Posts tagged ‘civil rights’

Message to NAD Delegates

Greetings NAD Delegates,

I wish you all a productive and enjoyable week at the NAD Conference in Louisville. You have an important burden facing you as you vote for the new Board of Directors and for proposals. You are determining the direction of the NAD for the next two years and the effectiveness of the NAD in its fight to preserve deaf schools, ASL, accessibility, and the various civil, human, and linguistic rights that concern deaf Americans. I offer a few thoughts today before you depart for the conference.

First, I endorse Sheri Ann Farinha for President of the NAD. She is a proven passionate advocate for ASL and for the rights of deaf children to education. Farinha also has a keen understanding of inclusion, diversity, and coalition building. It is important that we have a leader that can mobilize many people under a single banner and carry on the good fight. I believe Farinha is capable of aggressively pushing the NAD forward in a positive direction. She has many testimonials of her leadership abilities from many prominent leaders and figures within the deaf community. She has gotten the “ear” of the California legislature. Farinha has my full confidence.

Second, I would like to speak to Chris Wagner and CSD. I do NOT suggest that the CSD is some sort of evil entity or that CSD is a poor model of governance. I appreciate those affiliated with CSD who have given their time, energy, and fiscal support to the NAD and its objective to improve life for deaf Americans.   Rather, I suggest that stagnant leadership in itself is problematic. It does not matter if it is CSD or Gallaudet or what not. The specific individuals have changed over the years but the fact remains that for 14 of the last 19 years, the President of the NAD has been closely affiliated with CSD, serving in executive positions. 25% of the current Board has a relationship with CSD.

This presents many potential problems. For one, stagnant leadership. CSD has its own culture, its own way of doing things, its own philosophy. Those who work at CSD and rise up in its ranks are bound to inherit and practice that culture, that way of doing things, that philosophy. Then they carry that thinking and way of doing over into the NAD. When we have the same way of thinking, same way of doing, same way of seeing, for so long, it can be hard to adapt. It can be hard to react to new pressures and situations. With all of the complaints and issues that have emerged as of late, especially with the NAD’s poor use of public relations and new media (slight improvement as of late but much more can and needs to be done if we want to be effective in the 21st century as advocates for schools for the deaf and ASL), it is perhaps time to flush out old ways of thinking and doing and bring in a new way of thinking and doing.

I also am concerned about potential gray areas developing. As a historian, I understand and have seen how past NAD presidents along with the NAD itself were influenced by the leadership’s personal biases, work, and experiences. Often, those influences are not intentional. Often, the leaders want to act in an ethical way (and do). Often, leaders believe strongly they are indeed carrying out the mandates/resolutions passed by the membership. But yet, influence creeps in. More weight is given to particular issues than others. The responses to pressure and crises are shaped by the individual’s worldview. Despite Wagner’s best intentions, or Scoggins’ for that matter, we cannot claim a complete divorce between their positions as Officers of the NAD and their employment/lived experience. What will Deaf Historians discover in 20 years’ time as we come back to the late 1990s and early 2000s to study deaf activism for equal access to citizenship? Biases are often difficult to uncover in the present but with historical analysis, they are rather obvious. I’d hate someday to see somehow, due to biases and influences now invisible to us, we failed to act as efficiently and expediently as possible to preserve deaf schools, ASL, and ensure access for all deaf people.

Third, last but not least. I love Kelby Brick’s proposal.  I think it’s necessary. And absolutely perfect. Some have described it as radical. But really. Over time, everything that has been progressive, just, and necessary was once labeled radical. Many progressive ideas considered “way out there radical” are now the standard. For example, educating girls? Teaching little girls how to read and write? Whoa, how radical! Now that’s standard. There are many examples out there, but you get the idea. So with 100% of my being, I endorse this and hope you will too!

Have a great time. I wish I could join you this year. Remember. The Future of the NAD and Deaf America is in your hands. That’s a huge responsibility. Treat that trust with care.




Intracommunity Division and “Deaf Nazis”

I’m doing this because I care deeply for all my brethren. By brethren, I refer to all deaf, hard of hearing, and those who choose to identify as hearing impaired. I do not want to focus on “labels” because that veers into the territory of identity politics. Here’s a comment I saw earlier today…”I’m severely hard of hearing and all this deaf/hearing/asl competition over cultures and languages is really getting old. I’m tired of the Deafy Nazis..they can “Have” their culture.”

