Texas' twisted excuse for removing Helen Keller

Sara Novic is a Deaf writer and assistant professor of creative writing at Stockton University. Her first novel, "Girl at War," was released by Random House in 2015. The views expressed in this commentary are her own. The Deaf community uses a capital "D" to differentiate between people who identify with Deaf culture and identity, and the physical lack of hearing. The views expressed in this commentary are solely hers. View more opinion articles on CNN.

On September 14 the Texas State Board of Education made a series of key votes that could transform the way students learn to understand the world around them -- and themselves. Texas wants to remove some content from the social studies curriculum, said board chairperson Donna Bahorich, so that teachers can delve more deeply into certain topics.

Sara Novic

Billed as an effort to "streamline" the curriculum, the move spared Baptist pastor Billy Graham, the impeachment trial of former President Clinton and Moses from the chopping block -- while Hilary Clinton, Barry Goldwater, Thomas Hobbes and Helen Keller were eliminated.

Perhaps the most overtly dogmatic cut was the deletion of the phrase, "such as holding public officials to their word" from a fourth-grade unit on how to participate in civic affairs. But the erasure of Helen Keller, an iconic advocate for the deaf and blind whose social activism also included women's suffrage, birth control and pacifism -- who is currently taught as part of a third-grade unit on citizenship -- is an underhanded play with a troubling message: that homogeny is normal and exposure to outside perspectives should be limited.

To remove Keller from the curriculum also means to eliminate the single touchstone for deafness and disability for most mainstream students. Earlier this week, I asked a room of 35 of my own college students if they'd ever met a deaf person who wasn't me. Four or five raised their hands—they worked retail and had seen deaf customers. Many of these students are considering fields like social work, education, criminal justice, occupational and speech therapy and law, where knowledge of deafness and disability will be integral to their work, and still their exposure is extremely limited long past the third grade. This is the norm in a society that constantly tells us to avert our eyes from disabled people, to separate out "normal" and "other."

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Ada native wants to put training, technology to work

ADA, Okla. – Donald Gore only missed six days in the fourteen years he worked at Folger’s Drive-In in Ada.

“I like to work and be on time,” Gore said. “It’s no fun to stay around the house and be bored.”

Problems with increasing vision and hearing loss led Gore to seek help from Roy Alexander, a vocational rehabilitation counselor for the Chickasaw Nation.

Gore, who has Usher Syndrome, is a member of the Chickasaw Nation.

The genetic condition combines hearing loss with retinitis pigmentosa, resulting in progressive loss of side vision due to degeneration of the retina.

Usher syndrome is the most common condition that affects both hearing and vision loss.

Alexander introduced Gore to Gayle Lee, a vocational rehabilitation counselor for Visual Services, which is a division of the Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services.

Alexander and Lee turned to a team of Visual Services experts to help Gore learn new skills and use technology to re-enter the workforce.

Lee contacted Visual Services’ specialists on deaf-blindness Jeri Cooper and Stephanie Butler. Cooper, a rehabilitation teacher who is deaf-blind herself, travels the state to help clients with vision and hearing loss. Stephanie Butler became Gore’s new vocational rehabilitation counselor due to her expertise in deaf-blindness.

Liz Scheffe helped him improve orientation and mobility skills so he could travel safely and efficiently in the community.

Sharon Shipe provided more rehabilitation teaching training to help Gore adjust to loss of vision and develop practical skills.

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Access for All

With the help of a Teaching Tolerance Educator Grant, this teacher created a space where DeafBlind students could be themselves and teach the larger school community about DeafBlindness.

Wendy Harris wanted to start a DeafBlind club at her school. 

An educator for the deaf and blind, Harris noticed that her DeafBlind students at the Metro Deaf School in St. Paul, Minnesota—one of the top schools for the deaf in the United States—were missing out on some key academic and social experiences. The club, she imagined, could fill those gaps and also raise the overall cultural competency of the school.

