Barb's Blog

Time to Roll Up the Sleeves

So I am on the Gallaudet campus this week and I happen to pick up a copy of The Buff and Blue (the Gallaudet newspaper), which of course I had heard of but never actually read. There was a powerful photo of the new Gally President, Roberta Cordano, a thoughtful article on the oppression of deaf people with additional disabilities, and a retrospective from outgoing president Alan Hurwitz. All very interesting and informative articles. But the one that hit closest to my heart was “EHDI: The Future of the Deaf”* by Sean Maiwald.

I have been attending meetings and conferences about Early Hearing Detection and Intervention (EHDI) since around 1997. This was before EHDI was a national program. At that time the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta held several meetings to promote EHDI. While at that time some states were screening babies, most were not. Attendees at these CDC meetings wanted to find ways to get more states on board. Most of these folks were from the medical field, so they saw being deaf as a medical problem that could be fixed with a medical solution. I remember sitting at one meeting where a photo of a baby with hearing aids was shown on the screen. “Isn’t that great!” someone said, full of emotion.

Those of us who have been around deaf babies know that a hearing aid alone is pretty meaningless. The real question is: Does the child have age appropriate language? And we also know that making sure that the child acquires that language may not be easy. A family may not have access to high quality early intervention services. They may not have an opportunity to be around the deaf community or other families with deaf children. They may be discouraged from signing. Identifying a child’s hearing levels – and even outfitting the child with a hearing aid – is a beginning, not an end.

Back in 1997 it was easy to see that EHDI systems – and the people promoting them – had a long way to go before they could maximize the opportunity that hearing screening provides.

Over the years EHDI programs have expanded to all the states, and the CDC meetings have evolved into the national EHDI conference (next one will be March 13-15 in San Diego). At the first national conference there was exactly one deaf person in attendance. That number has greatly increased over the years, with deaf representation in presentations and workshops, on the planning committee, and involved in other EHDI activities.

However, EHDI systems remain heavily medically oriented, and there still are not enough deaf community members involved in EHDI at either the national, state, or local level.

This brings me to Sean’s article. The purpose of the article is to encourage deaf community members to be involved in EHDI so that they can support parents of deaf children. Ninety percent of these parents are themselves hearing. Sean writes:

“For many of these hearing parents, their baby is the very first deaf person they have ever met. The parents typically grieve because they are worried that their child will be nothing like them. Obviously, as Deaf persons, we know different – Deaf people are just like hearing people. There are good people, bad people, stupid people, and intelligent people alike present in both deaf and hearing society.

“I assert that we should shift paradigms, and include a deaf person in that grouping [of people that frame perceptions for hearing parents]. Deaf people in the United States can and should become active participants in the EHDI world. Think what would happen if a worried, nervous parent could meet a successful Deaf person around the time they find out that their child is Deaf. The parent could ask the Deaf person any kind of question. Meeting an older Deaf person with a job, house and all the trapping of success could reassure parents as well a provide for a support system.

“This welcoming of sorts of the child to the deaf community has the potential to become a positive, formative experience.”

Sean goes on to list specific steps deaf community members can take to become involved.

Sean, you are spot-on. There are so many EHDI programs that do not include deaf individuals at all. Hearing parents who have never met a happy, healthy deaf person don’t get a full picture of what it’s like to be deaf. But let’s not stop with parents. How would our EHDI systems be different if we had deaf people running state EHDI advisory committees? As screeners in hospitals? As managers of federal EHDI funding? There is no reason that a system designed to support deaf children shouldn’t have a fair number of deaf people all through that system. EHDI systems – and all systems supporting deaf children – benefit from the positive, affirming contributions of deaf individuals.

EHDI systems started with a purely medical focus and have changed slightly to include a deaf perspective, but they have not changed nearly enough. So Sean throws down a challenge to his peers:

“Here’s your chance to make a difference in the years to come.”

It is said that all of us must be the change we want to see in the world. Three cheers to Sean for being just that. 

Will Work for Water

Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone?

 -Joni Mitchell

I have just stepped out of a long shower under the hottest water my skin can stand.  I am wearing a bright white shirt and freshly laundered pants.  My hair is wet.

In the kitchen the dishwasher hums. The sink is dripping. A cup of water is boiling for tea.

If you think this sounds like just a normal happy day in the Raimondo home, how wrong you are. Our household, dear reader with the washed hands, has just come off four and a half days of no running water.

