The Drs. are In & Calling out AG Bell

The Drs. are in. & Calling out AG Bell.  Yep Deaf folks with and without doctorate degrees are signing out about AG Bell’s everlasting aggression against ASL and Deaf culture.  See the ASL letter to the AG Bell Association from some NTID/RIT Deaf Cultural Studies faculty. English version is below the the video box. If you would like your name added to the letter, feel free to leave a comment below with your name and we will add you in. 

(video was filmed and edited by Kc)

12 April 2016

To the President, CEO, Board, and Members of the AG Bell Association,

We have a wealth of knowledge today from both historical scholarship and the
collective, lived experiences of Deaf people about AG Bell.  We know that AG Bell
was a strong supporter of the eugenics movement. He supported language
oppression, leading to a legacy of linguicism in Deaf history.  Eugenics began and
was practiced here in the United States before being adopted in Nazi Germany.

Thus, Bell was part of the development of the notion of a “better stock of human
beings” which clearly indicated that Deaf people were unacceptable.  Bell’s ideology
shows repeated pattern of language oppression, systematic destruction of Deaf
people’s culture and way of life.  Such systematic ways of destroying any culture
needs to be stopped right now.

The World Federation of the Deaf (WFD) organization has reported that 70 million
Deaf and Deaf Blind people around the globe use sign language.  Additionally, WFD
has worked closely with the United Nations in developing the Convention on Rights
of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).  The UNCRPD focuses on the rights of Deaf
people including recognition of the human right to sign language as a first language. The CRPD, therefore, recognizes and promotes the sign languages of Deaf people worldwide.  A related CRPD principle reaffirms the education of Deaf children
through sign language followed by reading and writing skills in the language of their
home countries.  The recent letter from the AG Bell Association mentions sign
language as simply one of many “options.”  Thus, the AG Bell Association has
blatantly denied Deaf children the human right to sign language that has been
asserted by WFD/UN CRPD.

I’ve noticed among Deaf students here at NTID that they tend to communicate most
successfully through sign.  These students are diverse: many from international
countries and from various states; their educational backgrounds include
experiencing mainstream schools and Deaf schools.  When they all come together
and need to communicate effectively in the moment, they all use sign. Speech
doesn’t work well because many of the international students do not lipread English
nor use spoken English.  When they come together, they all can sign and smoothly
collaborate. This experience is evidence that it is signing which allows diverse
students to be successful communicators.

For many years, AG Bell has reinforced the concept that speech is equated with the
ability to learn language which is misleading and erroneous.  Focusing on
developing literacy is different from speech training.  Being able to use speech may
be a convenient way to communicate with many people, but it does not lead to
literacy–that is, skills such as the ability to think, reason, negotiate, read and write. Research has indicated that in America today there are about 30 million people who
use speech fluently, but who cannot read and write. When you give your child
language, you need to remember that Deaf children always are bilingual or
multilingual.  Today in 2016, we have a lot of research that AG Bell’s assumptions
have been wrong.

In 2008, the President and CEO of AG Bell Association wrote a letter to the Pepsi
Company chastising them for having shown a commercial which included Deaf
people signing.  It was just one short commercial shown on one day out of a whole
year’s worth of commercials.  Yet, the President and CEO of AG Bell were so upset
that they felt they needed to respond.  At NTID/RIT, the students, faculty, staff,
community members and members of the Orange and Brown Coalition decided that
we must confront you about this injustice.  We demanded that you rescind your
letter to the Pepsi Company and apologize for offending and misrepresenting Deaf
people.  At the same time, people at NTID/RIT began to question the integrity of
having a building named in honor of AG Bell on our campus. Students began to study
Bell’s history and notice his pattern of oppressing Deaf people’s language and
culture as well as his destructive impact on the individual lives of Deaf people.
Because of this history, they felt NTID/RIT should not show honor much less
tolerance for people who represent such actions.  After much discussion, the name
and plaque honoring AG Bell was finally removed from our campus.  That was in 2008.

