May is officially titled, "Better Speech and Hearing Month". While I am not sure who "they" are who created this, I know that it has been in place for years and it is celebrated and attended to by many across the US, if not worldwide. I have had my older HS students create posters about hearing loss, TTY's, and Sign Language during my career to display in the halls during this month. I have had them pass out ABC sign pencils or teach staff a new sign of the week. This year, however, the name really hit me- "better speech and hearing". It sounds so old fashioned to me. Don't get me wrong, I am 100 % in support of families with hearing loss who choose to use Listening and Spoken Language in connection with amplification. I am 100% in support of educating hearing people about noise-induced hearing loss and how to avoid it.
I think the name of our non-profit, Communication Connections, really says it all to me. I believe 200% that COMMUNICATION is the key to success and connections, not just spoken English. I support American Sign Language 100% and think that families who embrace that can be very successful, as well. That is why I am not so keen on the title of "Better Speech and Hearing Month." What if a child or adult can't speak or hear? What does that mean? Does that bring to mind a sense that a person is lesser? I thought that went out long ago with the bath water. Things in Deaf Education come full circle and I am here to stop this idea. My motto is, "The key to connections is communication and the key to communication is language." PLEASE note I did not say “speaking."
I work hard with my families who use spoken English to perfect their speech, add word endings, and use proper tense. If that is their choice, then I want to aid them in making it is 100% accurate. However, I want to share that I work just as hard perfecting ASL grammar, hand-shapes, and concepts with families who work with ASL to communicate.
I think we should name this month, "Better Communication and Deaf and Hard of Hearing awareness month." Take a minute and learn one new thing about hearing loss. Did you know that 3/1000 babies are born with significant hearing loss each year? More babies are born with hearing loss each year, as well. Did you know that it takes a child one year to say his/her first word, but a baby can sign his/her first word at 6 months of age? Did you know that there are amazing pieces of technology now to help people hear better: digital hearing aids and cochlear implants? Did you know, however, that everyone's hearing is different, so how they react to these products will also be different? Did you know that shouting at a person with hearing loss does NOT help? It just makes unclear words louder. Did you know that learning to use a few signs to communicate with your child is better than just giving up and using none? Did you know that you should sing and rock your baby, no matter how much hearing loss s/he has? A baby wants to bond and feel the love of his/her parents, regardless of the hearing loss.
Please let me know one thing you learned about hearing loss this month or one question you have. I may not have the answers, but I am more than willing to find them for you! Enjoy "Better Communication and Deaf/HH Awareness Month!!"
Allison Schley has been in the field of deaf and hard of hearing education for 20 years. She founded a nonprofit for families with hearing loss. She most recently wrote a children's book, entitled Forever Friends. This book shows the how a deaf dog and deaf boy teach the world that all kids are good and being deaf is okay.