The last few weeks have brought low temperatures to the area that have not been seen – or felt – for a hundred years. One morning I woke up early and whistled my way into the bathroom.  I turned on the tap and – it was only water’s absence that I felt. At first I was not concerned. This is America, right?, and I’m sure the water will be right back. Where could it have gone?

After a few days of nothing but hope and visits from Mr. Master Plumber and the (No) Water Company I learned that an underground pipe had frozen.  And Mr. Master didn’t even have hope in his back of tricks.  “Wait ‘til the ground thaws?” he offered.  Based on weather reports, that would be at least 10 days out. Best-case scenario.

So we had to make due.  My neighbor offered the kitchen sink, and my husband and I trekked over there once or twice a day to fill water bags, bottles, pots, pans, buckets, cups, shot glasses, and anything else that could hold liquid. We had to think about how much we needed, when we would be able to get it again, how to use it in a conservative way.  We cooked foods that required the least amount of water in the pot.  We washed dishes with only a few splashes. We learned just how many bags and bottles were required to flush a toilet.  Washing clothes was out of the question, but thankfully for others around us, we could shower at the gym. 

Sure, there have been times when we didn’t have much water. Backpacking in the beautiful Adirondacks, for example.  But when you backpack you work into your plan how and when you are going to get water.  Maybe you camp next to a babbling mountain brook.  For that matter, being sweaty and dirty is part of the fun. So is being tired and sore, and sleeping on the cold, hard ground, and eating lousy food.  Come to think of it, why do people go backpacking anyway?

That aside, I did not know when I would have water again in my house. This caused a surprising amount of anxiety.  It wasn’t reasonable.  I had any number of neighbors who would help, or I could pop out to the store and buy water if I wanted. Still, I didn’t like the uncertainty. 

Concern about water – how to get it, use as little of it as possible, and then get it again – became a major focus of attention.  It got me thinking about the many people around the world who cannot take access to water for granted.  According to UNICEF, this amounts to around 768 million men, women, and children. Usually it is girls and women who obtain the water for their families, often walking miles each day to the source.  Because this takes up so much time, often they cannot go to school. And the water they have access to frequently is not even clean. Compared to this we had it pretty good. I had no grounds (frozen or otherwise) to complain at all.

 A couple of days later Mr. Master showed up with Mr. Welder and a “Don’t try this at home!” plan. Seems you could hook up a power source to each end of the water pipe where it exited the ground, and run an electric current through it.  This – at least in theory, as Mr. Master had only done it once before – would warm up the pipe, melt the ice in the pipe, and allow the water to flow.  Aside from the possibility that someone would be electrocuted, my home’s electric system would be toasted, my house would catch fire, or the plan wouldn’t work at all, I couldn’t think of any reason not to try it. I mean, what could be bad about combining water with electricity? 

After lots of pipe cutting, wall-hole-poking, wiring, conferencing, buddy-advice-calling, disconnecting, reconnecting, dis-reconnecting, and so on, the men had put everything in place.  After 45 minutes of running the electric current I heard a cry that sounded like “Hey, your mother!” but could have been “We got water!”  It was like Moses hitting the rock.

What a treat it is to have clean water available all day every day.  Watching it come out of the tap is like watching a river roll with the sun setting behind.

We still have a collection of bottles and bags full of water sitting on the kitchen counter. Although it would be easy to dump them down the drain and simply use the water coming out of the tap, there is no way we are doing that. We are going to remember what it took – what it takes millions every day – to obtain one of the most fundamental elements of life – clean water. 

Skittish about English

As a hearing person growing up in an English speaking environment I acquired English easily and effortlessly.  I loved the structure and organization of the language.  I was fascinated by my eighth grade text book, Warriner’s English Grammar and Composition, where I learned the differences among (not between!) an independent clause, a dependent clause, and Santa Claus.  I diagrammed sentences for fun.  My subjects and verbs always agreed.  They were even friends!  I know when to use “who” and “whom.”  I know the literal meaning of “literal.”  In fact, I’m proud to say that, according to a test I just took on Facebook, my knowledge of English grammar is pretty darn good. 

Let’s face it, grammar is handy.  As everyone knows, grammar saves lives:

“Let’s eat, Grandma.”

“Let’s eat Grandma.”

So correct use of grammar is really a public safety issue, if you think about it for a minute.

