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DHHCAN’s Open Letter to AGBAD re: Nyle DiMarco

 

Editor’s Note: TDI is a member of Deaf and Hard of Hearing Consumer Advocacy Network, and Claude Stout, TDI Executive Director serves as its Chair. The coalition has eight consumer organizations as its voting members and four professional groups as its non-voting organization partners. TDI wholeheartedly endorses the action of DHHCAN with its open letter to Alexander Graham Bell for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Inc., (AGBAD) and hopes that AGBAD will join forces with the rest of the coalition to wish Nyle DiMarco well in the Dancing with the Stars dancing competition on ABC TV, and to work together on critical access issues in the coming months, especially during this year’s U.S. Presidential election.

________________

Sent on April 27, 2016

To:

Ms. Meredith Sugar, Esq.
President
Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (AGBAD)
3417 Volta Place, NW
Washington, D.C. 20007

Dear Ms. Sugar,

The Deaf and Hard of Hearing Consumer Advocacy Network[1] (DHHCAN) had its most recent regular meeting on April 6, 2016. At this meeting, one of the items on our agenda was your official response as President of the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (AGBAD) to a Washington Post article[2] about Nyle DiMarco and his participation in the Dancing with the Stars (DWTS) competition on the ABC Television Network. AGBAD’s response was posted on AGBAD’s Listening and Spoken Language Center website. After a lengthy discussion, a motion was unanimously passed to send a letter regarding our coalition’s position with regard to AGBAD’s response to the Washington Post article.

Our coalition was disappointed with AGBAD’s response to the Washington Post article. Any significant breakthrough in entertainment by one of our own as a deaf and hard of hearing individual, whether he or she converses in American Sign Language (ASL) or spoken English, or a combination of both, is a well-deserved accomplishment that we can celebrate together in our shared mission to promote inclusion and the message that deaf or hard of hearing people can do anything.

DWTS is a unique all-American celebration of celebrity and dance talent. At DHHCAN, we believe that we must embrace diversity at every opportunity, otherwise we would not have as many choices and resources available in child development, family relations, early hearing detection and intervention, education, employment, human services, technology and telecommunications, among other life activity areas. To that end, it is important that consumer organizations and professional circles acknowledge that one solution for one’s communication or educational needs is not necessarily the appropriate one for another person’s needs. DHHCAN believes that a variety of communication and educational placement options should always be made available for the deaf and hard of hearing, instead of focusing exclusively on a limited subset of options.

As a signing deaf consumer, Mr. DiMarco is entitled as an individual to express his opinion and to advocate for a particular cause, which in this instance, is ASL. If we had a deaf or hard of hearing person who uses spoken English rather than ASL, and was successful in the America’s Top Model (ANTM) competition, the rest of us would be on the sidelines rooting for that individual – regardless of that individual’s chosen communication modality.

We all joined in a full chorus of applause when Ms. Heather Whitestone became Miss America. Back then, as we should now, we understood very well that Ms. Whitestone’s success represented an opportunity to support some of our fellow consumers that do not converse in ASL.

We have seen over the years how our community has been represented appropriately on stage, screen, and television. Individuals of note include the late Phyllis Frelich in her Tony Award performance in the Broadway play, “Children of Lesser God,” Marlee Matlin in her Best Actress Oscar performance for the movie, “Children of a Lesser God,” the captivating interview Barbara Walters had with Robert and Michelle Smithdas, a deaf-blind couple, and more recently, the cast of the television program “Switched at Birth.”

Individuals who have reached a level of success on stage and screen who have a hearing loss and can also be applauded include but are not limited to Whoopi Goldberg, Jodie Foster, Lou Ferrigno, Gary Busey, Rob Lowe, Halle Berry, and the composer Danny Elfman. We encourage AGBAD to work with the entertainment industry to project the success of non-signing deaf or hard of hearing individuals in America.

