Dr. Kannapell’s Letter to AG Bell Association

Latest letter in to AG Bell Association.  Dr. Barbara Kannapell (Kanny) shares her truths with the CEO and Communications Director of AG Bell Association as well as the public.  Thank you for allowing us to re-produce your letter here and most especially THANK YOU for creating and sending this letter.  Dr. Kannapell is an advocate, scholar, community member, and leader.  She has worked tirelessly to ensure that Deaf children are not left semi-literate and knows first hand the harms of Oralism personally and its adverse and destructive impact on our community, culture, and language.  In many ways – just as Harriet Tubman was known as Black Moses – Kanny has been our Bilingual-Bicultural Deaf Moses.

——————Dr. Kannapell’s letter to AG Bell Association ———————-

An Open Letter to the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing

Barbara Kannapell

Eileen Paul and I used to go to St. Augustine Church in Washington, DC in the 1990s. We enjoyed it because it combined the Catholic liturgy with Black Gospel. At Easter Vigil, they sang “Let My People Go” From that time to today, I wanted to tell people who forced audism on us to “let my people go.” I think the time is proper and fitting to tell my story.

Go down, Moses,
Way down in Egypt’s land,
Tell old Pharaoh,
To let my people go.

My experiences with audism started at age 4. I was born Deaf into a Deaf family in Louisville. Five of my family members graduated from the Kentucky School for the Deaf. Three of them went on to Gallaudet. From age 4 to 10, at my hearing grandmother’s insistence, I attended the Louisville Oral Deaf School. I was not allowed to use ASL, my native language, in the school. I remember clearly two teachers – Mrs. Clark and Mrs. Daugherty. Later on I found out that Mrs. Daugherty could sign. I am wondering how many teachers could sign but they refuse to use them with Deaf children. I remember Mrs. Spencer Tracy who was in progress of founding the John Tracy Clinic (in 1942), visited my school. She stood with my grandmother. She asked me how I was. I said, “I am fine.” She said “Oh that’s wonderful”. The point of my story is that I was not aware that I was oppressed by audism and not allowed to use ASL in my school. Fortunately, I was a member of a strong Deaf family and surrounded by an active Deaf community, which offset the oppressive experiences I was having in school.

Go down, Moses,
Way down in Egypt’s land,
Tell old Pharaoh,
To let my people go.

In 1947 I went to Kentucky School for the Deaf in the middle of the school year. Students were allowed to use ASL outside of the classrooms but I was physically abused in a classroom. The principal, Lula Bruce tried to make me say “United States.”  I struggled to say it right but I couldn’t. She was so frustrated with me that she slapped my face. I was shocked and ran to my Aunt Mary who taught at that school. She was my favorite aunt who was Deaf and used ASL beautifully. She said she could not do anything because she was one of Lula’s roomers. In 1950 again I was transferred to the Indiana School for the Deaf for a better education. Sign language was allowed in both classrooms and out of the classrooms but I still experienced audism. For example, those students who could speak well were often taken to places to demonstrate their ability to talk. They did not recognize Deaf students ’ASL skills. What I mean by this: speech was more important than thinking. This concept led me to believe that I was an oral failure. This is a brief background of my experiences with audism. My story is classical. I have seen other stories which are similar to mine but my point is that I want to send a message to AGB: you have oppressed us for many years and caused chaos in the educational system for the Deaf.  Your philosophy has contributed to self-hate and struggles with identity for generations of Deaf people.  I see a parallel with an old song from a long time ago from Negro slaves who sang about oppression. The song is based on the story of the Pharaoh and Moses from Old Testament. Moses asked the Pharaoh to let his people go.

Go down, Moses,
Way down in Egypt’s land,
Tell old Pharaoh,
To let my people go.

Who is our Pharaoh? AGB!

Who is our Moses leading us out of Egypt?

Who? Who? Who?


8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jenny Witteborg
    Aug 07, 2011 @ 19:56:48

    Oh … thank you for writing!! I have goosebumps and tears!!

  2. Deafchip
    Aug 07, 2011 @ 21:34:14

    Barbara, Thank you for expressing your true colours to the oppressors and audists. Thank you again Barbara! HUGS!

  3. Helen Kannapell Bates
    May 29, 2016 @ 19:03:40

    This is my cousin and I never heard this story. It makes me sad that Barbara and other deaf children were mentally and physically abused! I am so proud of my cousin and all she has done for the community and education of deaf children. Aunt Mary was my favorite Aunt and I am sorry she could not help you! Barbara ( Dr. Kannapell) you have empowered yourself and generations of the deaf community.

  4. Roger Claussen
    May 30, 2016 @ 14:07:08

    Barbara – Great comment! To: AGB believers, I grew up as a deaf child attending Arizona School for the Deaf in Tucson. My parents were not deaf and did not use sign language at all at home.

    In the classroom, we were forced to be oral. My teacher(s) often used a ruler to “whack” my lips if I didn’t pronounce it right. I would think I said the word well. But then my lips would get whack. I hated trying to use my voice , hated speech. For example: the teacher repeatedly had me to say word “baseball” for many days and I still failed. Why weren’t the teacher(s) focusing on the more important subjects such as English, Math, Reading, etc.

    At lunch time I would often sit with the high school students in the cafeteria. I had easy / free communication with them using ASL and learned from them. As many young deaf back then and even today being around peers and in a social setting/ environment increased my language and signing skills. For me at that time more so than in the classroom.

    When I entered middle school, I was thrilled to see teachers using ASL. However, later my family moved to San Diego. I had to attend a local oral school and forced to use bulky hearing aids. I met about 15 deaf students in the classroom. The students knew practically nothing about sign language and were very behind in most all subjects. I was also shocked to see students aged between 12 to 20 years old in the same classroom.

    That teacher taught us to SING with our voices and we would practice the same song for months and then put us in assembly for hearing students to hear our voices. Unbelievable!!!! We were mocked by them. At the end of the school year I told my friends “This coming fall I will transfer to California School for the Deaf in Riverside (CSDR)”. My teacher took me to a private room and talked with me using sign language. I was shocked he could sign and he told me he was glad that I am going to CSDR where I can get better education. Then he told me that if he used sign language in classroom and he will lose his job. It was clear to me that deaf students and teacher were oppressed.

    Two years later 7 of my former classmates transferred to CSDR. It was obvious they were starved for communication by using ASL and a better education and socialization.

    To AGB believers: Allow the deaf children to be themselves! You have a responsibility to share the truth and the facts to parents, who often get high or false hopes that their deaf child/children are better off in oral schools than schools for the deaf which use bilingual (ASL/English). Let’s work together for the betterment of our deaf children and their future.

  5. handeyes
    May 30, 2016 @ 18:03:34

    Roger this is a very powerful comment. May I post it up as a blog entry so that more people may see it q

  6. Roger Claussen
    May 30, 2016 @ 20:47:05

    Yes, you can. Thanks

  7. Roger Claussen
    May 30, 2016 @ 20:53:00

    Yes, you can. Thanks

  8. handeyes
    May 31, 2016 @ 03:57:41

    it’s up at https://handeyes.wordpress.com/2016/05/31/whack-goes-oralism-rulers/

    thank you AGAIN

    peace – patti

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