Deaf advocate and popular ASL v-logger
Joey Baer has worked at California School for the Deaf-Fremont for 14 years, as Student Outcomes Teacher Specialist and also in the Instructional Television Department. His first passion was, and remains, visual media: film, video, and now Internet video-Weblogs (v-logs), the newest medium for American Sign Language users to communicate with each other, share uncensored opinions, and carry on a spirited debate on hot topics—what Paddy Ladd would call “Deaf discourse.” Baer sees ASL v-logs as a way for Deaf people to reclaim their true voices, and, in doing so, take a greater role in their own lives and destinies.
“Born to a German Deaf mother and American Deaf father, I grew up in Maryland with one Deaf brother and two Deaf sisters,” he notes. He was introduced to filmmaking as a 15-year-old high-school freshman at Maryland School for the Deaf, which he attended all the way through. Shortly before he graduated from MSD in 1985, Gallaudet College’s popular TV show, Deaf Mosaic, debuted. At Gallaudet, Baer majored in Television, Film, and Photography, but realized that professional opportunities for Deaf filmmakers were not exactly plentiful—“not much out there.” Accordingly, he switched his major to Business Management. After graduating from Gallaudet, he had “another change of heart” and earned a Master’s degree in Deaf Education, since he enjoyed working with deaf children. But he never lost his passion for visual media.
A few years ago, he participated in a discussion about “Deafhood,” the term used by Paddy Ladd in his book Understanding Deaf Culture: In Search of Deafhood (2003). In one chapter, Ladd discusses the concept of “Deaf discourse.” Baer wondered why Deaf people’s voices had been so rarely heard since the ascendance of oralism—one reason being that “they were never part of the decision-making process.” He “understood that Deaf people’s voices can be heard through their primary language, American Sign Language.” The Internet, with its increasingly affordable, easy-to-use options and accessibility, gave ASL users a prime opportunity to increase the quantity and quality of Deaf discourse.
The first ASL v-logs were posted online by Grant W. Laird, Jr. (2003) and Jason Lamberton (2004). Baer started his own v-log in February 2006. In his second v-log, he discussed the three presidential finalists at Gallaudet University. The protests that erupted on May 1, 2006 marked the first time that such extensive use was made of electronic media—text pagers, laptops, Internet sites, camera-phones, blogs, and v-logs—as a democratic means of communicating, sharing news and views, and enlisting support. Baer continued posting v-logs, “and the rest is history!” Some 15,000 Deaf viewers, he estimates, have joined the debate.
He notes: “I believe that the quality of our discourse is becoming higher; we’re becoming smarter and more intellectual in making our own decisions. It has now been proven again that ASL is a true language and shows Deaf people’s true intelligence.”
He considers 2006 one of the high points in Deaf history. “Two main reasons: the Gallaudet protest, obviously, and how our communication media have changed because of v-logs. Free discourse, as part of Deafhood, means a better life for Deaf people. The visibility of Deaf national organizations is increasing. Deaf society’s making progress. And yet, we have a lot of work ahead of us.”