One thing I have learned is that if you really want to get a good view of a language it is best to look at it from the outside.

For the past few years I have been tutoring hearing students who are learning English as adults.  It is through this experience that I have learned that English makes no sense at all, and, let’s be honest, is a pretty dopey language.

Here is a sentence from our book:  “He means a lot to me.”  Easy, right?  Of course the students know the word “mean.”  They sure do:  “Bad.”  “Not nice.”

“Uh, no.  ‘He means a lot to me.’  That means he’s important.  He’s special.  It means . . .”  Jeez, what does “mean” mean, anyway?

No worries, let’s move on to the next lesson “it.”  Any word whose claim to fame is that it is instrumental in a game of tag should be pretty simple to explain.  “Okay, here are some examples:  ‘It is raining.’ ‘It is late,’ ‘He broke it,’ ‘It is June.’” 

Really, you have to wonder whether “it” means anything at all. 

Today our lesson covered tag questions.  I didn’t know what a tag question was either, so I had to look it up.  Here’s an example:  In the sentence “English is really wacko, isn’t it?”, the tag question is: “isn’t it?”

In the sentence “You’re coming back to English class again next week, aren’t you?”, the tag question is: “aren’t you?”

In the sentence “Some day I’ll understand this, won’t I?” the tag question is:  “won’t I?”

The idea is I give the student the first part, and the students add the tag question. 

Are you with me so far?

So, in the line “The English teacher looks really confused today, the tag question is – obviously - “lookn’t she?”  No, wait, the tag question is “doesn’t she.”  Wait – what happened to “looks?”  Why don’t we say “lookn’t she?”  And where does “does” come from? 

Well, when things don’t make any sense, which is pretty often, I do what my advanced tutoring training program instructed me to do:  Shrug my shoulders, flash a friendly smile, and say “That’s English.”  Then I mumble something incomprehensible and check my watch.

Here are more sentences we have covered:

“I’ll learn to speak English in this class.”

“I’ll finish reading the book.”


“I’ll learn speaking English in this class.”

“I’ll finish to read the book.”

It goes on and on.  The letters, commas, and question marks of the English alphabet are strung together in arcane and magical ways.  String them together right, and you say or write exactly what you mean.  Mix them up a little and – hey, has anyone seen Grandma?

Be a Bellyacher

Parents, are you satisfied with your child’s educational program?  Is your child receiving the right services in the appropriate setting?  How about direct communication with peers and personnel in his language and communication mode?  Is your child meeting applicable grade level benchmarks?  If so, pour yourself a cup of tea, put your feet up, and relax. 

If not, read on.

Unfortunately, many parents observe that their deaf or hard of hearing children are not doing well in school.  They cite evidence of their child’s performance on standardized tests as well as anecdotal evidence about how much they know and can do in school and at home. Sadly, research bears this out.  It is documented that that deaf and hard of hearing students do not achieve to the same level as hearing peers. 

But the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act requires schools to make sure that children have access to his or her grade-level curriculum.  And our nation’s education system requires schools, school districts, and states to be accountable for the achievement of all students. 

So what’s a parent to do?

Of course, any concern about what is going on with your child in school should be brought to the teacher first, and to the other members of the Individualized Education Program team.  If you can’t find agreement there you can contact other personnel in the school such as the school psychologist, the special education director, the principal, and even the district special education director or superintendent.  All of these individuals care about children succeeding – that’s why they go to work every day – and may be able to assist you in getting the issue resolved.          

Sometimes that is not enough.  IDEA provides a process for parents to file a complaint if they believe their child’s educational program is not up to par.  School districts must provide parents with the information necessary to file a complaint.  State disability advocacy offices, the National Association of the Deaf, and the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates have special education attorneys that may be able to assist you with filing a complaint.

Two other laws, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), protect students’ rights in education.  Both are designed to ensure that students have equal access to school programs.  For example, Title II of the ADA requires schools to provide  “effective communication” in school.  Section 504 and the ADA are important to consider if there are communication barriers in the classroom.  The organizations listed above may be able to assist you in filing a Section 504 or ADA complaint.

It is often thought that if a requirement is written into the law then, automatically, it will happen.  After all, not following the law means someone is breaking the law, right?  And that’s not allowed, is it?  But IDEA, Section 504, and the ADA depend on people to file complaints when they are violated.  When complaints are filed, they are investigated.  If nobody complains, the powers-that-be assume everything is fine.

