Our previous solutions proposed the following:
- Develop a cheaper cochlear implant
- Medically stimulate sections of the brain to help children/people to better learn ASL or spoken language.
We chose these two solutions because 1) developing a cheaper cochlear implant can better facilitate families who normally cannot afford a cochlear implant for their children and 2) medically stimulate sections of the brain can help bridge hearing and deaf communities as both will be able to be bimodal bilingual.
The biggest risk with our first solution is the lack of support among the deaf community for medical intervention for their children. Parents of deaf children would rather their children acquire language skills socially than medically. Another risk is that this solution can be really expensive, and thus doesn’t help to make the solution more accessible to deaf children around the world. We realize that we can’t satisfy every side with our solution, but the majority of parents are against medical intervention and probably couldn’t afford the cochlear implant, even if it was remade cheaper. Medical interventions don’t bridge the gap between the hearing and deaf community because of the unequal access, but stronger social programs would help.
Dr. Fisher is a professor in the Linguistics department of Penn, who was born to deaf parents and has a deaf brother. Her first language is ASL. Because of her background, Dr. Fisher could speak for the deaf community and present to us their potential reactions to our proposed solutions. In a 30 minute discussion with her in person, we are able to get many sincere and helpful advice. We have summarized Dr. Fisher's input into 3 pieces of feedback:
- The deaf community might not appreciate our solutions because they are purely medical interventions. Most deaf children are born to hearing parents, who usually want to “cure” the hearing loss in their children because they do not know what to do otherwise. Besides, when the hospital finds out that a newborn has hearing loss, it only provides medical interventions, such as testing the possibility of a cochlear implant for the baby. There is a lack of social support to both parents and the baby. Dr. Fisher expresses that, the most important step to bridge the gap between the hearing and the deaf community does not lie in more medical interventions, but in more understanding of the deaf community and how to help a family to raise a deaf child successfully.
- Since most deaf children are born to hearing parents who do not know ASL, the children usually have a hard time learning without any language stimulation. Even though the cochlear implant might help a deaf child to hear sounds, there are many limitations to the medical device. Cochlear implants can’t help people to regain hearing perfectly, it can only aid hearing sounds. So a deaf child still could not learn a spoken language as well as a hearing child. Since Dr. Fisher’s first language is ASL, she believes that having sign language as a first language no matter if the child could hear, will greatly help the child to learn a second language that is a spoken language. If we only focus on “fixing” deafness in children, we might not achieve our goal of helping the children to master a spoken language fluently. Children also need to wait 12 months after born to get cochlear implants, this limits the time they get exposed to a language before school age. Thus, we need to focus more on helping the children to learn sign language.
- Many deaf people do gain the ability to speak a spoken language later in life. But they could not understand the spoken language as well as they speak it. Thus, even if they speak a spoken language, the language they feel comfortable expressing themselves with is still a sign language. So the ability to sign a sign language is more important than speaking a spoken language.
The new solution we are proposing is to develop a curriculum for students pursuing a Master of Social Work to introduce them to the Deaf culture and the importance of learning ASL for deaf babies and redirect them away from merely medical interventions. This curriculum will try to eliminate the stigma behind sign language, introduce currently available resources for deaf children and their parents, and teach them very basic sign language. These students are future social workers who would be the first point of support for a family if their children are born with hearing loss. Currently, in the United States, schools’ Master of Social Work curriculum rarely require or provide courses that introduce the Deaf culture and how to help deaf babies born to hearing parents.
We think this solution can be very beneficial because we are directly changing the perspectives of hospital social workers who would, therefore, change the stigmatism hearing parents hold about deafness and sign languages. Since the hospital will find out if a newborn has hearing loss within 24 hours of birth, as doctors perform tests on the babies, our trained social workers could step in as soon as a newborn with hearing loss is found. The social workers will guide parents on how to raise a deaf baby and provide parents with resources that can expose their babies to ASL during the critical learning period and provide parents with the ASL curriculum so they can communicate with their babies in the future. As long as deaf babies are exposed to ASL when they are young, they will have a very good language foundation which will help them to learn anything in the future, including a spoken language after they get medical interventions such as a cochlear implant. For a child to be bimodal bilingual, they need to establish a good foundation for a first language, which should be ASL for deaf babies.