The largest threat to any minority movement is ignorance. The greatest asset is knowledge.
Current thinking is that the largest threat to the Deaf and their culture is the loss of American Sign Language (ASL). It seems that those who receive an early ASL education are only those who either have Deaf parents, parents who are linked to the Deaf community, or parents that have participated in Sign with your Baby.
Oral-minded early interventionist refuse to teach ASL to young deaf children and modern technology has all but eliminated the absolute necessity of it. However, the largest threat to Deaf culture is not the elimination of the language, but the isolation of it.
American Deaf culture stemmed from the formation of the schools for the deaf in the early 19th century. In their home communities, the deaf were often neglected, misunderstood, abused, and discriminated against just as other segments of society have been. Attending a residential school for the deaf was an opportunity to leave such an environment for a more communal one.
By segregating themselves into institutions, the deaf learned a new language called American Sign Language. This language allowed them to communicate with others who also signed thereby replacing feelings of victimization and injustice with feelings of community and ideology.
Thus the unique basis of Deaf culture is the ability to use ASL to fully communicate and interact with others. When more people can use ASL to communicate and interact with others, more understanding of Deaf culture can be dispensed and dispersed throughout the hearing population.
Imagine how different our modern educational system would be if in 1817, Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet and Laurent Clerc had established an American Sign Language program within the Hartford Grammar School rather than establishing a separate school altogether. The result could have led to an entirely different history for notorious colleges such as Yale, Trinity, Vassar, and Hartford.
Mirroring the effects of the establishment of the American School for the Deaf, had the Hartford Grammar School had an early education signing program, adult graduates would have moved on to establish other signing programs in their local elementary schools. Hearing and deaf would learn to communicate, share, socialize, respect, and value diversity side-by-side.
Children across the nation would have learned to view deafness as merely a difference rather than a defect. And educators would not have waited 160 years to perceive American Sign Language as an official language since it would have been used in the mainstream public education system for the past two hundred years.
According to the National Association of the Deaf’s Position Statement on American Sign Language, “Preparing deaf children to achieve optimal linguistic fluency in both ASL and English enables them to later engage in meaningful adult discourse as fully participating, contributing, and productive members of American society.”
Thanks to the research done by P.L. Griffith, Marilyn Daniels, and Joseph Garcia, we now know that the same can be said for hearing children.
Sharing ASL with the hearing by introducing it as early as possible into our mainstream educational system can provide hearing children with an early introduction to Deaf culture and Deaf language. With this knowledge, Deaf culture can be more supported, strengthened, and advocated. ASL can thrive in light of oralism and technology. And everyone can sign with their baby.