So, speak up.  Whether you complain within the school or district, or take the step of filing a formal complaint, your highlighting a problem can lead to its solution.    

IDEA, ADA, and Communication in the Classroom: Lifting the Rowley Weight

Advocates for deaf and hard of hearing children – come to think of it, advocates of all children served by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) – frequently have been frustrated by its limitations.  When IDEA was passed in 1975 (as the Education for All Handicapped Children Act), millions of children with disabilities had no access to education.  IDEA was designed - successfully - to ensure that all students with disabilities were educated.  IDEA has undergone several reauthorizations since then, bringing the law more in line with general education initiatives.  Among other things, more recent elements of the law hold schools accountable for ensuring that students with disabilities achieve the same academic outcomes as nondisabled students, graduate at the same rates as nondisabled students, and achieve postsecondary outcomes on par with those of nondisabled peers.  IDEA’s goal in 1975 was to open the classroom door to students who had been excluded.  IDEA’s goal in 2013 is to ensure that these children receive a comparable education.

But there is a giant weight hanging around the neck of IDEA.  The name of that weight is Rowley.  Rowley is a Supreme Court case decided in 1982 that established standards for IDEA implementation.  The Supreme Court ruled that requirements of the law are satisfied by “providing personalized instruction with sufficient support services to permit the child to benefit educationally from that instruction” and “[the Individualized Education Program and personalized instruction] should be reasonably calculated to enable the child to achieve passing marks and advance from grade to grade.”  At the time this was considered a low standard.  Today it is a standard completely out of step with current law.  (I blog about this here.)  So, today, even despite the higher IDEA standards, when a student brings a complaint, courts apply the Rowley standard.  If the school has met that low standard it has done its job, end of story.

Although there are several laws addressing access to communication in schools – Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and IDEA – typically courts have looked to whether IDEA has been satisfied, and if it has, courts have decided in favor of the school district.

However, a new development may lessen Rowley’s impact in cases involving deaf and hard of hearing children’s communication access in the classroom.  The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (which covers roughly the western part of the country), recently heard the case of K.M v. Tustin Unified School District and D.H. v. Poway Unified School District.  The Court ruled that when IDEA, the ADA, and the Rehabilitation Act come into play, each law needs to be considered individually, and just because the school meets the requirements of one law, that does not necessarily mean the school has met the requirements of another law.  Here’s what happened.

K.M. and D.H. were deaf students who could hear and understand a lot of what is spoken in the classroom but not everything.  Efforts to try to understand left them exhausted and drained by the end of the school day.  They requested communication access realtime translation (CART) for use in their classrooms.  (Although they attended schools in different school districts the facts of their cases are similar, so the court considered them together.)  Their school districts refused to provide it.  The students filed a due process complaint, which they lost, then a federal law suit, which they also lost.  In each case the district court granted “summary judgment” for the school district.  Summary judgment basically means that even if everything the K.M. and D.H. say is true, they lose because the law does not support their position.  Ouch.  The district court said that IDEA did not require CART to be provided because under IDEA standards the students were receiving a free appropriate public education.  (Remember the low Rowley standard?)  Once it was determined that IDEA standard was met, any claim under the ADA or Section 504 must fail.

“Not so fast!” said K.M. and D.H. (by way of their lawyers and entities filing friend of the court briefs:  the United States Department of Justice, the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, and the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates).  They did not appeal the judgment about whether IDEA requirements were met.  They argued that IDEA and the ADA have separate requirements and schools must consider each set of requirements separately.  The Court agreed.

First, the factors the school must consider when determining how to provide communication access differ.  Under IDEA, the Individualized Education Program team must consider the student’s language and communication needs and related opportunities.  Under the ADA “effective communication” provisions the school must “furnish appropriate auxiliary aids and services where necessary.”   And while IEP teams must include the parents and, where appropriate, the student, their requests do not carry “primary” weight.  However, under the ADA the school must “give primary consideration to the requests of the individual with disabilities.” 

Second, Title II of the ADA provides defenses or reasons why a school might not be required to provide an accommodation.  For example, if providing the accommodation would constitute an “undue burden” the public entity would not be required to provide it.  Also, ADA requirements are limited to existing programs. School districts are not required to develop new programs to meet the needs of the student.  There are no analogous provisions in IDEA.

