improv

Some days are just quiet.
I decided to play tourist and went looking for a museum and a recommended bookshop. I found a church! (Make of it what you will!) Street names here change every few blocks, requiring navigational vigilance.
St. Paulus.jpg
Some time thereafter, I stumbled upon a square, Mechelse Plain, in full preparations for an art opening, featuring the photography of a Belgian artist who died last year, Patrick De Spiegelaere.
Dansen, Tanzania 2003.jpg
A coalition of NGOs hosted the event, Wereldbeelden (World Images). There were some speeches, improv, and then live music. Perhaps folks got to dancing, eventually? It seemed everyone was enjoying mingling. The improv artists promised me a word in English – I suppose I did not wave vigorously enough from the audience but it was a bit tough (!) to gauge timing given my three phrase Dutch vocabulary (“ja,” “nee,” and “dank u”). The audience did provide a few words I could recognize: macaroni, John Lennon, and eyeliner are the ones I recall. 🙂
Belgian NGOs are “debating development” this year, in concert with initiatives agreed upon by the World Social Forum.

Meanwhile, in local development (!), I learned that the school of interpretation and translation here in Antwerp has added Gebarentaal (Flemish Sign Language) to its curriculum. 🙂

mad dash to water.jpg

Deaf community wins historic FCC ruling on videophone

~ online teaching has begun ~

~ ~ the students are awesome ~ ~

~ ~ ~ blogging here may take a backseat for awhile ~ ~ ~

Meanwhile:
On June 24, 2008, the FCC passed some historic legislation (Florida Deaf Network), a corporate PR release was repeated by the Deaf Network of Texas, and all kinds of other folks. I didn’t locate too many variations on the report, or much follow-up discussion on this topic, although I did locate

“try to show up somewhere”

Jose was in town for graduation. Yes, that’s Dr. Jose.
Several folk did, in fact, gather in his honor. Stories were told, memories recounted, teasing ensued, plans were postulated…
I learned of the first event by hook & by crook, via the grapevine – altering my departure date just so I could see The Man himself. (Actually, I confess, it was a relief to have the extra few days to get myself and the apartment more ready for what’s to come.) After receiving my replacement phone, I discovered that he had called, with few specific details and cryptic instructions. Is this what collaboration is going to be like?!?
Meanwhile, I’ve just finished re-reading Dawn, by Octavia E. Butler. “The twilight before sunrise” seems an apt metaphor for my lifephase.
Humanity, having destroyed earth in a nuclear holocaust, is rescued by an alien species whose life purpose is to acquire and trade genetic material – constantly and consciously morphing into new species. Humans are a fascination to the Oankali because we have “two incompatible characteristics… [Lilith asks] what are they?”

Jdahya made a rustling noise that could have been a sigh, but that did not seem to come from his mouth or throat. “You are intelligent,” he said. “That’s the newer of the two characteristics, and the one you might have to put to work to save yourselves. You are potentially one of the most intelligent species we’ve found, though your focus is different from ours. Still, you’ve a good start in the life sciences, and even in genetics.”
“What’s the second characteristic?”
“You are hierarchical. That’s the older and more entrenched characteristic. We saw it in your closest animal relatives and in your most distant ones. It’s a terrestrial characteristic. When human intelligence served it instead of guiding it, when human intelligence did not even acknowledge it as a problem, but took pride in it or did not notice it at all . . .” The rattling sounded again. “That was like ignoring cancer. I think your people did not realize what a dangerous thing they were doing.” (p. 39, Lilith’s Brood)

Note:
Book Two: Adulthood Rites
Book Three: Imago

It just ain’t the same!