Now, in 2016, you have again written a letter publically insulting Deaf people, Deaf
culture, and ASL.  You seem resistant to learning.  Your pattern of harassment and
insults to our culture and our language is unacceptable and must stop.  It is harmful
to parents, children, and adults.  We have had enough.

NTID/RIT Faculty/Staff members from the Department of Cultural and Creative


Dr. J.Matt Searls,
Mr. Joseph Hamilton,
Dr. Deirdre A. Schlehofer,
Dr. Aaron Kelstone,
Ms. Patti Durr,
Dr. Karen Christie and
Ms. Pam Conley

Additional Signatories:

Nancy Rourke
Diane Plassey Gutierrez
Rodney Navratil
Barb Wingfield
Ms. Shawn Elfrink
Robert Tawney
Tim Gough
Raymond Kovachik, P.E.
Lisa Hermatz
Mindy Brightman
Ella Mae Lentz
Willy Pierce
Rochard D. Coll
Kym Symansky
Brenda Aron
David Tester
Lance Forshay


23 thoughts on “The Drs. are In & Calling out AG Bell

  1. Add me. This outdated institution certainly needs to update or go away.
    Diane Plassey Gutierrez

  2. Add me, I am a AGB survivor. Stupid oralism failure. AG Bell needs to be exposed for what he is, a fraud, liar and destroyer of the Deaf. Rodney Navratil

  3. Add me please. This is making me prouder as a NTID/RIT alumni by seeing how all of you in the vlog have identified AG Bell’s role in Deaf History and today. Enough is enough! Hey Patti, you are doing wonderful job posting the events that impact us where we can connect from dot-to-dot and thank you! Keep on diggin’ as always!

  4. Dianrez – many thanks. outdated indeed. u’ve been added.

    Rodney – Survivors ROCK! thank you and i have added your name. Just FYI – ou are not a failure of oralism – Oralism and AG Bell FAILED you and your family. BIG TIME.

    Barb – wonderful to see u b/vlogging again and yes NTID/RIT is really making me happy too. will add up the Presidents and student govt letters later today.

    Ms. Shawn – thank u thank u thank u. you really have been the heart of the movement to do peaceful direct confrontation to the oppressive and unjust systems of Oralism and EHDI. So thank u. keep standing sis.

  5. Thanks Robert – I have added you. Thanks for all you do for our community. You are one of those marvelous leaders that lead so quietly that folks have no idea how awesome and how much you truly do do.

  6. Add me! I’m a proud alumnus of RIT/NTID who experienced the very issue everyone is talking about: AGB’s belief that oralism rules. What fallacy!! Im a very proud ASL user now. Better yet, ASL instructor!!

  7. Add my family, Rochard D. Coll, my late Deaf grandfather who learned to sign at age 17.
    Myself as survivor of Oral education in my first few years at the Deaf school till Total Comminication / Sim Com came in the picture for the rest of elementary years.

    Thanks for doing this! Much love and light to you, Patti

  8. When was the AG Bell signage and name removed from NTID/RIT. It is missing from your letter?
    I would like to add my name to the petition as a former teacher at NTID/ RIT

  9. Awww Kym – thank you for wanting to add your Grandpa – have added you both. Glad you have broken the cycle for your kids.
    Brenda in 2008 the plaque came down. Have added your name to the petition. thanks.
    David – added. TU

  10. As a member of a large Deaf family with many generations of Deaf people since 1860’s, I can tell how many stories have passed to me through my family and their friends in Deaf clubs with all awful experience in schools and where ASL was forbidden, our hands hit for signing, education and social delay, struggle with mastering English through speechreading, difficulty with social development and things like that. Some of my family members have experienced mental and emotional scars from the abuse with damages that persisted with them all the way to their graves. As a teacher of ASL and Deaf Studies, I know Alexander Graham Bell had a major role in this and I cannot imagine how many millions of victims have suffered around the world since 1880’s Milan conference where he also played a main role in passing a resolution to abolish sign language from all schools everywhere. Add my name on the signature please.

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