Third, Title II requires public schools to communicate “as effective[ly] with disabled students as with other students, and to provide disabled students the “auxiliary aids . . . necessary to afford . . . an equal opportunity to participate in, and enjoy the benefits of,” the school program.  Under Rowley IDEA does not require schools to “provide ‘equal’ educational opportunities.”  (Emphases added by the Court.)

Given these differences the Court was “unable to articulate any unified theory for how [these laws] will interact in particular cases.”  Therefore, it reversed the decision of the lower court and sent the case back to that court for it to reconsider in light of this ruling.[1] 

So, to summarize:

1.  Students requested CART

2.  Schools denied request

3.  Students filed due process and lost

4.  Students filed district court case and lost.  The court said the students received “meaningful educational benefit” as IDEA requires.  The court said once IDEA requirements are met, the ADA claim fails.

5.  Students appealed and won their legal claim.  The court said IDEA and ADA have separate requirements and must be considered separately.  Failure on an IDEA claim does not necessarily doom an ADA claim.  The Court sent the case back to the district court for reconsideration. 

This ruling makes clear that the access to communication in the classroom is not limited to the Rowley standard.  The ADA requirement to effective communication must be considered separately from IDEA requirements.  

That Rowley weight – at least as applied to communication in the classroom – may be lightening up.

Update March 2014:  The school districts appealed this case to the Supreme Court.  The Supreme Court declined to hear it, meaning that the decision of the Ninth Circuit stands. 

 [1] Although this ruling applied to students who requested CART, the same principles would apply to students seeking other types of communication access, such as qualified interpreters.

Copyright 2013.  This does not constitute legal advice.  Do not reproduce without permission.


Believe It - Or Not!

Do you believe that medical research done at prestigious universities and funded by the United States of America is reliable?  Do you believe that scientists “go where the data takes us” and report their findings with an eye to objectivity and truth?  Do you trust that the medical information your doctor receives is accurate?  

A recent article in The Washington Post raises some disturbing issues around these questions.

Daniel Yuan, a medical doctor and statistician, was skeptical of study results coming out of a lab at Johns Hopkins Medical School, research that was funded by the National Institutes of Health.  He felt that the numbers “didn’t add up.”  He questioned the study’s data, ran his own numbers, told his colleagues of his concerns, and brought up the issue with the lab’s director.  “At first, it was like, ‘Okay — but I don’t really see it,’ ” Yuan recalled. “Then it started to smell bad.” 

Despite his expressed reservations and objections a paper on the research was published in Nature, which, according to The Washington Post, is “arguably the field’s most prestigious journal.”  The Post goes on: “The medical school even issued a news release when the article appeared last year: “Studies Linked To Better Understanding of Cancer Drugs.” 

Yuan wrote to Nature’s editors criticizing the paper’s analysis and conclusions.  Yu-yi Lin, the lead author of the paper, was to respond to Yuan’s objections.  On the day his response was due he was found dead of an apparent suicide.  In an e-mail sent after his death, he seemed to blame Yuan for his end.

Originally Nature told Yuan it “probably” would write a correction, and when The Washington Post came sniffing around a Johns Hopkins spokesperson said that Nature would “address” the issue.  However, in the six months since the Yuan contacted Nature, no correction has been put forth.  Further NIH’s Office on Research Integrity declined to investigate, leaving such investigation to the University – the entity that produced the research. 

The Post details the stress researchers are under to be “productive.”  It describes the necessity of weighing improvement of data analyses against the constrictions of deadlines and need to protect funding. 

It states: 

"[T]he incident comes amid a phenomenon that some call a “retraction epidemic.”

"Last year, research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that the percentage of scientific articles retracted because of fraud had increased tenfold since 1975.

"The same analysis reviewed more than 2,000 retracted biomedical papers and found that 67 percent of the retractions were attributable to misconduct, mainly fraud or suspected fraud.

“'You have a lot of people who want to do the right thing, but they get in a position where their job is on the line or their funding will get cut, and they need to get a paper published,” said Ferric C. Fang, one of the authors of the analysis and a medical professor at the University of Washington. “Then they have this tempting thought: If only the data points would line up . . . '"

Medical research is no small business operation:  according to the NIH Research Portfolio Online Reporting Tools, NIH awarded Johns Hopkins University $607 million in fiscal year 2012.

