My email is exploding with the need for teachers of the deaf. So, you know there’s a national teacher shortage. So, we already didn’t have enough teachers of the deaf to begin with, and now add the teacher shortage to it. And I think I just posted 15 different jobs in the state of Pennsylvania that are still yet not filled for this school year, right now, that we’re months into. So, there’s children that don’t have that advocate, they don’t have that person on their caseload saying; he needs to sit here, they need the interpreter, they need a better microphone, right. I need more teachers of the deaf. So that’s really what I need. And, because babies are being identified at birth, right, I need this early childhood focus, deaf education. So that when a family does find out that their child has failed quote-on-quote, new born hearing screening, I need teachers who are going to go in and talk to them. And this teacher who has a range of knowledge and experience that is everything from; this is what we’re going to do if you have a hard of hearing child. If you’re going to use the cochlear implant. If you want ASL, if we’re going to go for full culturally, inclusive bi-lingual, bi-cultural view. So, I think the field will do nothing but explode, as far as the need for teachers and technology is taking us so fast and so far, I will say to my students that is one area I feel like I just can’t keep up with fast enough. As soon as I teach them about a certain microphone, or certain hearing aid, or certain processor. I know that as soon as they go to student teach a semester, they come back and go; oh well, it actually looks like this and now it does this and now we use Bluetooth, right. So, we have kids that are on hearing aids, or on their processors flip a switch and now their Bluetooth connected to the teacher’s mic from the front of the room.

Chris: It’s just fascinating.

Karen: We have real time captioning, we have CART, which someone can be typing what somebody is saying. Giving a kid that’s right in front of them on their laptop live captioning that’s going across the bottom. It is amazing what technology is going to do. And give more access, and give more accountability for these kids.

Chris: You mentioned a little bit ago; social media as well, where most kids at the age of 18, spend time. So, I do want to credit Tik-Tok for making the caption, not necessarily just available, but easy to find. It’s very easy to put a caption on the video and I think a lot of influencers and users are starting to use that as well. Whatever we can do to break down barriers, I mean, that’s good for technology and for the people who want to use these apps.

Karen: And maybe in the show notes, we could put some links to some amazing Instagrammers and TikTokers who are deaf themselves, that are being huge advocates for the deaf community and social media, doing a better job at giving access.

Chris: Yeah, we’ll put that in the show notes. We look forward to those. I look forward to checking those out myself. I love when people create content for the good of a population, or to help somebody else out.

Karen: That’s a great way for us to be an ally and to show the world just wonderful, and completely competent, brave, exciting, and passionate deaf people that are doing good in the world.

Chris: Sounds good. Well, thank you so much Dr. Karen for joining us today on PennWest POV. I’ve learned a lot, we have a lot to look forward in the deaf culture and we’ve come a long way. But, we still know that we have a long way to go. We still have the challenges and things to face too, so we appreciate having you on the show and having deaf educators everywhere helping out this population. Thank you so much for joining us.

Karen: Thanks for the invitation.