The Deaf community’s final meltdown? (Deaf babies, sign language (ASL), cochlear implants and deaf education)

Bell and Clerc, they're both long dead! Lets move on!

THE GUERRILLA ANGEL REPORT – While the war on deaf education – Oralism vs. Sign Language (ASL) – is as old as, well, the telephone, the bickering continues. New technology – Cochlear Implants (CIs) seems to favor oral methods, yet the CI is used by the signing deaf too. Although words such as “genocide” and “culture” is thrown around, both parties still exist.

In recent years however, support for signing in deaf education has seen erosion — not necessarily as a result of Alexander Graham Bell’s superior oral firepower or the Cochlear Implant’s tendency to render sign language interpreters obsolete, but rather, the realization of the actual cost to society to fund a community dependent on sign language, and more importantly, the lack of evidence showing the hundreds of millions of dollars spent yearly on deaf education (residential deaf schools and Gallaudet University) is one iota better than not spending the money at all (mainstreaming all the kids instead).

Then there is the cloud of greed hanging over the signing deaf community as a result of multiple convictions of top deaf community leaders for defrauding the federal government (perhaps totalling over $100 million when all is said and done). The icing on the cake here is the Gallaudet Board of Trustees awarding the college’s retiring president the status of being the highest paid retired federal employee.

The following is a discussion from a deaf education usergroup that I found particularly worth sharing because it offers insight into minds of many in the deaf community AND is one of the rare “discussions” that isn’t akin to preaching to a choir — rational thinking enters this discussion, hence its usefulness in sharing here:


Only one party of this discussion has “technically” given approval for their name to be used so I will refer to the other parties as “Person A” and “Person B”.

From a discussion titled:  “Re-examining the Influence of Auditory-Oral Education Movement on the Deaf Community in Politically Turbulent Times”

Person A [a professor at Gallaudet University]: Why this obsession with creating troops of robobabies [deaf kids who have the Cochlear Implant] when many of them, like oralists before them, will still gravitate to sign language anyway?

Joseph Pietro Riolo: I am not going to suppress your freedom of expression.  But, the freedom of expression is not without consequence.

Calling the babies with cochlear implant as “robobabies” is not really a nice way of labeling them.  Some of them will grow up and become very involved in the deaf community.  Some of them will become advocates.  Some of them will work in Gallaudet University, RIT[Rochester Inst of Technology]/NTID, CSUN[Calif. State Univ. Northridge], deaf schools and deaf programs.  Maybe, one of them would be your boss.  Maybe, one of them could become a president of Gallaudet University. Maybe, one of them could be a student in your class.  Just imagine when they happen to meet you and later on, learn that you called them as robobabies when they were babies. I truly hope that they will hold no grudge against you and be very forgivable but they may think twice when they think of you.

Enough preaching from pulpit.

FDA lowered the approved age for cochlear implant to two years old in 1990, 18 months old in 1998 and one year old in 2000.  Right now in this year of 2012, those who received cochlear implant when they were two years old during 1990-1998 cannot be older than 24 years old.  Those who received cochlear implant when they were 18 months old during 1998-2000 cannot be older than 15 and half years old.  Those who received cochlear implant when they were one year old since 2000 cannot be older than 13 years old.  What this means is that the deaf college students with cochlear implant that we see at the colleges received cochlear implant no earlier than when they were two years old. Those who received cochlear implant when they were one year old have not reached colleges yet. 

I absolutely have no idea how many of them will gravitate, as you put it, to sign language.  I came across a comment saying that these children who received cochlear implant at one year old are the new wave that is going to affect everything from Gallaudet University down to programs and services for deaf babies.  The new wave will not hit Gallaudet University, RIT/NTID and CSUN until around 2017 (or maybe 2016).

Person A:  Perhaps we shud ask the GAO and the DOE to do a joint study of the costs beginning with costs of implants, speech and hearing therapy costs, training parents, counseling them etc vs costs of raising a deaf child in a signing environment.