Since publication “[t]he paper has been cited 11 times by other published papers building on the findings.”  Meaning that, if in fact the findings were inaccurate or inaccurately represented, the subsequent studies that relied on them must be called into question.  However, as of today, the original paper stands as written.

It has not been proven that Lin did what Yuan alleges.  Yet the Post outlines clearly the pressure scientists are under to produce the “right” results and the reluctance of others to question them.  Does any of this sound like any other arena of life?  Is this any different than an athlete who takes steroids to improve his game?  Or a fund manager who fudges numbers to get a better bottom line?

Money and status are potent motivators - whether you are talking about sports, business, science, or any other field.  Better monitoring of scientific research is necessary to protect our health and our nation’s investment in science.

Copyright 2013.  Do not reproduce without permission. 




Technologically Sorry

Am I the only person in the United States who does not know how to turn on a television set?

I admit, I am not a heavy watcher, so I don’t get a lot of practice.  Most of what I know about television I learned from reading the newspaper.  And those articles don’t include instructions on where to find the on/off button.  I do think that television can be educational, and that’s important.  I caught part of the Summer Olympics a few months ago and learned that beach volleyball is a sport in Latvia!  I used to watch Jeopardy with my son and learned what the highest lake in the world is.  Only now I forget the name.  And Asher went off to college, so what’s the point of watching Jeopardy now?   

Last night I sat down to watch the presidential debate.  I planned to stream it over the Internet and watch on my laptop from the comfort of my living room sofa.  But when I started the stream I saw it did not include captions.  I tried a few sites and was not able to find one with captioning.  We’ve had mandatory captioning of television programs shown on televisions since the 1990s, but when television programs are shown on the Internet they still don’t need to be captioned.  Figure that one out.   

But no matter, I have a fancy-shmancy Internet TV contraption, so I took my laptop into the den and tried to watch from there.  I tried the usual set up:  plug the silver thingee into the back of the big, rectangular whatsis, stick the three cables into the computer, turn on Bluetooth, go to the television programs list, find the channel, click “watch now,” wait for the picture to appear on my laptop, close my laptop, hold my breath, recite all my favorite numbers backwards while hopping on my right foot, and hope for magic to happen. 

It didn’t. 

So I unplugged and replugged, clicked every button that appeared, checked the connections, spoke the words “watch now” (well, really, yelled them) as I clicked on watch now, and hoped that something I did would do the trick. 

It didn’t.

So I did the next thing any somewhat intelligent (more or less), college-educated, technologically savvy woman of the 21st century would do:  I called my husband. 

No luck there.

Okay, I was running out of devices.  But there was still hope.  We actually have a real TV.  Yes, a gigantic box with a big antenna on top!  And a VCR on the shelf below!  Could I get that to work before the end of the debate?  I picked up the two remote controls that go with it.  Now, remember, you don’t control the TV through the TV remote.  Everyone knows that the way to control the TV is through the VCR remote.  You have to turn the TV setting to video, and that’s what makes the television program appear.  This is the easy part.  So I did that and got – visual static. There must be a way.

Then I noticed the angry red light of the digital TV box peeking from behind the TV.  It blinked accusingly.  Sheepishly I reached over and clicked the switch.  The box lit up with a friendly blue glow.  Then the TV screen lit up with a friendly blue glow.  Then Jim Lehrer’s face lit up – well, with a pretty normal color.  The captions appeared.  The debate went on – and I caught the entire last half of it.

Do you remember the Dark Ages when you had to get out of your seat to change the channel, and there were only three shows on at a time – in black and white?  It seems our lives are so complicated now.  The devices that were supposed to make things easier have created their own set of challenges.  We expect so much from the touch of a finger.  Sometimes I think it would be nice to get away from all this technology and information flow.  Maybe up to that high lake I learned about on Jeopardy – what was the name?  Maybe I should watch again to learn more about it. 

Now, where did I put that remote? 

Copyright 2012.  Do not reproduce without permission.

Play Ball

Author Fred Bowen recent wrote an article in The Washington Post describing the efforts of one county to get parents and coaches to simmer down during their kids’ soccer games.  In response to the over-zealousness of adults watching the games, Arlington County, Virginia is conducting a Silent Soccer Weekend.  During matches “Folks can clap for good plays and support their teams in other non verbal ways.  But no screaming at the kids to ‘wake up’ or ‘get the ball.’”

