Hate crimes and the Deaf

Some forms of hate lead to war or murder, but hate can also lead to oppression and hegemony.

Some forms of hate lead to war or murder, but hate can also lead to oppression and hegemony.

Carl N. Schroeder, president of the Oregon Association of the Deaf (OAD), gave a lecture last Wednesday called “Hate Crime and the Deaf.” Schroeder’s lecture examined how oppression impacts the Deaf community.

Schroeder moved from Holland to the United States at age 10, where he attended the Maryland School for the Deaf. Deafness has been common in his family since the 11th century.
“I grew up in a Deaf family, a vast Deaf family, and I never realized the world was full of people who hear through their ears until I was 5,” Schroeder said.

In the lecture, Schroeder said that public schools in California teach Deaf children orally—teaching speech and lip reading as opposed to sign language. Many members of the Deaf community, Schroeder said, oppose oralism, not only because they doubt its efficacy, but also because “the Deaf do have language and culture heritage” Schroeder says on the OAD Web site (www.Deaforegon.org).

In discussing the naturalness of signing, Schroeder referenced a study that revealed that many people find it difficult to speak without free movement of their hands. He also mentioned Italians as an example of notorious gesturers.

Schroeder suggested that many crimes against the Deaf begin at birth. According to Schroeder, after doctors diagnose a child as Deaf they tell parents about what is wrong with American Sign Language (ASL) and tend to encourage the use of cochlear implants, also a subject of contention in Deaf culture.

Schroeder recalled one child he taught who had a bad experience with a cochlear implant. He described the implant’s effect as “noise in his head” and, after becoming ill, had it removed.

Schroeder also noted that, while hearing mothers often embrace ASL when they learn that their child is Deaf, many fathers reject signing and consequently have limited interactions with their Deaf children.

Key to understanding Schroeder’s mission is a rejection of audism—a term he defines as “the belief that the ability to hear and speak is better than being Deaf”—and the belief that ASL is in any way less of a language than spoken languages.

Schroeder traces the suppression of sign languages to the International Congress on the Education of the Deaf held in Milan in 1880. The end result was government suppression of sign language. Deaf teachers of the Deaf were replaced with hearing teachers to instruct using oral methods.

To illustrate how the hearing have oppressed the Deaf through the suppression of ASL, Schroeder recounted how, at his first teaching job, a school official reported him for using sign language in the classroom. The school at which Schroeder taught was overtly oratory in its teaching and to get the job, Schroeder had portrayed himself as an oralist and supportive of the school’s goals.

According to Schroeder, another crime against the Deaf is the frequent placement of ASL in Special Education departments, which unfairly implies that the Deaf are learning disabled. PSU is in the process of moving ASL to the foreign languages and literatures department from the speech and hearing department.

“Denying the full status of ASL as a language inspires belittlement and hate crimes,” Schroeder wrote on the OAD Web site.

In an interview after the lecture, Schroeder said, “I want to empower people to discuss what hate crimes are and how they are generated.” He also wants people in the hearing community to recognize “that some of their actions are wrong and they have hurt Deaf people and Deaf children.”