Riolo: I don’t mind the study.  But, I have the fear about it.

What if – I have to emphasize the key word “if” – the study really show that educating a deaf child in a signing environment costs more than educating a deaf child with bilateral cochlear implants in an oral environment. If – again, the key word “if” – it really happens, I cannot imagine how destructive this study will be for the parents who choose to raise their deaf children without cochlear implant and for the deaf schools and programs that offer
signing environment.

My fear is not completely unfounded.  In my state, there are several private schools that are approved by the state of Pennsylvania to receive funding for the deaf students. [privacy contents deleted] The following information comes from the directory file whose link is available at:

Davidson School (Elwyn)
$51,706.20 – not including 1 to 1 aide service
$107,709.80 (residential) – not including 1 to 1 aide service

DePaul School for Hearing and Speech

Pennsylvania School for the Deaf (PSD)

Pressley Ridge School for the Deaf
(for deaf with serious emotional disturbance)
$130,957.00 (7-day residential)

Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf (WPSD)
$100,882.00 (5-day residential)

I know for sure that PSD and WPSD use signing environment and that DePaul school uses auditory-oral environment.  I don’t know about two other schools.

Using DePaul’s cost as the base, PSD’s cost per student is 1.19 times DePaul’s cost.  WPSD’s cost per day student is 1.45 times DePaul’s cost.  From this information alone without any context and qualifications, it is not hard to predict that the cost of raising a day deaf student in an auditory-oral environment will be lower than a signing environment.

We should be careful in calling for the study on the costs.  As the saying goes, be careful for what you wish.

Regardless of which way the study will go, we cannot use the cost as the rationale for justifying one approach over other approach. We need to use a different framework or paradigm.  We need to appeal to the moral, religious and/or ethical values.  We need to use these values to justify any approach, leaving the decision right in the hands of parents.  If parents do not want their deaf children to have cochlear implant and want to raise them
in signing environment, the educational programs have the moral and ethical duties to support these parents’ decision.  Likewise, if parents truly want their deaf children to receive bilateral cochlear implants and want to raise them in auditory-oral environment, the educational programs have the moral and ethical duties to support these parents’ decision  Likewise for any decisions between these two ends of the spectrum.  The cost should not be used to favor one or some approaches over other approaches.

Person B [Unidentified]: We need to display research showing their statements [the superiority of Cochlear Implants over sign language] are false and support with research like below definitely pointing to the fact that those with CI are not doing any better than Deaf Children without CIs. Here is one such example:

“Dr. Marc Marschark wrote this: “…. Certainly, kids with implants are doing better on average than kids without implants, but they still generally perform behind hearing peers. …” [Quoted from ]

Riolo: The key words in the quotation are “on average”, meaning that there are some kids with CI doing worse than kids without CI and some kids with CI doing better than kids without CI.  When hearing parents read the above quotation by going to that website and then, read what you wrote, they will ask themselves who is telling the truth.  What will they do?  One of the possible ways that they will do is to examine your credibility and Dr. Marschark’s credibility and decide who to trust.

From reading your post, it is obvious that you have your own ideology.  There is nothing wrong with it.  There is no crime in having an ideology.  But, what you seem to overlook or won’t admit is the hard, real fact that the auditory-oral education really works for some deaf children. This fact alone is enough to grab the attention of the hearing parents.  It will be extremely hard but not impossible to redirect their attention to ASL or any sign language or signing system.

Joseph Pietro Riolo

Public domain notice: I put all of my expressions in this
post in the public domain.

Note: If the usergroup this discussion came from wants me to add their name to this article, I will be happy to do so.


Previous post on excessive retirement package for Gallaudet’s ex-prez:

Post on video relay fraud:

Old battle: Alexander Graham Bell vs Laurent Clerc. New battle: Cochlear Implants vs Social Security dependency. Either the Deaf community leads the way in getting Deaf people to become less dependent on Social Security or Cochlear Implants will do the job for them. The ball is in the deaf community's court.