My heart breaks for people who see themselves as victims rather than as survivors of the existing systems of power, privilege, and oppression. This intracommunity division exists because some of us have internalized ideas from the dominant majority that we are objects to be “fixed,” that we are inherently bound for failure and limited lives, and that we are somehow lesser than others. So many have adopted the idea that the only way we can be “equal” is if we are normalized and assimilated into the majority- as in being able to communicate orally and achieve flawless English, at the expense of other aspects of our Selves.

This is not an experience unique to the deaf community. In other non-dominant population groups, we see similar processes of assimilation, internalized oppression, and intracommunity division. Some have so deeply internalized the message of the dominant majority that they turn on each other. A little snippet from another website:

“There are two ways that internalized oppression functions:

2. Internalized oppression occurs among members of the same cultural group. People in the same group believe (often unconsciously) the misinformation and stereotypes that society communicates about other members of their group. People turn the oppression on one another, instead of addressing larger problems in society. The results are that people treat one another in ways that are less than fully respectful. Often people from the same cultural group hurt, undermine, criticize, mistrust, fight with, or isolate themselves from one another.”

My message to those who feel they are marginalized by the “Deafy Nazis”: I see you as my brethren. I am fighting the fight for you too, not just those who are Deaf ASL-Users, but for all deaf and hard of hearing people who ultimately are affected by systematic audism and linguicism. I am determined to battle systems of oppression that has potential to limit our access to mainstream society and full citizenship. I am resisting systems of oppression that limits deaf children’s access to language, education, and ultimately economic opportunities. I am tired of seeing our language, our bodies, our culture being exploited for profit by colonizers. I am tired of seeing deaf children turn into bitter adults. I am saddened to see deaf adults not have a sense of belonging.  My resistance is centered on those systems of power, not against my fellow deaf/hard of hearing brethren. I may disagree with your positions or your politics. My intent is to educate and raise consciousness but I do not have any interest in excluding you from this community, this culture, or American Sign Language.

I see some people in our community attacking each other rather than focus on the systems of power, especially the medical-industrial complex and clueless education policy-makers, for putting us in the position where we do not have first-class citizenship.

I suspect that those who are referred to as the “Deaf Nazis” or the “deaf militants” are those who feel passionately about advancing the place of deaf people in mainstream society. I cannot speak for everyone else but I can speak for myself and those with whom I work. We are not rejecting those who are not fluent in ASL or do not buy into deaf culture nor making claims on ASL and deaf culture as being exclusively ours. We feel passionately that all deaf children should have full access to language and education, to be seen as whole beings beyond their ears, and to have access to a community of people who share the deaf experience and share the challenges of audism. We are not attacking you for the decisions that were made by medical professionals interested in curing/fixing you or turning a profit, by education policy makers who do not understand our unique needs and challenges, and by well-meaning parents who made difficult decisions based on what they were told was best. When we attack those systems, we are not attacking you, the byproducts of that system. There is not a separate “you” and “us.” This is about all of us regardless of identity politics.

I can understand why some deaf/hard of hearing people feel personally attacked when deaf activists agitate against oral education, cochlear implants, and so on.  We do not hold deaf/hard of hearing people responsible for decisions made by others when they were children. But we do hold deaf/hard of hearing people responsible for the decisions they make as adults. When consciousness has been raised, one can no longer avoid responsibility for the choices they make in being a victim or survivor, or their choice in victimizing their own brethren using the ideology of the systems in power.

What drives my passion? Here’s a little story I want to share with you excerpted from an older post.

I went to the Deaf Community Services center this afternoon for an employment-related interview. While in the waiting room, I watched a DCS produced video. This video asked the question: “why I love DCS.” The respondents were apparently selected at random, their responses unedited and unscripted.

At the end of this video, two little girls, about 8-10 years of age, appeared. One said, “DCS helps me get ready for school so that I can have a successful future.” Her friend responded, “heh, heh. If we can! Heh. Heh,” while shrugging.

Heartbreaking. Tragic. Illuminating.

I wonder. Does this little girl question her ability to be a successful adult because she is deaf and she has somehow internalized the idea that deaf adults are generally not successful? Is she, as a deaf pupil, told she will struggle because of literacy and linguistic acquisition?

Or is she, like the Dove commercial on television, one of the majority of girls who drop out of what they enjoy doing because they are insecure about themselves as girls growing into women? Is she, as a female pupil, told that she cannot succeed in the sciences and math because boys are simply better at those subjects?

Or is it all rolled into one as a deaf female? We cannot separate out precisely the moment, those experiences, those messages she received as a girl, as a deaf child, and as a deaf girl, that she had to question whether or not she would succeed. What disempowers this child? Her femalehood or her deafhood? How do those disempowerments nurture each other?

This illustrates why we cannot separate out the experience of being deaf from other facets of our existences.