As the parent of a football player on a deaf team I was always grateful that our side never felt that we had to yell during games.  I used to listen parents and coaches on opposing teams and be glad that we didn’t need to have any of that stuff coming from us.  There was the pedestrian:

“Watch the pass!”

“Run fast!” and

“Block that guy!”

As well as the more –well, not very nice:

“Show ‘em what you’re made of!”

“He barely hit you, get up!” and (my favorite!)

“Go hard or go home!”

As for the former:  well, don’t the kids already know the rules of the game?  Do these kids really need Mom to remind them, as if this is an on-field version of “Do your homework.”?  I mean, everybody is at least trying to watch the ball, right?  The kids who are supposed to be running already look like they are moving pretty fast.  And sometimes one guy completely misses the other guy, hard as he tries.  Anyway doesn’t all of this get a little confusing – run, block, tackle, throw – I bet these boys already know who is supposed to be doing what.  And if not – it’s too late!

As for the latter:  just let me say I was not thinking along these lines at all.  If I were going to call out anything across the field it would have been something like:

“Asher honey, watch that boy, he is going to try to knock you down!”

“Asher dear, it’s cold and rainy, tell the coach you want to go home!” and

“Asher darling, stay away from that big crowd of kids, someone is going to get hurt!”

It’s possible the coach would not have appreciated this advice.

Bowen describes the technique of longtime Baltimore Orioles coach Cal Ripken Sr., father of Baseball Hall of Famer Cal Ripken, Jr.  He “never approached a player during a game to tell him about a mistake.  Instead, [he] marked it down in a notebook and went to the player the next day to explain what he had done wrong and how he could correct it . . . Ripken knew from experience that the player would not listen to him during the game.  The player would be too upset or embarrassed about striking out or booting a grounder to really hear his coach’s advice.  So Ripken waited for a time when the player was ready to listen.”

Interesting advice for coaches, parents, and the rest of us.   

On second thought, maybe it would not have been such a bad idea to get Ash off the field on those really cold nights.  Chicken soup, anyone?

Copyright 2012.  Do not reproduce without permission.

It's 2012. Do You Know Who Your Special Education Director Is?

This weekend I had the pleasure of hearing a presentation by Melody Musgrove at the annual gathering of the Conference of Educational Administrators of Schools and Programs for the Deaf (CEASD) in Hartford, Connecticut.  Melody is the Director of the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) at the U.S. Department of Education.  Melody had flown up from Washington, DC for the speech, waking up at 3:00 a.m. on a Sunday to catch her flight.  Isn’t the life of a presidential appointee glamorous? 

Melody shared information with the audience about U.S. Department of Education activities, for example, new initiatives that will require states to focus more on raising student outcomes and less on simply reporting data.  Melody likened the process to the way in which a thermostat and thermometer work to heat or cool a house.  The thermometer reports the temperature.  The thermostat causes something to happen.  The new focus on outcomes should cause states to function more like thermostats than thermometers.     

Several months prior, Melody’s office hosted a focus group on deaf education, in which educators, parents, researchers, and others identified gaps and barriers in education and proposed solutions.  The proceedings from that meeting will help guide OSEP in its deaf education investments and target resources where they are needed.  Attendees made recommendations in the areas of coordination of services, progress monitoring, Least Restrictive Environment, professional preparation, data tracking, research, and others.

At the end of her presentation Melody left a lot of time for questions from the audience, and a productive dialogue followed.  Several of the comments and questions centered on ensuring that parents receive complete information about communication opportunities and educational settings.  Melody emphasized the importance of meeting each child’s needs and ensuring that each child has access to the appropriate educational setting.  She has issued guidance stating:

“Any setting that does not meet the communication and related needs of a child who is deaf does not allow for the provision of  [a Free Appropriate Public Education] and cannot be considered the [Least Restrictive Environment] for that child.  Just as the [Individuals with Disabilities Education Act] requires placement in the regular educational setting when it is appropriate for the unique needs of a child who is deaf, it also requires placement outside of the regular educational setting when the child’s needs cannot be met in that setting.”

She closed with sharing her e-mail address and phone number with the audience and encouraging folks to contact her.  I’ll do her the favor of passing that information on.  Her e-mail address is, and phone number is 202/245-8020.  Anyone can contact her.  This means you!  Let her know about the successes your child has had in school, and let her know the challenges.  Tell your family’s story.  We need to work with policy makers like Melody to make sure our kids get what they need.  She can’t do the work without us. 

