A Disability History of the United States

I’ve finished three books during my vacation time so far.  I will provide you with excerpts from the three books.  The most recent book I finished was A Disability History of the United States by Kim E. Nielsen:

“Most Deaf organizations and workers did not reject the categorization of people with disabilities as ‘unemployable,’ but insisted that deaf people were not disabled people.  Since the organization of the first institutions for and of deaf people in the United States, they had emphasized their separateness as linguistic community, their normality, and their full citizenship potential.  Already marginalized they sought to distinguish themselves from those they considered the truly disabled.  Some feared that hearing individuals within a larger disability community would seek to dominate if they made cross-disability alliances.  Some deaf leaders, as historian Susan Burch has written, ‘thought they could reject the stigma of disability’ by ‘rejecting overtures from disabled activists.’   Deaf leaders thus rejected alliances with disabled activists such as the League of the Physically Handicapped who challenged the employment discrimination within New Deal employment programs.
For deaf African Americans, if they were familiar with this argument it must have seemed like privileged folly  Like white deaf Americans, deaf African Americans used the relationships and institutional resources of schools to foster community.  The NFSD, the NAD, and souther state associations remained white by policy.  Many western and northern schools for deaf people were integrated, but souther schools resoundingly were not.  Most had substandard facilities due to substandard state of local funding.  Trained white teachers rarely went to black schools;  black teachers generally had little training in deaf education because of segregation in deaf schools.  Because of this the students and staff at many African American deaf schools created their own unique sign language dialects, different form the standard American Sign Language and sometimes even from that of neighboring state schools for African American deaf students.  Such linguistic developments were of necessity, but contributed to and continued racial segregation.”

I finished the very, very, short book American sign Language: fact and fancy by Harry Markowicz.  He writes:

“MYTH: ASL IS UNGRAMMATICAL….A grammar describes how a language works, how it is put together.  The opinion that ASL is ungrammatical, or that it lacks a grammar, usually results from a sign-for-word translation of ASL into English.  It is based on the assumption that ASL must be structured exactly like English.  This assumption is false since ASL is an independent language.  It has its own vocabulary, its own grammar, and both are unrelated to English.
There are, however, some speakers of English who assume that ASL must follow the rules of their language in order to be grammatical.  To support their claim, sign-for-word translations are used to show that ASL lacks a grammar or that it is ‘broken English.’  Based on these translations, ‘deficiencies’ are pointed out.  As an example, consider the sign sentence: TOUCH FINISH SAN FRANCISCO YOU? (An appropriate English translation is, ‘Have you been to San Francisco?’)”

I also read My Home Away from Home Life at Perkins School for the Blind by Robert T. Branco.  I decided to read this because as an employee of Perkins, I thought it would be cool to read what a student wrote about his experiences who actually went there.  I was excited by the idea that Mr. Branco would provide me with insight into how I can do my job better.  It would also be a really cool way to get to know about the institution.  So I read it and learned a lot.  Excerpt:

“Those who wish to judge Perkisn are free to call it whatever they want.  But can you imagine what would have happened if Perkins hadn’t been a so-called shelter, given all the thefts drugs, drinking, and sex that went on anyway among the students who were supposedly sheltered?  Ralph would say that I was sheltered because I didn’t learn about most of life’s hard knocks or how to be street smart.  He feels I don’t always handle people the right way, and therefore it relates to shelterism.  Ralph did drugs, had sex with hundreds of women, spent a nigh tin jail, and was a bar-hopper.  He can say I’m sheltered all he wants, but I would much rather be how I am than who he was, even though he’s turned his life around.  I think the perception is that Perkins sheltered us because were were all blind students living in a blind community, making our environments a shelter.”

Let me know if you end up checking any of them out!


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One response to “A Disability History of the United States

  1. Pingback: Proprietary Software Keeps Blind People from Getting Jobs | saddlebaggins

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