RSS Feed

Category Archives: Families with deaf children

Educational Interpreting from Deaf Eyes — from Deaf Eyes on Interpreting

Posted on

DEOnIbookpageThis is the thirteenth weekly installment featuring highlights from the 20 chapters in the new book,Deaf Eyes on Interpreting edited by Thomas K. Holcomb and David H. Smith which was released in June by Gallaudet University Press.

In her chapter, Amy June Rowley explains why she refuses to subject her own Deaf children to interpreter-mediated education, based on her own personal experiences growing up in mainstreamed programs. In addition, she cites studies showing how Deaf students are being serviced by poorly qualified interpreters in many mainstreamed programs.

Rowley emphasizes several points: young Deaf students in mainstreamed settings are often isolated without full access to language, culture and social opportunities. Interpreters may be the only persons with  knowledge of Deaf culture and ASL, yet many interpreters do not have a clear understanding of the scope of their roles. In fact, Interpreter Training Programs often put their students in educational settings as internships, giving the message that this is an appropriate place in which to start their careers. Rowley disagrees and sees it as a place for experienced interpreters with many years of experience.

She recommends interpreters partner with members of the Deaf Community and educators of Deaf children to give Deaf children the best, most supported start.


Nyle DiMarco Embodies Deaf Cultural Values

Posted on


The Deaf community has gone wild about Nyle DiMarco. Not only because of his stunning dance routines on Dancing with the Stars or his winning the competition as America’s Next Top Model last February.   And not even because of his handsome looks or perfect physique. Rather, it is the ways in which he projects a positive and inspiring image of the Deaf community, demonstrating what Deaf people are capable of, regardless of their speaking or listening abilities.

12106741_1681736582063046_5381670987293833556_nVisit his website to learn more about Nyle, the collectivist nature of the Deaf community, the richness of a signing family, and some of his passions, including spreading the word about talented Deaf performers (#DeafTalent), the importance of Deaf owned companies and Nyle’s current priority: Deaf children and their families.

Strikingly, instead of just basking in his own success, Nyle has vowed to use his unique opportunities to bring attention to critical issues affecting Deaf people. In this way, he exemplifies the Deaf cultural value of giving back to the community. He is fully cognizant of the fact that most deaf children do not have the same privileges he had to become a bi-lingual individual with a healthy sense of self as a Deaf person. Because of this, he is capitalizing on his fame to support the work of the Deaf community, such as the Language Equality and Acquisition for Deaf Kids (Lead-K), the National Association of the Deaf, and Gallaudet University, with the goal of helping parents of deaf children understand the value of raising a deaf child who is bi-lingual in ASL and English, as opposed to trying to restrict the child to an English-only environment at home and school.


To further his goal of making the world a better place for all Deaf people and their families, Nyle has established The Nyle DiMarco Foundation, whose website states “Nyle and the Foundation are guided by the principle that every child deserves love and language ” and adds that “the key to unlocking a Deaf child’s future is acquiring language at an early age.”

The Foundation’s aims include improving “access to accurate, research-based information about early language acquisition–specifically, the bilingual education approach. Through the early intervention process, the child’s language and literacy development should be the focal point.”

Check out this website to learn more about his work. This is what Deaf Culture is all about. No wonder the Deaf community is wild about Nyle!



Is there a “Tipping Point” in Deaf Culture?

Posted on


How many times have you gone to a restaurant with a group of Deaf people and found yourself dismayed and embarrassed at the poor tip left on the table despite the good service you received? Is poor tipping a characteristic element of Deaf Culture or the insensitivity of individuals?


As I discussed in my book, Introduction to American Deaf Culture, there are three categories of social behavior that can be attributed to a culture – Explicit, Tacit, and Emblematic. Some cultural norms are explicitly stated through formal documents such as a constitution, laws, and policies. Equal rights, traffic laws, and age of consent are examples of behaviors that are explicitly dictated by formal documents.