Weird how certain things come up in bursts, isn’t it? In the past month I’ve encountered three situations involving some combination of Deaf people, American Sign Language, and Koko, the “signing” gorilla.
To be fair, as I consider this, I would probably have to converse with Koko myself to know whether I thought there was actual language happening – you know, the kind of communication that we consider the particularly special feature of language. My understanding is that Koko knows some “signs,” responding “appropriately” to some of them and and generating some “signs” herself (is Koko a she?) Please don’t misunderstand me, I think it is awesome that there is such strong evidence of high-order cognition from other animals besides ourselves, and I want gorillas to persist on the planet. In fact, I would be stunned and amazed and thrilled, actually, if humans could develop languages or other means of communication that enabled us to learn from the other animals what they know about living on earth. Maybe signed language is one of those modes – just like human babies can learn to project meaning with signs sooner than they can project meaning with spoken words (all those pesky muscles in the tongue and mouth!) – it is not surprising that gesture is a powerful tool across species (as well as between different language groups among our own).
Equating what Koko does with what culturally Deaf people do with their linguistically-complex signed languages (yes, plural!), while cool for the great ape can also serve people inclined to stereotype. Old prejudices persist, with sometimes appalling consequences. I’m not just referring to a deaf person’s hurt feelings because a non-deaf person is unable to understand that the mind works just as well with signed languages as it does with spoken ones. I am referring to the casual attitudes one develops towards those considered somehow inferior or otherwise less-worthy. I am referring to a cavalier attitude toward Deaf people’s concerns with medical genocide, so easy to pass off if one assumes a Deaf human being is more like a gorilla than like me.
Another irony involves this popularity of non-deaf parents teaching their non-deaf babies to sign. What a fad this is! Parents value those five or six word vocabularies so much! And then drop them (?) as soon as baby starts to speak. I’m not saying parents should not take advantage of the temporary relief signed language provides, but – this is a bit of cultural appropriation, isn’t it? Where’s the give-back? I have friends who are doing this and I am happy to provide a few ‘survival signs,’ and – I hope they’ll remember, someday, to support legislation recognizing signed languages and residential schools for the Deaf, reject moves to medicalize deafness through research and (what some people consider) experimental surgery on children, to reject eugenics, be willing to pay for signed language interpretation to create accessibility, and even be bold enough to talk with and to Deaf people in meetings or classrooms or anyplace where an interpreter is available for that very purpose (instead of talking to the interpreter as a proxy!)
I know. People don’t consider these things, and why should they, really, if it hasn’t come up? We’ve all got plenty to do. Most of us say we’ve got too much to do, rushing on and on, in a hurry to get things done so we can immediately start the next task. Get those kids signing so we can move on to other things!
All I’m saying is, let your mind be joggled!

eugenics (sneak attack?)

“We would really like to speak to
somebody who feels they would
choose the deaf embryo given the choice, and
give them a chance to explain their reasons for doing so.”

A Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill is up for debate and passage in the United Kingdom which uses language about in vitro fertilisation (IVF) in which, critics charge, “a deaf person or embryo with the genes for deafness does not have equal status (‘must not be preferred’) to a person without the genes for deafness.”
The specific wording at question is in Clause 14 (linked above), and – extremely alarming if you think Deaf people have as much a right “to be” as any other human being – “a number of commentary notes and ‘consultation’ documents that indicate Deaf people are being used as an example of what this amendment would entail in practice.”
Filmmakers are now working on a documentary on “the issues arising” from this Clause. (The documentary will presumably include concerns of other communities, for instance those considered with the categoraization and treatment of gender related abnormalities.) Kate of Popkorn offers to interested parties in the U.S. and U.K. an open invitation to comment or participate in the documentary. She does say that in the current version, “Deafness would be included as an ‘abnormality’, therefore any parents would be forced to choose embryos with hearing genes as opposed to those with deaf genes. This is further elaborated upon in the official explanatory notes of the bill…”

can identity be owned?

Audism vs Deaf Culture (Round # Infinity-minus-one – I don’t know how the Romans would show an indefinite, apparently unbreakable, repeating pattern…. I need more math!)
It seems The Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing is quite unhappy with Pepsi’s pre-superbowl commercial featuring classic deaf humor in American Sign Language. AG Bell claims to be “the only representative” of deaf and hard-of-hearing people who “use spoken language and hearing technology to communicate” with what they deem “mainstream culture.”
The logic of the letter relies on an extreme bifurcation, as if no continuum of communication technologies can possible be mixed in use by individuals, as indicated by Jamie Berke in Deafness Blog:

“…although I am very oral in my communication, I need sign language to communicate and understand people. I depend heavily on writing back and forth on notepad at work when an interpreter is not available.”

