A Parent's Right to Choose

by Cami Geilenfeldt

As I grow in my "career" as a parent of a deaf child (because it is a career and I am in this for the rest of my life), every situation is a learning situation. Parents are living a life of wanting the best for their precious, intelligent, perfect-in-our-eyes children, whether hearing or deaf. I'm not sure why, as parents of a child who's deaf or hard of hearing, we're forced to prove these intentions on a daily basis, when parents of a typically hearing child are not. In the past few months I've traveled to the EHDI conference, local cochlear implant training and a state leadership summit for DHH education reform. At all three of those events I felt the pressure and gut-wrenching feeling of having to defend yet one more time the communication option our family chose for our deaf son. When I hear comments from my "assumed" allies in the field of deaf education, or even parents of children who are in my same boat, such as "think about what you're doing when you don't teach your child sign," or other passionate parents having to defend their choice who have felt imposed upon and degraded; or when I hear about uneducated parents 'medically altering' their children to 'fix' them and "this has to stop," I get SOOOOO angry, passionate and sick to my stomach all at the same time. It brings me back to the very moment we found out about our son's deafness; all the choices we faced about communication modes and how they were or were not introduced to us, and the countless hours of tears we have cried.the incalculable hours spent educating ourselves to get to this point.

As I'm so completely filled with emotion, I look up and see the person who so flippantly made an insensitive, judgmental comment about her critical assumptions regarding our family's communication choice. She has just walked away and gotten on with her day, only to ruin mine. She doesn't realize, or worse still, maybe she does, that her five-word comment will resonate in my mind for the next week, if not forever. Not because it was helpful, but because it was harmful.

I should not have to defend the communication choice that is best for our family, our child, and our life. It's working perfectly for us, and I don't expect anyone else to make the same choice we have unless it works for them! We don't all wear the same clothes. I just spent the day in meetings and walking through the airport. I'm sure these shoes are comfortable to someone, but definitely not me, and I'm not forcing the person next to me to wear them so they can find out! We don't drive the same cars, live in the same kinds of houses, or own the same computers. We shouldn't be expected to use the same method of communication with our children as the next family. This is a decision that will be unique to each family, based on their own situation. There is no one right communication choice for all, so let's accept each other's differences!

I am so thankful for Hands & Voices, and it's days like these that it makes me ever so glad and proud to say we have our chapter in Iowa . Parents should not have to feel this way. Parents make the best choices possible at that very moment with the information they are given. We want nothing more than for our children to be successful, flourishing individuals when they grow up.

Please, don't force your opinions on others. Please, take a minute to really think about what you say and how you say it. Like your mother said, "if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all." We're in this together, for our deaf and hard of hearing kids. Let's stop the argument that has existed since the beginning of time and divided so many of us and get on to what really matters-Deaf Education Reform. Let's work for our deaf and hard of hearing kids and give them and their parents the quality education in the child's mode of communication that each deserves!

  • DHH children have the right to a quality education
  • Communication access is a fundamental right and DHH children must have opportunities to interact directly with their peers and with adults
  • Every DHH student must have full access to all educational services and school sponsored activities
  • 1:1- one-year academic advancement in one year's time
  • Begin pushing for the Deaf Children's Bill of Rights that's passed in other states
  • Parents have the right to receive all the options for their children, in a non-biased way
  • Families are paramount in a child's success and must be involved in their children's education programs
  • A child's needs determine service delivery: needs must be monitored as they are continually changing
  • DHH children must have the opportunity to maximize their potential
  • DHH students must develop age-appropriate self-advocacy skills
  • Least Restrictive Environment is communication-driven and reflected in accessible, language-rich surroundings

Henry Ford once said--Coming together is a beginning.Keeping together is progress.Working together is success.

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