Commentary on “my sister came home from school wanting books on sign language”

i’ve seen this come up on facebook, several times and “liked” by several of my fb friends:
“When my sister was younger she came home from school one day and demanded I take her to the library so she could get books on sign language.I asked why? She told me there was a new kid at school who was deaf and she wanted to befriend him.  Today I stood beside her at their wedding watching her sign “I DO””

a quick search shows that this STORY is posted on several pages, including a phishing page, and a feel good page full of the types of platitudes that do more harm than good for people with dis-abilities.  (think positive.  don’t complain, don’t raise REAL social issues, cause that’s just negative.)
so as a dis-ability rights activist, addressing real issues of access and human rights on a daily basis, i ask:
where is this school that has one student who is deaf?
how was this child taught sign as an integrated part of language development,  if not in school?
where were the other kids who were deaf?
how did this child learn, if the teacher didn’t sign, and if the student didn’t receive instruction with other students who spoke his language?
how may women who are deaf “like” this post about a hearing woman marrying a man who is deaf?
can “deaf studies” be taught in arizona schools?
why does this story make hearing people feel good?
if this was a story about a white girl and a black boy, would the story be as “inspiring” or would it seem trite and insulting? (and how would black women feel about it?)
how many of the people who “like” this story, have friends who are deaf or are otherwise dis-abled?
how many of the people who “like” this story are outraged or even notice dis-ability discrimination, refuse to patronize restaurants, stores,  educational institutions, non-profit organizations, health care facilities etc. that are not fully inclusive,  demand sign language interpretation at all public events, demand classrooms with “special” education students  fully integrated within the general population and with full funding and materials to insure real educational access, and an assertive anti-bully campaign to protect students with dis-abilities who are more likely to be the targets of bullies?
demand that parents with dis-abilities have full  access to their children’s educational institution as easily as parents without dis-abilities?
do people who “like” this story find my questions offensive or over sensitive?  are more comfortable with dis-ability defined by people not considered to be dis-abled (in this case, hearing people) than by people with dis-abilities?
how many have attempted to communicate or have had actual contact  with people who are deaf?
what really matters to people with dis-abilities is: justice, access, inclusion, empowerment, self-definition.  exceptional stories about isolated people with dis-abilities really don’t help us much and have much more to do with how people without dis-abilities feel about their relationship with people with dis-abilities, than with how we identify ourselves, what we need, or how we see the dominant society which my romanticize the company of one or two of us who “break free” from the imposed isolation, and in the context of deafness, from their larger community and identity, but does little to really engage people with dis-abilities or include people with non-conforming physical characteristics into the larger society.

19 responses to “Commentary on “my sister came home from school wanting books on sign language”

  1. Pingback: In Bed With Frida Kahlo

  2. emmarosenthal

    ” The point of the whole thing is that we should be trying to help people, and we should be willing to learn new things in order to do that”

    Unfortunately, stories like this DO undermine real efforts at change. DISability doesn’t exist for your pity porn gratification. It doesn’t exist for your savior syndrome, it doesn’t exist for your voyeurism or story telling. It doesn’t exist for your feeeeeelings.

    Stories like this don’t do anything to really advance membership, access to education and the destruction of barriers to participation. And the proof is your insipid and unkind comment that demonstrates your entitlement to the appropriation of DISability over real issues of social justice. You took the time to ablesplain “Let me explain” because no one ever put me in my place before, you are so fucking original, instead of perhaps channeling your energy into actual social justice work that might actually make a difference. So go find some place that isn’t accessible and EXPLAIN to them, wider doorways, or large print menus, or having deaf interpreters at all public events. Try to make some real change instead of telling DISability activists how to behave. This is the last post you will be allowed to make to this wall. It violates my rules, and I only allowed it because it provided some insight into the depth, depravity and entitlement of ableism.

    This response probably doesn’t make you feel good, but it makes me feel terrific.

  3. Ok, let me just explain something. This story is probably just that. A story. The school and characters may not even exist. What matters is the moral and message behind the story. The point of it is not to undermine anyone, but to make it clear that no one should have to feel left out just because of a disability. The girl in the story wanted him to be included in the class, and the end shows that anyone can be friends and relationships can grow from anywhere, as long as there is a connection, and people are willing to try.
    To answer one of your first questions, “where is this school that has one student who is deaf” – there may be more than one student in the school, but perhaps only one in that class. Does it matter? The point of the whole thing is that we should be trying to help people, and we should be willing to learn new things in order to do that, like the girl who wanted to learn sign language. It doesn’t undermine them, it in fact helps them, as it makes them feel included, and makes it clear that people are willing to go that extra mile to make them feel comfortable in a new setting

  4. emmarosenthal

    It’s a feel good message at the expense of real social justice. It doesn’t make ME FEEL GOOD. It just fetishizes dis-ability without providing any real justice in education for people WITH dis-abilities. I’m much more interested in discussions of dis-ability that actually advocate for dis-ability and not insipid stories that make EN-abled people feeeeeeeel good. Injustice DOESN’T feeeeel good.

  5. well it’s 5:40 AM here in Dubai. And I came across this blog. interesting thread. thanks for the insight into the story. Regardless, its a feel good story… and it has a message which is good. Anything beyond that is conjecture and just takes away from a feel good message.

  6. emmarosenthal

    My post was positive. Defending human rights and our full and universal humanity is positive. The audacity of those who come into my space, on my blog and think they can tell me to “eat shit” is what is so appallingly negative. Nothing I said was nasty. And this AGAIN, is my blog. You don’t have to read it. No one, at least not me, is making you read it. It’s my space for the full range of my ideas– positive, negative, neutral, green, purple, cold hot: the full range of emotions and experiences. You have no right to NEGATE (AS IN NEGATIVE) me that.