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Hiring deaf employees can be incredible for your business

Top three reasons why you should hire deaf employees

Thousands of highly educated and qualified deaf and hard of hearing individuals are continually looking for jobs, but because of the prejudice among most of the employers out there, their applications are ignored most of the time or their interviews are withdrawn upon learning about their hearing loss. In this situation, the employers, as well as the deaf and hard of hearing candidates, lose out on an excellent opportunity to help each other become better.

There are three top reasons why organizations should hire deaf and hard of hearing employees:

1. Deaf and hard of hearing people spend almost all their lives trying to adapt to their environment as best they can, and that ability help to augment their hearing loss which often make them determined and flexible when faced with various challenges. Their out-of-the-box creativity and problem-solving skills can bring unique solutions to the organizations.

2. Hiring deaf and hard of hearing employees can bring to your team a whole new perspective in serving others. And, if your organization happens to serve a lot of deaf consumers, having reliable employees who are responsible and hardworking can be a fantastic addition to your business.

3. Deaf and hard of hearing employees can be an excellent addition to your company as a part of the diverse workforce that you may want for your business which also provides the opportunity to enrich the culture of your business.

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Oklahoma ABLE Tech Device Demonstration and Device Loan Program

Oklahoma ABLE Tech and its statewide partners operate an assistive technology (AT) device demonstration center and short-term loan program to increase access to and utilization of AT for individuals with disabilities. The program is available to Oklahoma residents with disabilities, their family members, and the professionals that support them.

Demonstrations give individuals the ability to see, touch, and try AT to help them in the decision-making process by providing:

  • Hands-on exploration of devices

  • Information on the latest technology

  • Low-tech solutions and adaptations

  • Vendor sources

The short-term loan program provides individuals the opportunity to borrow AT to:

  • Make an informed decision before purchase

  • Ensure compatibility between the device and user

  • Have back-up equipment while waiting for repair

  • Have a device while waiting for new equipment

The equipment inventory offers a wide range of AT, including devices and equipment for: speech communication, computer access, hearing, vision, daily living, environmental adaptations, learning/development, recreation, mobility, seating and positioning. ABLE Tech staff also provides guidance on funding resources for AT equipment.

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HB-1244 UPDATE as of April 21, 2018

HB-1244 is moving.  The bill, known as the Jeri Cooper Act, is scheduled for a Senate floor vote on Monday, April 23rd.  On Monday, the Senate meets at 1:30 p.m.  It is expected Senator Griffin, the  Senate author, will move to restore the bill’s title, which was stricken in committee.  This move means the bill will be in exactly the same form as the House-passed version, so that if approved by the Senate, the bill can go directly to the Governor for signing.  A PDF copy of the bill is attached.


Remember you can watch/listen to the Senate floor activity by going to www.oksenate.gov and selecting the link for Live Floor Proceedings. 


Also be aware that legislative agendas are subject to change.  If for some reason HB-1244 is not voted on Monday, it could come up later in the week.


We expect state agency funding bills to be introduced this coming week, so legislative attention will shortly be focused on budget for all agencies besides Education.  Soon after the agency appropriations have been cleared, legislators will hope to adjourn.


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How Fitness Helped This Woman Cope with Going Blind and Deaf

Rebecca Alexander was just 12 years old when she was told that she'd completely lose her vision by the time she was an adult. After she had trouble seeing the chalkboard in class, her parents decided to take her in for a series of tests. She was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa (RP), a genetic disorder of the eyes that causes vision impairment. 

She continued on, not understanding the magnitude of what it would mean to lose her eyesight by the age of 30. "It's nearly impossible for a 12-year-old who can pretty much see to understand, let alone try to comprehend what it would mean to be losing my vision," Alexander said on Megyn Kelly TODAY while promoting her new book, Not Fade Away.

Read more at the article here.