By contrast, many other cultural behaviors are tacitly monitored by community members. Even without formal rules in place, people are expected to follow the expectations of their society. For example, in the United States, people typically walk to their right on a crowded sidewalk, eat with a fork, and wash their hands after relieving themselves.

Yet another category is labeled emblematic. The behaviors in this category are the ones that are not necessarily required or expected of community members, yet are associated with a particular group due to their visibility or uniqueness.   For example, even though most Americans might not order super-sized meals at fast-food restaurants, these huge portions are emblematic of the United States, as they are rarely found elsewhere in the world.

It seems that poor tipping is emblematic of American Deaf people. While most of us would tip appropriately commensurate to the level of service received, servers in restaurants have been known to dread working at tables with deaf patrons due to their past experiences of receiving poor tips.

In discussing this phenomenon with my Deaf students at Ohlone College, I noticed the same pattern among many in the logic of poor tipping. They often consider tipping as an “extra”– a bonus to what the servers are already earning as their regular pay. Therefore, many of them have no guilt about leaving a small tip or none at all, since they consider themselves rather poor as compared to hearing people in general, including those who had served them.

Hallstatt,_Achtung_KellnerThis perception may be surprising to many people, but not to me as a Deaf person. Most hearing people have some experience with the restaurant industry, whether it be working as a server themselves or hearing from family members or friends who have. They either had the first-hand experience of being stiffed by poor tips or had the opportunity to discuss this frustrating experience with others. They know very well how hard people in restaurants have to work to bring home a living wage given the current pay structure, most of which is dependent on the generosity of their patrons. (Many states still allow tipped workers to be paid just $2.13/ an hour, see this fact sheet)

By contrast, most Deaf people do not have any experience with the restaurant industry. They do not understand how tips constitute the bulk of a server’s earnings. Furthermore, many Deaf people are unable to partake in family conversations due to the inability of their relatives to communicate effectively with them. Consequently, they miss out information about the cultural expectations of tipping associated with the restaurant industry and think nothing of leaving a small tip or none at all, after enjoying a meal at a restaurant.

So while poor tipping may be emblematic of Deaf culture, it’s often due to a limited awareness and exposure to the American culture of tipping, rather than insensitivity to the work that servers do. Therefore, I believe that Deaf culture is not to blame for this inappropriate restaurant behavior, but rather the families who have failed to communicate effectively with their Deaf children.   What do you think?

Remembering Mabs Holcomb

Remembering Mabs Holcomb



Today we remember Marjoribell (Mabs) Stakley Holcomb, who passed away exactly one year ago (Feb. 23, 2014). She was one of the early pioneers in the movement to support Deaf women’s quest to achieve independence, equality, and respect. Below is her obituary.

Mabs Holcomb

Mabs Holcomb

After 89 years and several health challenges, including two brain tumor surgeries, kidney removal, and partial paralysis for the past 28 years, Marjoriebell “Mabs” Stakley Holcomb passed away peacefully on February 23, 2014 at her home with her beloved sons and daughter-in-law, Sam, Tom, and Michele by her bedside. Her husband, Roy, preceded her by 15 years. Leaving behind are Sam’s wife, Barbara Ray, six grandchildren, Tara (and husband Chad), Amy, Leala, Mark, Cary, and Troy, and three great grandchildren, Makenna, Pax, and Thoreau.

Born on July 8, 1924 in Akron, Ohio, considered a hot spot for the deaf community at that time, Mabs was inspired by many deaf leaders there while growing up. This experience, along with her Gallaudet College days and the leadership training she received at San Fernando Valley State College, now known as California State University at Northridge, prompted her to be one of the pioneers in the liberation of deaf women. She, along with Sharon Wood, published Deaf Women: A Parade Across the Decades in 1988 with the goal of inspiring deaf women everywhere. She also was one of the early advocates for the inclusion of the deaf voice in the field of interpreting and was one of the original deaf evaluators for the RID certification process.