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12 replies

  1. This article seems seriously weighted against signing except for the segment of the rational discussion between the three individuals that was quoted. Even your graphic of cochlear vs Social Security is leading and false. I know people with cochlear implants on SSDI and people who are signers who are not.

    • While it true there are people with CIs on SSD/I, however, historically, the majority of Deaf people are on SSD/I at least during some part of their lives prior to retirement. If the leaders of the Deaf community cannot reverse these conditions, the Cochlear Implant may very well do the job for them. The CI isn’t for everyone, but for many, its a better option than older methods.

  2. Quick reminder – ad hominem comments will be deleted. Stick to the topic PLEASE!

    Thanks for reading.

  3. I like Joseph, he seems level-headed. One statement I particularly like is;

    ‘The cost should not be used to favor one or some approaches over other approaches.’

    I completely agree with that. I don’t know how it is in the USA, but in the UK, doctors often recommend CIs highly without regard for the other options. I wonder how this affects the hearing parents who do not know much about the deaf community and, in turn, the deaf community.

    • I believe some states do require all options are given to parents, but the deaf community is somewhat in an uproar about that as well.

      I do think doctors should make sure that CIs aren’t given to people with low possibility of success.

  4. this is messed up. I hear but alot of my friends are deaf. Some have CIs and some don’t. Those that do all got them as young children and even today they will tell me that the CI can be helpful but it isn’t really perfect. Most of them sign more than they talk. In fact they prefer sign even though their speaking is really good. The say that their is a difference between Deaf and deaf. Those that are Deaf are at least proud of their heritage in the deaf community. Truthful between me and all of my friends we kind of wish that CIs were never invented and that deaf education wasn’t under the fire it is today because signing is a language, Deaf is a culture and people who rely on ÇIs only have problems when things go wrong. I’ve seen deaf people who have CIs and can’t sign or read lips as well as they should.

    Problem is that people hate signning becasuse they want everyone to be the same. So with CIs everyone suffers from the loss of the outsanding culture not just the kids with CIs

    • Thanks for your comments. Keep in mind, many people who succeed greatly with the CI isn’t going to make an appearance in the deaf community (or the oral community for that matter), they’re just blending in with mainstream society.

      The other thing, not everyone agrees deafness is a culture. It could very well be a well orchestrated exercise in propaganda to keep ASL alive and jobs for interpreters.

  5. Hi Lexie,

    Please take a few moments to look in the case of PA at the difference between what is now REPORTED as tuition by WPSD and PSD and the funding totals they get. Because DePauls total budget divided by number of children attending is accurate, but WPSD and PSD get over 28 million in income and and 13 million in income and serve far less children than they claim on state forms.

    I would suggest you check out Giudestar as it will give you accurate numbers. I think we would concur that there is a difference between a 4 ties a year seminar and actually enrolled kids.

  6. @Lexie Cannes, am let you know I went attended to old ex-former DePaul Institute School from 1970 to 1976 and there was banned sign language. I grow up with oralist and didn’t get learned asl till when I was 16th yrs old. My foster parents don’t signed as very well. Now, I did already learned more about Deaf culture and Deaf identity…

  7. @Lexie Cannes I was wondering if you can explain where I fit in the 2 million americans that fall under the hearing impaired category? Growing up I refused to wear hearing aids and was educated in mainstream schools. I was trained in lip reading and was not taught ASL. A skill I used to complete a bachelor’s degree in social work at a state university. I still refuse to wear hearing aids and find myself in a odd category. I am not deaf and strongly, feel I do not need to be fixed. I am an advocate for people to speak facing forward and not covering their mouths. Also known as having manners. Are their others like me?

    • There are many others like you who have just simply blended into society and succeeded on your own. It’s hard to identify others in this group even if you bumped into one. With the internet though, you’ve a chance to develop a voice — that is, if anyone want one. Good luck.

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