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#SolidarityOEADeafAccess

OAD sent an open letter to Oklahoma Education Association in solidarity with other organizations and grassroots. This letter comes after prior solidarity efforts mentioned in their organizations vlog. 

March 28, 2018
Alicia Priest, President
Oklahoma Education Association

This is an open letter to the Oklahoma Education Association.

Dear President Alicia Priest,

On behalf of the organizations listed below, we stand in solidarity to extend our gratitude to the Oklahoma Education Association with respect to our collaborative efforts regarding effective communication with our community.

This community includes, but is not limited to, Deaf, Deaf-Blind, Hard of Hearing individuals, interpreters, professionals, parents, students, and other stakeholders who are wholly supportive of education in Oklahoma.

Our organizations and grassroots associations representing the interests of Oklahomans recognize the respect OEA demonstrated toward our community. Our coalition shares the same vested interest of ensuring that highly qualified, certified interpreters and Deaf Education teachers positively impact Oklahoma’s educational system. In order to establish a cooperative legacy, we are inviting OEA to collaborate with us to bridge a distinct alliance between associations. This collaborative effort will go a long way in benefiting the future of our communities.

We look forward to working with you. If you agree, we kindly request that you respond back at your convenience. Once again, thank you for stepping up, coordinating with us, and engaging in our concerns.

Sincerely,

Presidents/Leaders, on behalf of our organizations/grassroots:
Renee’ Sites, Oklahoma Association of the Deaf (OAD) 
Anne Byrd, Oklahoma Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (OKRID) 
Donna Fine, Deaf Grassroots Movement United-Oklahoma (DGMU-OK)
Tiara Oakes, Sight-Hearing Encouragement Program (SHEP)
Andrew Pitchford, Central Oklahoma Association for the Deaf and HoH (COADHI)
Christina Williams, Oklahoma Black Deaf Advocates (OKBDA)
Jennifer Grigsby-Fannon, Oklahoma City Association of the Deaf (OKCAD) 
Caroline Crawford, Enid Association of the Deaf (EAD)

Capitol event shows ‘people with disabilities can succeed’

Parker Simpson is a freshman in high school. He makes straight A’s and is the starting quarterback of his football team. He’s on the academic team and hopes, one day, to be an electrical engineer.

Simpson also has major hearing loss in both of his ears and is one of the many students who attend the Oklahoma School for the Deaf in Sulphur.

At the Capitol last week, Simpson and other students from OSD gathered to raise awareness for individuals with disabilities for People with Disabilities Awareness Day in hopes of spreading a simple message: disabilities aren’t definitive.

“People with disabilities can succeed, work and do just about anything if you give them a chance,” said Larry Hawkins, superintendent of OSD.

According to a 2016 report, Oklahoma has one of the highest percentages of people with disabilities along with many states in the South. Gallaudet University estimated that 3.1 percent, or 71,442 individuals ages 18-64, are deaf in Oklahoma. This year marked the 24th consecutive year People with Disabilities Awareness Day had been held at the Capitol, and in 2018, supporters of both OSD and the Oklahoma School for the Blind hoped to converse with lawmakers about the expansion of employment resources for individuals with disabilities.

After Gov. Mary Fallin signed a proclamation declaring March 13 as People With Disabilities Day on the southern steps of the Capitol, Simpson delivered a speech about his struggles with hearing loss and the service that OSD provided that allowed him to succeed academically.

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New Deaf/Hard of Hearing Car Visors in Oklahoma

Look whats new! Car visors for police interaction!! DRS partnered with OAD and also DGMU-Ok last fall to create these. These will replace the current visors. 

These for Oklahoma residents, can be picked up at DRS Deaf Services in OKC and Tulsa. We thank DRS, for including us in input and also for creating and ordering these for our community. 

DRS information and location pick up:
Services to the Deaf and Hard of Hearing
2401 NW 23rd Street, Suite 51
Oklahoma City, OK 73107
Office: (405) 522-7930 Email: SDHH@okdrs.gov 

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