  7. Wait hold on so you can blog something negative which is entirely your own opinion and then want to get nasty when someone replies the same way? Little bit of a hypocrite aren’t you.

  8. emmarosenthal

    That’s a lot of maybes to undermine the very real issues raised in my critique. Seriously? Maybe it’s the heartfelt commentary of a dis-ability rights activist who is tired of being the source of inspiration in the face of widespread marginalization and humiliation. Maybe it’s not sweet, it’s just sacarine. Maybe you’re pretending to be sweet to enforce an ableist reality. Maybe if you really felt “it’s just….” you could apply the same principle to my blog and keep your negative reactions to my work to yourself, after all, if “it’s just….” is really “it’s just…”, then you wouldn’t be so offended by my commentary and need to appoint yourself the internet enforcer of all things you disagree with and the preserver of all things “all sweet”.

    If it’s really no big deal, why comment here in the first place?

    Please don’t respond. I won’t approve your response. I don’t need this type of negativity posing as positivity, hiding real systems of oppression and marginalization, on my blog. Get your own blog and post all your critiques of social justice posts, there.

  9. Seriously? It’s just a sweet little love story. Maybe the deaf by could read lips, maybe he WANTED TO go to a “normal” school because he is just a normal little boy that didn’t want to be considered different. Think it depends on how you look at it. If you think every thing said about a person with a disability is meant to offend or be negative then that’s all you going to see!! I love this little story it’s sweet. A little girl who wanted to learn sign language to help someone feel welcome and accepted. Think all children should be learning sign language so no one is left out.

  10. Taking this a bit serious don’t you think? Went a little far on that one, bring it back a mile or 6.

  11. emmarosenthal

    It’s clear that the politics of dis-ability rights and the real stories of people who are deaf, are less important to you than your own sentimentality that you can harvest from the exploitation of people who are otherwise marginalized and not part of the larger society.

  12. emmarosenthal

    Actually things are worse in recent years, in education in general. The word “handicapped” is offensive, and it’s outrageous you would come to my wall and use it. and you’ve totally ignored the larger issues I’ve raised. That’s very white of you.

  13. I agree that it reads like a completely fictitious story. However, in an ideal world it would be a violation of the child’s rights, and things are better in recent years. But I do know someone who taught in a school where there was one deaf student and the student had an interpreter but also lip read. That was 20+ years ago, but there just weren’t enough deaf students in that school system to justify a separate class and the state requirements for education for children allowed for interpreters for deaf children, aids for physically handicapped children, etc…

  14. I came looking to see if there was a story anywhere, or a real person who shared it.

    Yes, it is a plausible situation. And honestly, I wasn’t taken by the fact the guy was deaf in the situation, I just liked the angle of reminiscing that your kid sister wanted to befriend a boy in school, and it went over so well that they grew up and stayed together, and he witnessed their wedding day. That alone is special.

  15. I found this page while looking for the origins of the story. I assumed as much that it was fake but I wanted to comment on a couple points from your post; I grew up in a small town in Maine and we did in fact have only one student who was deaf. She was in my grade and her interpreter was her mother. There were no other deaf kids in the town and sign language was not a normal curriculum in the school. A few years in, maybe 4th or 5th grade (this was a k-8 school) the mother was able to get a half hour set aside each week to teach the class sign language but it was more a novelty than an actual class. I just realized I can remember most of the alphabet. Anyways, even when I moved onto High School a town away in a larger school I don’t remember any deaf kids (she went to a school in yet another town). So I’m just pointing out the setup for this story is very believable and I’d even wager it might have some small base in fact. Just wanted to share.

  16. emmarosenthal

    Eat Shit, from asks ”
    Submitted on 2012/03/21 at 7:57 am
    Why so negative, it’s a story made up because it’s supposed to bring hope and inspiration, but then you go and ruin it by asking a bunch of dumb questions like, “where is this so called school with one deaf child?” or “where did this deaf child learn sign language if not school?” wtf?? who cares?? stop being so particular and picky about it.”

    to which i would reply:

    GTF off my blog. this is my blog. if you don’t like my blog don’t read my blog. you can have your ppl hating “positivity” on your own damn blog. you can appropriate dis-ability for your own entertainment and “inspiration” (though i would suggest you start by changing your name from EAT SHIT, and your email address from GTFO, if you’re really fucking concerned with positivity)!
    this sort of story, about some fictitious deaf child is hogwash. if there were only one deaf child in a hearing class, it would be a major violation of her rights, especially if the teacher didn’t know sign language and wasn’t teaching it to the other children. (i know, human rights– not a positive concept to mr or ms eat shit.) the only purpose or value this story has is in the fetishization of dis-ability as entertainment and feel good hogwash, which has beneath it a deeper hostility, isolation and violence. you only see us when it is for your own amusement. this story is trash. really, your papa should have named you better. you might be able to better distinguish between shit and polish.

  17. Why so negative, it’s a story made up because it’s supposed to bring hope and inspiration, but then you go and ruin it by asking a bunch of dumb questions like, “where is this so called school with one deaf child?” or “where did this deaf child learn sign language if not school?” wtf?? who cares?? stop being so particular and picky about it.

  18. There was a class of deaf kids at my school, and we played together during playtime. I went to an alternative school in Toulouse France though. My son goes there now, and there aren’t any deaf kids there now.

  19. LK Richardson

    I heard that by clicking like you were being phished, but what is the phishing page? When you click on what would be a page it comes back with a 404. Just curious.

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