This is why we must combat all forms of privilege and work for true equality for all. We cannot separate those threads out; we cannot empower an individual by empowering one aspect while neglecting to empower the whole.

The Video Clip can be found here. The pair appear at the end.

Deaf School Closures are Connected to Racism and Classism

This letter will be submitted to Huffington Post to address errors and misconceptions in Courtney O’Donnell’s Article Published Today, May 30.

Correction of Errors in “Anti-LGBT Rights Governor to Speak at Prominent Deaf Civil Rights Group’s National Conference” article.

Courtney O’Donnell and Editors of the Huffington Post,

I am Octavian Robinson, the original author of the post at Deaf Politics and the blogger behind the blog site referenced in Ms. O’Donnell’s article in HuffPost. I am writing to clarify errors and misconceptions in her article, “Anti-LGBT Rights Governor to Speak at Prominent Deaf Civil Rights Group’s National Conference.”

First, Ms. O’Donnell states in her article that the NAD organized the luncheon for LGBTs and announced a new LGBT equality policy in response to our objections surrounding Governor Daugaard’s invitation to speak at the NAD.

Allow me to quote from my own article, “Hosting this luncheon then turning around and inviting an anti-gay speaker speaks volumes to your commitment to equal treatment for your membership.”

Kindly note the placement of the word, “then.” The luncheon was arranged long before Governor Daugaard’s invitation. Our objection lies in the context that the LGBT population of the NAD has been struggling for a long time to combat marginalization within the organization. The NAD leadership assured us they were serious about that by establishing a GLBT (that is the acronym they use although it is not stylistically proper) Equality Team and by organizing the luncheon.

Then they turned around and invited a legislator who has actively circumvented the LGBT’s community efforts to achieve marriage equality. This lent to the sense that the NAD was not serious about equality and rather was giving us “lip service” in not carefully making decisions that reflected its commitment to equal inclusion of all members.

To the second portion of the erroneous statement, the NAD did issue a statement supporting marriage equality. Is that the “LGBT equality policy” you are referring to? Otherwise, I am unaware of such a policy that has been released in response to this situation.

Second, it is not the only LGBTs who are raising concerns about the leadership at the NAD. This is symptomatic of a larger problem that centers on all marginalized populations within the organization including women and people of color. We must recognize that it is a broad coalition of individuals within the deaf community and their allies that are speaking out as to the NAD’s commitment to inclusion.

Third, your statement about the South Dakota School for the Deaf shows a limited understanding of the true issues surrounding schools for the deaf, their closure, and the political implications of such decisions. By claiming that deaf school closures are exclusively economic, this is a claim that denies how deeply and intimately connected all forms of marginalization are to political decision-making.

Allow me to illuminate how closures of schools for the deaf are shaped by racism and classism.

The closure of deaf schools has a close relationship with issues surrounding race and class. Closing schools for the deaf are not exclusively about economics. Closing deaf schools is not a purely economic decision. The political right often veils racist, sexist, and classist legislation as decisions of economic and fiscal responsibility. But anyone familiar with the issues surrounding schools for the deaf will tell you that deaf education is closely intertwined with class and privilege. That schools for the deaf are now increasingly serving students of color, students from low-income backgrounds, and students from deaf families.  Oralism and deaf education are closely tied to class, race, and privilege. Those schools, along with every other program that serves women, people of color, and the disabled are being subjected to funding cuts. Those cuts are justified as economically and fiscally necessary, but one cannot deny the burden of spending cuts fall within arenas where they most affect affect women, people of color, people from low-income backgrounds, or the disabled or taxes being raised. There is an undercurrent of racism and sexism in debates surrounding taxation that can be traced to the tax and property rights revolution of the 1970s.

You cannot separate issues of race, class, ability, and gender from political decision-making. Nothing is purely economic. That includes the schools for the deaf. This demonstrates that we must always cast a critical eye to the decision making processes undertaken by politicians and leaders, including the leadership of the NAD, to ensure that those decisions do not somehow have underlying factors of privileges surrounding race, class, gender, or socioeconomic status.

I hope I have made myself adequately clear on this subject. While I appreciate you have brought attention to an important issue and highlighted our struggles with eliminating marginalization within the deaf community, I think you have done our cause a disservice by not representing the facts or our positions with care.

Our issues are far too large to adequately cover in this letter, but I invite you to carefully examine our issues, read all the posts, and talk to individuals intimately involved in the issue before doing any further reporting on the issue.