Mabs was a strong believer in the value of education and was an educator for 38 years before health problems forced her into an early retirement. She worked at several schools and colleges including the South Dakota School for the Deaf in Sioux Fall, the Tennessee School for the Deaf in Knoxville, the Indiana School for the Deaf in Indianapolis, James Madison Elementary School in Santa Ana, California, Golden West College in Huntington Beach, California, Deaf-Blind Regional Program based in Newark, Delaware, and Interpreter Preparation Program and Gallaudet University Regional Center at Ohlone College in Fremont, California. Her education background included a diploma from the Ohio School for the Deaf in Columbus and a Bachelor’s Degree from Gallaudet University in Washington, DC. In addition, she earned two master’s degrees, one from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville and another one from San Fernando Valley State College.

To support deaf women in need, her charity of choice is: Deaf Hope, 470 27th Street, Oakland, California, 94612

Mabs was the second in a five-generation deaf family. Her legacy continues through her children and grandchildren. In this moving and informational videoclip, created by her granddaughter, Leala Holcomb, Mabs, along with her son, granddaughter, and great grandson share their thoughts on the evolution of deaf education.

(captions are provided, click the “cc” icon on YouTube).


Leala Holcomb’s Early ASL Rhyming Play Leads to Hands Land Project

Leala Holcomb’s Early ASL Rhyming Play Leads to Hands Land Project

Tom and Leala

Tom: Just found an old home movie of me and Leala, showing us playing with ASL rhyming games when she was a toddler. This one shows two signing plays based on the English nursery rhymes “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” and “Humpty Dumpty.” But as we described in our last blog post, Leala and her partners in Hands Land have taken this idea further and developed DVDs that just focus on ASL-based rhymes and rhythms.

HERE IS LINK to watch home movie of Tom and Leala’s sign play

Their Hands Land project just got a nice write-up on Mental Floss, featuring a video of Leala’s nephew Thoreau’s  sign play.

LIKE their Hands Land Facebook page. Last chance to donate to Hands Land’s Indiegogo campaign is February 6.

Put the Power of ASL in Every Child’s Hands

Put the Power of ASL in Every Child’s Hands


Hands Land Dvd

Hands Land Dvd


In our last blog post, we showed examples of different ways that nursery rhymes can be rendered in sign language using ASL rhyming patterns. For me, that brought back a lot of memories of when my kids Tara, Leala, Cary, and Troy were small.  We would often make up ASL rhythmic patterns for every daily activities like meal time, bath time, and bed time.  It was a way to turn mundane daily routines into something more enjoyable. I had a lot of fun participating in language play with them, especially when they were very young.  Watching those tiny hands forming rhythmic patterns is something I will never forget.

I am delighted that Tara and Chad are continuing this tradition of language play in ASL with their own children, Pax, Thoreau, and Clementine.   They adore Aunt Leala for her creativity in creating ASL rhymes and using them at home.

Leala Holcomb in Hands Land DVD

Leala Holcomb in Hands Land DVD

Now I am thrilled that my daughter Leala has decided to start a new venture called Hands Land, with the goal of encouraging more families play with their children through ASL in their own homes.  With the creation of new materials to support young children’s language development through ASL’s intrinsic rhyming and rhythm patterns (unrelated to English), it is hoped that more of these toddlers, especially the deaf ones, will be able to grow and thrive in a language-rich environment.

Watch this YouTube:

Check out this Facebook page: Hands Land: ASL Rhymes and Rhythms for Young Children

Hands Land Facebook

Hands Land Facebook

If you would like to support this venture, please go to this website to make your donation.

Nursery Rhymes in ASL? As Easy as 1,2,3!

Nursery Rhymes in ASL? As Easy as 1,2,3!


How can rhyming be portrayed in ASL? Is there rhythm in ASL? How do rhyming and rhythm support deaf children’s language development? There is a growing movement to promote language development among young children through ASL rhymes and rhythm. The following presenters supply information and demonstrations of different ways that rhyming and rhythm can be used to engage young children.