At DHHCAN, we believe that Mr. DiMarco’s success in the DWTS competition, as well as his prior success on ANTM, represents a great opportunity for AGBAD to collaborate with the rest of the deaf and hard of hearing community to support Mr. DiMarco as a deaf person. We do not believe that Mr. DiMarco’s success should present an opportunity to dismiss the communication option Mr. DiMarco and his family chose. As we work in coalition building, we are reminded of the notable, wise adage: “To each his (or her) own.” Indeed, there is more that unites us than divides us.

At present, we have the following urgent issues that calls for us to come together and support one another:

  1. We must work together, side-by-side with executives, educational administrators, teachers of the deaf and hard of hearing, parents of deaf and hard of hearing children, and our counterparts from the blind community, to
    exhort that the U.S. Congress pass the Alice Cogswell – Anne Sullivan Macy Act (H.R. 3535). It is critical for deaf, hard of hearing, and deafblind students to have access to a quality education and (emphasis added) appropriate
    communication support services for them to succeed in learning at the elementary, middle, and high school levels.
  2. We need to ensure that more funds are appropriated for early hearing detection and intervention program efforts across the country. It is imperative that parents receive full information and support services with respect to infants who have just been identified as being deaf or hard of hearing. As you and others at AGBAD will agree, parents must have our unmitigated support, otherwise their children will lose much of what they could achieve in their adult life.
  3. DHHCAN is compiling a list of recommendations on access issues impacting Americans who are deaf and hard of hearing to submit to both the Democratic and Republican Presidential campaigns. It is imperative that the next U.S. President and his/her White House staff be aware of our needs and the issues before our community, and to see how best they can coordinate the work of appropriate federal cabinet agencies to build and generate opportunities for us as first-class Americans. A large percentage of us remain unemployed or underemployed. All in all, there must be a well-coordinated cradle-to-grave master plan on part of the federal government to fully fulfill the promise and potential of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, and other related disability legislation.

Finally, we encourage AGBAD’s Executive Director, Mr. Emilio Alonso-Mendoza, or one of his staff members, to attend our monthly regular meetings that take place from noon to two p.m., on the first Wednesday of each month, except July and August. Meetings are held in the first floor conference room of the Peikoff Alumni House at Gallaudet University. We provide sign language interpreting/voicing services for all DHHCAN meetings. AGBAD has paid its annual regular membership dues and we strongly encourage and welcome your organization’s participation in our regular monthly meetings. This additional effort on AGBAD’s part would go a long way toward the joining of our forces to build a better future for our communities through constructive dialogue and collaboration.

Sincerely,

Claude L. Stout
Chair
Deaf and Hard of Hearing Consumer Advocacy Network (DHHCAN)

cc:

  • Nyle DiMarco
  • Sheila Conlon-Mentkowski, President, TDI
  • Chris Wagner, President, NAD
  • Margaret Wallhagen, Chairperson, HLAA
  • Nancy Rarus, President, DSA
  • Steve Larew, President, ALDA
  • Ryan Odland, President, AADB
  • Alyce Slater Reynolds, President, GUAA
  • Charlene Crump, President, ADARA
  • Sandra Edwards, President, CEASD
  • Dawn Whitcher, President, RID
  • Dr. Benjamin Soukup, Chairman of the Board, CSD
  • Edgar Palmer, Vice Chair, DHHCAN
  • Zainab Alkebsi, Secretary, DHHCAN
  • Tom Dowling, Treasurer, DHHCAN
  • Emilio Alonso-Mendoza, Executive Director, AGBAD

________________

[1] DHHCAN has eight regular members and four organizational partners in its coalition. AGBAD is one of the eight regular members. The other seven regular members in alphabetical order are: American Association of the DeafBlind (AADB), Association of Late-Deafened Adults (ALDA), Deaf Seniors of America (DSA), Gallaudet University Alumni Association (GUAA), Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA), National Association of the Deaf (NAD), and Telecommunications for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (TDI). The four organizational partners are: American Deafness and Rehabilitation Association (ADARA), Communication Service for the Deaf (CSD), Conference of Educational Administrators of Schools and Programs for the Deaf (CEASD), and Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID).

 

[2] The Washington Post article was written by Sarah Polus and entitled: “A ‘Dancing With the Stars’ contestant is vying for a White House Correspondents’ Dinner invite” and published on March 28, 2016.