On Saturday, November 14, I got the opportunity to attend OU’s Mosaic Social Justice Symposium. This annual event “provides a space for University students, faculty, staff, and alumni and outside community members to learn and discuss contemporary issues of social justice through presentations, research, and discussion forums” (from the Mosaic webpage).
I listened to three presentations, but the one I found most engaging and provoking was the first, titled “Why Doesn’t OU Recognize American Sign Language as a Language?: Signs of Linguisticism and Audism Among Speech Communities.” The presenter, Melanie McKay-Cody, was deaf and gave her presentation through an interpreter, which was a unique experience for me. Ms. McKay-Cody opened the presentation by explaining how she had tried to get OU’s Modern Languages and Linguistics Department to open an American Sign Language (ASL) program. The response she received argued that “ASL is a non-verbal form of the English language” and that she should ask the English Language Department or the Speech Pathology Department to consider ASL classes. But ASL is not a “form” of the English language. It doesn’t communicate through English words; it has its own distinct vocabulary, grammar, and syntax. Further, to suggest that ASL would be more appropriate next to Speech Pathology studies implies that there is some sort of inherent problem with the way deaf people communicate – that they are broken or flawed in some way.
This response is just one of the many experiences of audism (discrimination against non-speaking people) Ms. McKay-Cody shared in her presentation. She often feels marginalized as a non-hearing person, and offering ASL classes is one way that OU could really help to make a difference in the value society places on deaf people. But this issue isn’t just an issue at OU – all throughout the world, deaf people struggle to live in a world that sees them as unwhole. As Ms. McKay-Cody explained in her presentation, the first step to changing this is to help raise awareness about the challenges facing the deaf community, a diverse community unified across political and cultural barriers.