Friday, September 20, 2013

Deaf Awareness Week

Deaf Awareness Week (Or International Week of the Deaf) is an annual observance during the last full week of September (September 23-27, 2013).  According to the Hearing Loss Association of America:

  • 48 million Americans, or 20% of the adult population, have some degree of hearing loss; 
  • Approximately 2-3 children out of every 1,000 children born in the US are deaf or hard of hearing; and
  • Hearing loss is the third most common public health issue, following arthritis and heart disease.
Gallaudet University reports that there are approximately 219,104 Virginia residents with some degree of hearing impairment (2.91% of the population).

To recognize the achievements and culture of deaf individuals, I thought Deaf Awareness Week would be a great time to chat about my favorite children's books related to deafness: 

Helen Keller is a steady favorite for biographers and biography readers alike, but fiction writers have largely ignored her remarkable life story.  Sarah Miller's novel tells the early days of the relationship between Helen Keller and her first teacher, Anne Sullivan, through Sullivan's perspective.  Readers should also check out these distinguished children's biographies: Annie and Helen, Helen's Big World, Helen's Eyes (a biography of Anne Sullivan), and Helen Keller: Her Life in Pictures

Alice Cogswell was the bright and deaf neighbor of Thomas Gallaudet; Alice communicated using her own handmade signs and was able to learn how to read, but Gallaudet soon realized that without access to a more complex language, her natural intelligence and curiosity would be stifled.  Knowing that Laurent Clerc was successfully teaching deaf French students, Gallaudet convinced Clerc to co-establish a school for the deaf in the United States, which eventually became the American School for the Deaf.  (Gallaudet University in Washington, DC was founded by his son, Edward Miner Gallaudet).  

When Helen Keller's mother was researching ways to reach her bright and frustrated daughter, she came across Charles Dickens's description of meeting Laura Bridgman in his American Notes. Laura Bridgman was deaf, blind, and had extremely limited taste and touch sensations, but was able to learn how to communicate, read, and eventually teach other deaf-blind students.  The methods used to teach Laura Bridgman were also used to later educate Helen Keller; since Laura Bridgman is nearly always briefly mentioned in Keller biographies, this is a most welcome addition to readers wanting to learn more about deaf-blind education and the young woman who paved the way for Helen Keller's triumphs. 

Silent Star: The Story of Deaf Major Leaguer William Hoy

While recently reading an article about Seattle Seahawks's Derrick Coleman, who has been deaf since he was three years old, I was reminded of another professional ball player (baseball, however) who lost his hearing at the same age and went on to become one of the most successful deaf athletes in American history.  Meningitis robbed Hoy of his hearing, but that didn't stop him from completing his high school education, opening a shoe repair store, and signing on to a career in professional baseball.  William Hoy was nicknamed "Dummy Hoy," which author Bill Wise explains is an extremely outdated and unwelcome term for a deaf person.

We also have several fine books on American Sign Language for young children:

Learn to Sign the Fun Way

This isn't just an alphabetical dictionary of signs; starting with a quick overview of ASL and the manual alphabet (including insightful tips on fingerspelling), author Penny Warner introduces learners to signs for numbers, people, animals, food/drink, home, activity, thoughts, feelings, action, school, and many more signs.  The formation and movement of each sign is clearly explained ("study" is described as "wiggle open hand at palm") and illustrated.  Facts about ASL, deaf culture, and how to interact with deaf people are plentiful, which adds to learners' enjoyment and education.  Warner's quizzes at the end of each chapter help to develop signers' ASL grammar and signing.

Sign Language for Kids

Lora Heller's ASL book also organizes signs by topic and describes each sign clearly;  what makes her book stand out is the fact that signs are illustrated through color photographs of children demonstrating the signs!  Facial expression is extremely important in American Sign Language, so it's very beneficial to have both the descriptions and the photograph demonstrating "sour," "celebrate," and "stinky," among other signs.

Simple Signs

Simple Signs uses illustrations of hands performing the signs, which is not my preferred way of showing signs (I need to have a very clear picture plus a description); however, the signs included in Cindy Wheeler's book have simple and direct descriptions that make this a good choice for young ASL learners ("finished" is described as "like brushing crumbs off your shirt.").  If learners are intimidated by longer ASL dictionaries, this is a good starting point.

I also have some recommendations for adults or mature teens wanting to learn more about ASL and/or deaf culture:

Through Deaf Eyes 

This is a fascinating and occasionally heartbreaking look at the history of deaf people in the United States.  Discussions on technology and/or hearing aids/cochlear implants might be a bit out of date (this was released in 2007, and it's been a few years since I've seen this), but this is an eyeopening overview of the history of the deaf in our country.

Helen and Teacher

I am hanging on to my tattered personal copy of Helen and Teacher, since this is unfortunately out of print; although there have been many superb biographies written about Helen Keller, Joseph P. Lash's exhaustive account remains my favorite.  Lash delves into Anne Sullivan's background with great detail, as well as Helen Keller's adult life as a public speaker, actress, and activist.  Dorothy Herrmann's 1998 biography is also an excellent read.

Seeing videos of ASL signs in action is a great asset for learners: ASL Pro and Signing Savvy websites have good clips of signs in action.  Because the videos don't come with written descriptions, it's best to have a book handy as well.  Lifeprint has extensive information and commentary on signs;  there are some fee-based elements to Lifeprint (and Signing Savvy), but there is enough free information to satisfy beginners.

American Sign Language manuals designed for adults can be found in the 419 section.

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Next Friday's post will feature my September reads!

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