Successful outcomes for our children:  That’s worth getting up at 3:00 in the morning for.

Copyright 2012.  Do not reproduce without permission.

Driver's Ed

My son, the new driver, had some news for me the other morning.  He had been out the night before and gotten home long after I had gone to bed.  Bed-time being nine-ish, this happens a lot.  “I got a ticket” he said.  I choked on my coffee.

“What for?”

“Uh, going 80 in a 55 miles per hour zone.”


“Just kidding.  Really, it was for not having a tag light.  And it was just a warning.”  Oh, that breezy teenage manner.

“Tag light?  What the heck is a tag light?”

Turns out the tag light is the light that shines on the license plate.   After going to my car and checking I saw that, in fact, there were two small bulbs above the license plate, each housed in a plastic assembly above and on either side of the license plate.  I screwed open the casings and took out the bulbs.  (All by myself!)  One of them had burned out.  The car is more than 10 years old, and neither bulb had ever been replaced.  How long had it been dark?  Why had neither my husband nor I, who drive the car far more than Asher, ever been stopped?  How would you even notice if one is out, if the other is working?

I have always been fearful of Asher being pulled over by the police.  While most traffic stops are routine, there have been cases where deaf individuals have suffered severe harm at the hands of a police officer during a stop, such as happened to Doug Bahl, who was sprayed with a chemical irritant and yanked from his car, Christopher Ferrel, who was pulled from his car and had his head slammed into the back windshield after reaching for his license, (the video is not captioned, but the act speaks for itself), and Dan Tessien, who was not taken from his car but was pelted with 40 grams of lead shot in bean bags while sitting in his truck shouting “I’m deaf!”

To say nothing of situations that have taken place off road, such as that of Antonio Love, who was pepper sprayed and tasered for staying too long in the bathroom (really!), Esther Valdez and Cici Bermudez, who were assaulted by police officers while walking down the street, and Roger Anthony, who died after being shocked by a police officer’s stun gun while riding his bike.

In all of these cases there was a problem with communication between the police officer and the deaf individual.  Based on what I have read - and the number of times deaf plaintiffs win in lawsuits based on these types of events - it seems that the police could have taken steps to de-escalate the situation, but did not.  Things did not have to end the way they did.  The police expected the individual in question to respond a certain way, and when he didn’t, reacted forcefully when force was not needed.  I quizzed Asher about his experience.  “How did you know it was you he wanted to pull over?  How did he communicate with you?  What did he say?”

From what Asher told me, it all seemed pretty simple.  He had noticed a car behind him but didn’t know it was a police car until he made a turn, then the red lights went on.  He was the only one on the road, so he knew he was the guy.  He pulled right over.  The officer walked up to the car, and Asher told him he was deaf.  The officer asked for his license, registration, and insurance card and told him to step out of the car.  He checked his license and showed him the light (well, lack thereof) and the written warning.  He used some fingerspelled words, gestures, and pointing to communicate.  At the end of everything they both went on their merry way.  There were no communication issues and no problems.  Of course, this happened Frederick, Maryland, where the school for the deaf actually trains the police  on how to interact with people who are deaf.  Next time Asher might not be so lucky.

I gave Asher one of the bulbs, told him to pick up a new one at the auto parts store, and instructed him about what to do if he was stopped again.  Keep your hands in sight.  Don’t make any sudden moves.  If you need to get something from the car check with the officer first.  Don’t look away.  Don’t look nervous.  Be friendly.  Don’t say too much.  Answer all the officer’s questions.  Follow his directions.  Don’t reach into your pockets.  Don’t step forward.  If he tells you to step forward, step forward.  But if he doesn’t, don’t.  Don’t look around.  Keep a pen and paper on the seat next to you.  Make sure you always have your license with you.  Don’t speed.  Use your turn signals.  Always look over your shoulder when changing lanes.  Don’t stay up too late.  Don’t eat too much junk food.  Do your homework.  Pick the right friends.  Floss every day. 

What were the magic instructions that would keep my son safe?

Police officers have a difficult and dangerous job.  Trouble crops up unexpectedly, and they sometimes do have to use force.  We all know this.  As a mother I have to make sure Asher understands how quickly things can spiral out of control and to help him make sure he does not do anything that could be misconstrued as non-compliance or a threat.

And then hope for the best.

Copyright 2012.  Do not reproduce without permission.


© Barbara Raimondo 2015