Deaf Person of the Month
the woman who walked away
On Saturday, Debruary 6, the day before the Super Bowl, the Starkey Hearing Foundation held a Hearing Mission event at San Francisco State University, fitting and giving out free high-tech hearing aids to 134 locals, including 70 children, most of whom were students at Califoirnia School for the Deaf, Fremont.
Clare Cassidy, and her husbandd Jason Kulchinsky were eager to get their three Deaf sons fitted for new aids. But they objected to the very public circus-style approach. Each participant had to sign a media release. Then they had to undergo a public fitting and photo-opportunity "celebration" with their new aid. (One attendee has said that the Starkey crew discouraged people from signing; they told them to speak instead.)
Another Deaf mother sent a letter of protest to SHF after her children received free aids. But the Cassidy-Kulchinsky family was the only one that left without getting tthem.
Cassidy posted a powerful letter on Facebook:
I've had [a] few days to digest an unfortunate experience from last Saturday's event… Starkey is an organization that gives out free hearing aids. Awesome, right? Pretty cool to get free aids, as they have this motto, "So that the world may hear." In order to get those free aids…
It was an experience I wish I never put my boys through, it was quite appalling. When we arrived, (removal of specific individuals out of respect) were their interpreters. When entering, we had to sign a media release form. At first, my husband and I declined and we were informed that we couldn't participate unless signing the release. So, we went ahead (again, not even knowing what was expected).
As soon as we went into the building, we were shocked. There was a stage and on that stage, 3 stools for each person to sit on. [For] each stool, there was a team of cameras (video and photography)-—I'm not kidding, like 8 cameramen per stool. A person who was to receive the hearing aid would sit there and be filmed on their getting the aids. There were celebrities for each, who would "speak" into their ears and cheer whenever the person acknowledged hearing the sound. After that, tons of photos and cameras being few inches away from their faces with a kid (A KID) putting a gold medal necklace around the person.
We were told that we couldn't get hearing aids for our boys unless they went on stage and were filmed. There was no way we were going to allow our boys to be subjected to such exploitation. So, we left.
Cassidy's post was widely disseminated in the Deaf community.
Of course, the boys, who had been looking forward to getting new hearing aids, were disappointed, but Cassidy and Kulchinsky explained why they left, and the boys understood. It was a leaning experience in Deaf advocacy.
As for her background, she tells us, "I am an identical twin and my twin sister, Cat, is Deaf as well. We had a Deaf brother, but he committed suicide 9 years ago and I blame it entirely on the system run by Hearing people. He was 5 years older than me and had no access to language until 8 years old. The doctors told my parents that sign language caused mental retardation. That was in 1972." Clare and Cat, born in 1977, had an easier time of it—the language delay was far shorter.
After experiencing the downside of Oralism, the family relocated to Fremont. She graduated from CSD, attended Gallaudet University briefly, and graduated from RIT. "My degrees are in Psychology and Education. I am now a Middle School English teacher at CSD, a professional photographer and my three sons attend CSD."
About the Starkey controversy, she says, "We need the world to see that a Deaf child is a whole being, and that hearing aids are just a tool or an accessory, like a scarf. I hope that people will start listening to us, Deaf people, and take us more seriously."