T. Robinson

Follow Up Letter: Call for Scoggins’ Removal As President of the NAD

Dear NAD Board Members,

On May 27, I issued a call for the removal of Ms. Bobbie Beth Scoggins as President of the NAD outlining conflicts of interest and perceived failure to act in the best interests of the Association. The intent of that letter was to be a message to the Board to start thinking about where true responsibility and power lies. Let me put this simply:

You are the elected representatives of the People. You answer to the People. You have a duty to act in the best interests of the Association.

You are faced with a difficult decision. Either way you decide has repercussions. You have to weigh the consequences then decide on the choice which serves the best interests of the Association.

1) Keep Daugaard. You risk intracommunity division and sending a poor message to the public at large about the NAD’s values. You risk a massive loss of membership and future difficulties in recruiting membership. You risk the inability to build coalitions with other populations also agitating for civil, human, and linguistic rights. You risk sending a message that all of your activities to date about being more committed to diversity e.g. the GLBT Equality Team, the Diversity Statement, the appointment of two women of color as appointed members of the Board, and so on is all just for “show” and is not supported by real action. You risk allowing the NAD to actively practice what I call “socially acceptable” discrimination.  You risk losing the Public’s trust.

2) Uninvite Daugaard. You risk injuring his ego. You risk upsetting the Republican establishment. By doing so, you are admitting that someone, somewhere, somehow made a mistake. However the selection process worked, however the selection was finalized and authorized, there were mistakes made. Thoughtlessness and carelessness. Assumptions made. That means you lose the Public’s confidence in your decision making processes to date.

The letter to you calling for Ms. Scoggins’ removal as president was a reminder of a few things:

1) You, as a body, have a responsibility to vigilantly monitor each other for potential conflicts of interest that prevents an individual from making decisions that serves solely the Association’s best interests. We, the public, have a responsibility to also monitor for conflicts of interest and to share perceived conflicts of interest with our elected representatives on the board. There is the perception of a conflict of interest in regard to the CSD’s relationship with Governor Daugaard and CSD’s significant relationship with the NAD.

2) You, as a body, have a responsibility to police and monitor all activities and political decisions made by the NAD to ensure that they adhere to the Association’s mission, values, principles, bylaws, and to all motions that you have passed at previous board meetings. The motions you pass as our elected representatives reflect the will of the people. It is your responsibility, as a whole, to  to preserve the integrity of the board’s power and trust as an elected governing body by enforcing the bylaws and the motions you pass in board meetings.

This is about the larger issue of taking ownership of your responsibilities as members of the Board of the NAD. At the end of the day, it’s also about taking ownership of your conscience.

You have options based on what is happening so far.

1) Unify as a board and declare a joint statement that you have decided to Keep Daugaard and outline the reasons to your Public. Accept the criticism with dignity and the understanding that it is not personal but about your abilities and thought processes as leaders.

2) If a majority believes that Daugaard should be uninvited but Ms. Scoggins is somehow circumventing your ability to make that decision, remove her from office on the basis that you genuinely believe she is not acting in the best interests of the Association.

3) If a number believes that Daugaard should be uninvited but there is not the impetus to remove Ms. Scoggins, you can go rogue by releasing a statement of dissension to show us the NAD is not entirely composed of people blind to privilege and the messages being sent by the Association’s invitation and decision, thus far, to stand by Gov. Daugaard. This statement is an affirmation that there are people within the leadership that are committed to inclusion and change on that front. Although, for us, it will take more than that to regain our confidence and trust.

4) If you feel that speaking out while serving on the Board is an disservice to the Association because the organization needs a unified leadership front but struggle with your conscience then resign. That sends a powerful message as well.

5) If you feel it is wrong to keep Daugaard but you would serve the organization best by muzzling your opinions and staying on, then you have to go with #1 and accept the criticism.

You are not powerless. You are not absolved of your power and duty to act in the best interests of the organization. Ms. Scoggins may be the leader of the Board but she does not have absolute power. As a collective, you have powers you can exercise. Then, as individuals, you have the power to decide how you respond. I urge you to respond in a way that demonstrates you are serious about redressing our grievances.

I do not envy the difficult decisions you confront. But you can’t unring the bell. The only way forward is to take ownership of your positions and act.

Tavian Robinson

A Sample Letter to Sponsors of 2012 NAD Conference

Folks, I am including my e-mail to Purple Communications as a sample letter of what you can e-mail to Sponsors of the 2012 NAD Conference. Please tailor your letters in consideration of each business/organization’s service mission. I sent this e-mail to Purple this afternoon.

