Joseph Valente: The Makings of a Superhero - Conversations from Penn State

Uploaded by wpsu on 27.11.2012

>> I do some consulting work
on [inaudible].
>> The feeling in the room --
>> -- you don't ever say to her
that [inaudible] --
>> -- more of a community
[inaudible] in autism.
>> Patty Satalia:
Joe Valente is a self-identified
super hero.
He's using the proverbial pen
to fight the good fight
by spreading a simple message,
deaf people are not disabled.
Valente is an assistant
professor of early childhood
education at Penn State
and co-director
of Penn State Center
for Disability Studies.
Deaf since infancy he was
mainstreamed as a child
and didn't have the opportunity
to spend time with deaf peers
which is why he finds his
research work with schools
for the deaf so fulfilling.
He chronicled his life
in the autobiographical novel,
Deaf and Dumb:
A Portrait of a Deaf Kid
as a Young Superhero.
We'll talk with him
about his crusade
for a more ASL friendly world
and as part
of his efforts this program will
feature ASL interpretation.
Here's our conversation
with Joe Valente.
Joe Valente,
welcome to the Conversation.
>> Joe Valente: Thank you.
I'm thrilled to be here.
>> Patty Satalia:
You are one of the 20 to 30%
of Americans whose hearing loss
occurred in infancy
or early childhood.
Tell us your story.
>> Joe Valente: Well,
I think my story is
about what if.
What if we live in a world
that thought
of deaf children not as disabled
but as a language minority.
I wonder about my own life
growing up.
I was raised oral deaf
so I speak and I use hearing
aids and I try to interact
with hearing people in a way
in which to understand them
using their body language,
facial expressions,
things of that sort.
So I will often wonder what
would it have been
like if I had grown
up having access
to American Sign Language.
So I think that one
of the key things
about deaf children that a lot
of people don't know that 90
to 95% of them are born
to hearing parents.
So, if you are born
to Hispanic parents,
for instance
and your parents speak Spanish
and in school you are learning
English, in the United States
at least, you are,
if you're lucky,
you're in a bilingual
but for deaf children their
parents don't share the same
language as they do.
So, oftentimes hearing parents
who don't have access to ASL
or to deaf culture don't realize
that a deaf child's natural
language is sign language.
>> Patty Satalia: In fact,
deaf children who are born
to deaf parents do much better
academically, socially,
emotionally than the 90
to 95% you just mentioned.
>> Joe Valente: Right.
In research,
it shows that deaf children
who are born
to deaf parents have much higher
rates of literacy.
Obviously their social/emotional
development goes much
more smoothly.
Deaf children
of hearing parents that's one
of the most complicated.
Obviously hearing children
of hearing parents do well
as far as the academics go
and social emotional piece,
but what's interesting is
that they find deaf parents
with deaf children do better
than hearing parents
or hearing children.
So the tricky piece
with hearing children coming
from deaf parents is
that they obviously they don't
share the same language that's
one piece, but the other piece
is that how do you help them
navigate a larger hearing world
that doesn't really necessarily
understand the
communicative difference?
>> Patty Satalia: I want to talk
about that in just a moment
but you were born
with normal hearing.
At 6 weeks of age you had double
pneumonia and a severe fever
and you were left
with a sensory neural hearing
loss and people always asked you
how deaf are you?
>> Joe Valente:
It's a tricky question.
If we talk about audiology
and we talk about what kind
of a hearing loss I have,
I often tell people
that I have 100% loss
in my right ear and a 90% loss
in my left ear, but the problem
with that that's not how
audiologists describe deafness.
The kind of loss
that I have is not the kind
of loss you might
with your grandparents.
As your grandfather gets older,
he has an auditory loss
so you speak louder
and it helps him, right?
But with a sensory neural
hearing loss it's different.
The issue is I don't hear
certain frequencies.
So there's certain sounds I
don't hear.
So, for instance,
when people are talking to me
and I say what?