AGBell accuses Pepsico of presenting “a limited view” based on a “somewhat misleading stereotype.” These organized advocates of oralism are concerned, apparently, with the exposure of Deaf Culture in a normalized context: a few friends encountering a typical problem and resolving it in a humorous, albeit quite practical way. The insidious prejudice exposed in the AGBell organization’s aggressive letter proposes that Deaf individuals who have embraced American Sign Language as their primary technology for communication have somehow failed to exercise the imagined “courage” necessary to “meet the challenge” of their “condition.”
Pathological thinking could hardly be more explicit. The perverse twist in the letter’s conclusion is the need to “promote appreciation for those individuals that go above and beyond to overcome the absence of something many of us take for granted.” One might infer that (some of) these heroic individuals are apparently in doubt of what, exactly, they have “overcome” and what or how they have benefitted from “going above and beyond” in order to satisfy the longings or fears of other’s imaginings.
I have no doubt that many individuals whose lifepaths have taken them away from sign language/deaf culture and toward speech and what we can only call ” hearing culture” are happy, satisfied, and not even curious about “what if” things had been different. Probably most individuals who have chosen or been encouraged along this route are as happy as anyone else, given all the challenges, barriers, and obstacles to meeting that illusive modern fantasy of stable contentment. This is the essence of what it means to be human: we embrace the conditions of our lives and make the best of them, whatever they are.
There’s no venue for social-group betting, but if we could, what an experiment that would be….how many hard-of-hearing people would find themselves able to form bonds of commonality with members of the Deaf community if proper communication accommodations were made – enabling them to meet as persons, instead of being posed in classic confrontation as abstract enemies by the auspices of national organizations?

Just like fingerspelling?!

fi yuo cna raed tihs, yuo hvae a sgtrane mnid too Cna yuo raed tihs? Olny 55 plepoe out of 100 can. i cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg. The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid, aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it dseno’t mtaetr in waht oerdr the ltteres in a wrod are, the olny iproamtnt tihng is taht the frsit and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it whotuit a pboerlm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Azanmig huh? yaeh and I awlyas tghuhot slpeling was ipmorantt! if you can raed tihs forwrad it.

Ok – so “new research” is apparently untrue, although there is something to be said for “the role of letter order on reading.” Matt Davis has compiled an impressive corpus of equivalents in at least thirty languages, along with references and commentary from original and follow-up research in this area of word-form research. The number of letters in the word has quite a lot to do with whether the mind can grasp it.

reducing art to programming :-(

I have a mixed reaction, leaning to the negative, concerning news of a software translation program for British Sign Language. The avatars look cool, and the idea is neat, but I cannot imagine that Artificial Intelligence has suddenly improved so much that the translations represent a wide swath of potential meanings instead of a cookie-cutter one-size-fits-all reduction to dictionary definitions.
I was surprised at the endorsement from the Royal National Institute for Deaf people (RNID), until I looked at their website. I admit, I have not looked all that closely and do not know any contextualizing history…but the RNID is registered as a charity and the products on the home page are geared to late-deafened and hard-of-hearing people, not the culturally Deaf who use BSL as their native language.
In other words, the avatar system might work just fine for people using BSL now but whose first language is English. Notice the difference in the homepage of the British Deaf Association Sign Community. In fact, looking at their internal link on language, I’d say it looks like the most useful thing allies and advocates can do is make BSL legal and – therefore – subject to anti-discrimination law.

BSL was recognised as an official British language by the UK government on 18 th March 2003, but it does not have any legal protection. This means that Deaf people do not have full access to information and services that hearing people take for granted, including education, health and employment.