Dear Purple,

My name is Tavian Robinson. I am a long time loyal consumer of Purple communications and its services. I appreciate your support of the National Association of the Deaf and support for the civil rights of deaf and hard of hearing Americans. Thank you for your financial support of an organization that works hard to secure our accessibility to telecommunications.
However, I have learned of some things recently in regard to the planning of the 2012 NAD conference that concerns me.  I am asking you to participate in the deaf community’s call for true equality and civil rights. The NAD is making a statement that sends mixed messages about civil rights and the place of minorities within the American Deaf Community. I believe that your organization stands for equality, diversity, inclusion, and multiculturalism. I remain a proud Purple consumer but believe that you can add a powerful voice of reason in persuading the NAD to reexamine its commitment its principles of civil rights and equality for all.
Thank you,
T. Robinson

Updated: May 30: Take Action Alert: TWEET SPONSORS

UPDATED ON May 30: For a Full List of NAD sponsors, visit this page

Major Corporate Donors include Google, CBS, Verizon, Adobe, Blackberry.

For most sponsors, I include their Twitter and E-mail address. To prevent spam e-mails, I am using AT instead of @ and (dot). For example: is john(dot)doe at email (dot) com OR JUST CLICK on the Link and it’ll open in your email program. TAKE ACTION AND WRITE AWAY! TWEET. The more attention, the better!

Major Mainstream Donors: 

Twitter: @google or Contact Form

Twitter: @CBStweet or Email Tiffany Smith- Anoa’i CBS Director of Diversity and Communications
See CBS’s statement on Corporate Diversity Commitment.

Twitter: @verizongiving or Email: no press e-mail.
Twitter: @comcast or Email: esl_corp at cable (dot) comcast (dot) com
Twitter: @blackberry or online contact

VRS Companies:

Hamilton Relay:
Twitter: @HamiltonRelay or Email: info at hamiltonrelay (dot) com

Purple Communications:
Twitter: @PurpleComm or Email: press at purple (dot) us

Twitter: @SprintRelay or Email: Sprint (dot) TRSCustServ at sprint (dot) com

Twitter: @ZVRS or Email:  zinfo at zvrs (d0t) com

State Commissions Serving Deaf and Hard of Hearing:
Twitter: @KCDHH or E-mail: Contact Form:
Twitter: @NMDCHH or E-mail:
Educational Institutions:
Twitter: @RITNTID or Email: krgpro at rit (dot) edu
NonProfits and Private Businesses:
Twitter: @CSD_tweets or Email: Ben Soukup at bsoukup at c-s-d (dot) org
Kramer Financial:
Twitter: @kramerfinancial or Email: usa at kramerfinancial (dot) com
VITAC Captions:
Twitter: @VITAC_Captions or Email: No press email.
CPC Captioning:
Twitter: @cpccaptioning
Twitter: @ubiduo
Twitter: @deafvideotv
Twitter: @ideafnews
Twitter: @tracfonecalls
Captel Phone:
Twitter: @captelphone

E-mail to Gallaudet University for Equality in the NAD

Feel free to use this as a template and write to Stephen (dot) Weiner at Gallaudet (dot) edu and Angela McCaskill at Angela (dot) McCaskill (dot) edu. You can also address this email to NTID/RIT if you are an NTID/RIT Alumni and contact the Office for Diversity and Inclusion at RIT at rkgpro at rit (dot) edu or the appropriate officials at RIT. RIT is also an equality level sponsor of the NAD 2012 conference.


Dear Dr. McCaskill and Dr. Weiner,

My name is Tavian Robinson and I am a proud Alumnus of Gallaudet University. I am writing you to express my concerns surrounding Gallaudet University’s sponsorship of the 2012 National Association of the Deaf conference in Louisville, Kentucky. You are a Diversity Level Sponsor, and ironically enough, the conference has invited Governor Dennis Daugaard as a plenary session speaker. Gov. Daugaard is known for his anti-equality and anti-diversity stances. I have composed a longer article which can be found at:
I understand the university has had a relationship with the NAD dating back to 1880. I understand the University is committed to civil rights for the deaf and hard of hearing community and views the NAD as the community’s premier civil rights organization. It is not my interest to damage the NAD but to hold them to a higher standard by urging them to examine their white, heterosexual, cisgender, and primarily male privileges. It is my understanding that Gallaudet is committed to diversity, inclusion, and multiculturalism. What message is the University sending if it stands idly by and sponsors a conference that features a prominent anti-equality speaker? I believe that we can begin a constructive dialogue to better our understanding of how deaf minorities have long been marginalized within the deaf community and strive to change that. This begins with Gallaudet, the nation’s premier higher education institution for the deaf and hard of hearing and NAD’s historically most powerful ally and sponsor.
T. Robinson