Exclusive interviews with contemporary newsmakers                  

Jennifer Sooley
President, Newfoundland and Labrador Association of the Deaf

On April 27, The Telegram (Newfoundland and Labrador’s major newspaper) published an article by Alisha Morrissey, titled “Eradicating deafness” and subtitled “School for the hearing impaired could one day be out of business.” The article presented the views of ENT/cochlear-implant surgeon Dr. Tony Batten, without making any real attempt to present a balanced view, publishing one-sided statements that many readers saw as indicative of outrageous bias. This was how the article began:

The only cochlear implant surgeon in this province says deafness is a disability which is being eradicated in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Dr. Tony Batten, an ear, nose and throat surgeon, who has helped many hearing impaired and deaf people get their hearing back, says the technology available now, as well as at-birth screening for every child is resulting in incredibly low rates of deafness.

One of the results of such advances though may be the closure of the Newfoundland School for the Deaf on Topsail Road in St. John’s.

“We don’t have any children now going to the school for the deaf,” Batten says, explaining that children who are born deaf have a good chance at hearing if they get an implant early in life.

“The school for the deaf is being phased out,” he says. “Children (with implants they get better incomes when they graduate, they get higher levels of learning, they integrate into society.”

So sign language is a dying language. It’s only for the older people who are beyond the cochlear implant years now.

“It’s interesting because it’s a dying culture and it’s kind of part of our past now.”

The article drew emotional reactions from readers; online responses ran to a whopping 26 pages' worth. Cochlear-implant advocates, predictably enough, extolled Dr. Batten for telling the truth that Deaf Culture supporters don’t want to hear. One reader called him a “saint.” Another called him a “miracle worker.” Deaf advocates, persons who had had unsuccessful experuences with implants, and hearing folks were furious, and expressed their disgust with Dr. Batten’s views, the language used in the article, and what they perceived at the reporter’s ignorance and lack of respect for the Deaf community.

On May 4, a new article by Morrissey, “I am a capital D Deaf: Advocates want better services for the deaf, not just cochlear implants,” appeared on the front page of The Telegram. Jennifer Sooley, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of the Deaf, and Stephen Kirby, acting president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Deaf Sports Association, were photographed and quoted, taking the opportunity to present their views. They criticized the lack of services and governmental crackdown on provincial schools for the deaf, its unethical promotion of implants and mainstreaming as the only options. Sooley and Kirby encouraged parents of deaf children, whether or not they had chosen implants, to learn sign language, and pointed out that grassroots-Deaf people using ASL (or another sign language) as their everyday language can and do succeed—without implants and mainstreaming.

Sooley tells her story in the June issue of DEAF LIFE. The Deaf community of Newfiundland and Labrador deals with many of the same problems we have in the U.S.A., and some problems specific to theregion, such as isolated and scattered Deaf population and a repressive government policy that is blatantly anti-Deaf.

The battle goes on, and will continue, but it’s comforting to know that leaders like Sooley are insisting on equal respect, the right to be seen, and the right to be heard.

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