Barbara Wingfield and a Thanksgiving ASL Rhyme

Barbara Wingfield creates a Thanksgiving ASL Rhyme

In her blog Deaf Progressivism, Barbara Wingfield discusses the importance of making nursery rhymes accessible to deaf children through ASL and provides several examples. She says:

“It is crucial to engage young Deaf signers in ASL songs that they are able to re-chant and internalize the language and make their own. Historically, Deaf children who don’t have enough opportunity to “play with language and developing ASL phonemic awareness” tend to struggle more in academic performances. The use of drum usually engages them to follow the beats with repetition more effectively.

I’ve witnessed how Deaf children have taken with delight in the visual images and strong rhythmic character of ASL own version of nursery rhymes. Visual imagery and the rhythms indeed have a powerful effect on cognition.”

Austin Andrews demonstrates how to adapt Hey Diddle ASL

Austin Andrews demonstrates how to adapt Hey Diddle Diddle…to ASL in Youtube below


Austin Andrews (CODA and popular presenter also known as Awti and the Deaf Ninja Storyteller) provides a concrete example of how to adapt a nursery rhyme for ASL, utilizing the rhythmic beat of Gallaudet University’s famous “Bison Song.”


Leala Holcomb--Hop on Pop


Leala Holcomb presents one of the Dr. Seuss’ classics, Hop on Pop, using ASL rhyming techniques to match the whimsical message of Dr. Seuss.

We look forward to seeing more and more of this kind of work in ASL for several reasons. One is the pure entertainment value of watching performers make nursery rhymes come to alive in ASL. In addition, we are excited about the prospect of deaf children having increased access to nursery rhymes through ASL.

What are your thoughts?

ASL / English Bilingual Preschool Program Gets Results

Posted on


One of the strongest arguments in favor of the ASL/English bilingual philosophy (as opposed to the auditory/verbal approach) is the relative ease of developing literacy skills among deaf children. Yet, people often wonder how deaf children, whose first language is ASL, will learn to read and write.  This video shows how pre-school teachers in an ASL/English bilingual program help build bridges between ASL and English that  positively impact deaf children’s overall linguistic development.

The Future is Already Here — in Montana

Posted on


I just returned from Great Falls, Montana where I gave a workshop on how Deaf culture can benefit families with deaf children.  While there, I learned that almost all deaf children in Montana receive cochlear implants.  The procedures are now so routine, that there is no need for specialized cochlear implant centers.  Instead, specially trained ENT physicians perform implant surgeries at regular hospitals.

Most of these children are mainstreamed in local schools with the support of sign language interpreters.  Every year, their families travel to Great Falls, where the school for the deaf is located, to participate in a Family Learning Vacation.  Many students look forward to the annual event as it provides them with rare opportunities to meet and interact with others just like themselves. Parents get to network with other parents in addition to learning from experts in the field and Deaf adults about raising deaf children.

My message to them was that Deaf Culture is full of solutions to help create an environment that would allow for fuller integration of deaf children in their families.  Since Deaf people and their families have “been there and done that” for decades, I encouraged workshop participants to tap the wealth of these experiences.

My presentation was based on the information I have gathered over the past twenty years from teaching in the Deaf Studies Department of Ohlone College. I have taught several different Deaf culture courses, including one that is exclusively for Deaf students.  In this course, Deaf students often share their frustrations and the challenges of living in a hearing household where they frequently feel left out.  This feeling of exclusion is common even among students with cochlear implants.  These students have told me that my class was helpful in finding solutions related to defining their identities and their attempts to be more fully included in their families.  With cochlear implants becoming more widespread, and deaf children and their families struggling to find solutions, I hope my new textbook, Introduction to American Deaf Culture, will provide them with the information and support they need to become a better integrated family.  I believe this book is timely because the situation in Montana is becoming the norm for the rest of the United States.