Their reaction is
to immediately speak louder,
but they don't realize
that I just missed some key
letters and that's what I really
need is them
to repeat those letters
that I missed.
So that's part
of the difficulty I guess
so sort of navigating the
hearing world
that oftentimes there's
assumptions that are made
about how to best communicate
with a deaf person,
but it wouldn't be any different
than someone
who is learning a language.
It's not the fact they need you
to speak louder to them
if they're learning English.
They just need you
to repeat the words
that you're missing.
>> Patty Satalia:
In your 2011 autobiographical
novel, Deaf and Dumb:
A Portrait of a Deaf Kid
as a Young Superhero,
one of the things you say is
that you wish
that your parents had sent you
to a school for the deaf.
Why do you say that?
>> Joe Valente:
I think one
of the most difficult parts
of growing up deaf is
that with this movement towards
inclusion, inclusion being the
legislation that's coming
out in public schools
about trying
to provide the least restrictive
environment, LRE,
educators will be familiar
with that.
One of the biggest challenges
with deaf children is
that when they are put
into an inclusive environment,
when they are,
I was mainstreamed,
that's what it was called back
then, and when you are put
into a mainstream environment
you're the only deaf child,
usually the only deaf child
in your classroom,
most likely in your school,
which is for me
that was the case.
I was the only deaf kid to be
in my neighborhood in school
and so I grew up,
one of the things about growing
up deaf in the world is
that you're alone.
So it wasn't
until much later I was
about 8 years old
and I was sitting in a closet
and I was reading the Bible
and this is one
of the activities I use to have,
I used to sit and read the Bible
and read comic books,
and I came across a passage
about Moses
and in the passage Moses,
he was not able to speak.
I remember reading that
and thinking, oh, my goodness,
is Moses deaf?
That was the first time I ever
met a deaf person.
I had never before
that had ever met a deaf person
and I felt really alone
in this universe.
So, I think that one
of the things
that I would always say
to people about deaf schools
it's not just
that their children have access
to language
but they won't be alone
like I was.
>> Patty Satalia:
It's interesting
because I was reading
about deaf people who went
to deaf schools
and they often counted the
school they attended
as where they were
from as opposed to the town
or the city
in which they grew up.
That's how profound
that experience of being
with other deaf people seems
to be.
>> Joe Valente: Yeah,
I think one of the things
when I often meet deaf people,
other deaf people in my travels
and in my work,
they often ask me where are you
from or where did you go
to school?
And that's a marker
in the deaf community
of who you are.
So, also it's a marker,
it's also a way of indicating
to the person that's asking the
question who they might know
in your network and your world.
So it's not just
like a status piece as far
as like, oh,
I went to the Maryland School
for the Deaf for instance.
It's also about, oh,
I know someone who went
to the Maryland School
for the Deaf.
The deaf world is a very
small world.
A lot of people
in the deaf world know each
other, not everybody knows
everybody, everybody knows each
other, but this idea
of being able to know
that there's some sort
of kinship between everyone
in the deaf community
and so going
to these deaf schools provides
you an opportunity not only
to be a part of a network
in that local school
but also provide you a network
throughout your life
as you travel throughout
the world.
>> Patty Satalia:
And you're going
to these deaf schools now
as a researcher not
as a student.
In fact, you've been
to deaf schools throughout the
United States, in Japan,
in France, how fulfilling is
that experience
and what are you doing
as a researcher
in these schools?
>> Joe Valente:
I think one
of the most exciting pieces
about doing the work
that I do now is
that I get my chance
to finally go to a deaf school.
I get to do my research,
I get opportunities I didn't
have growing
up being mainstreamed,
by being able to see schools
in France, Japan,
the United States
and other places
around the world it's been a
really fascinating experience
for me.
Sometimes I actually watch these
children and I feel a sense
of envy to be honest.
I watch them being able
to be surrounded by deaf adults,
you know, a lot of deaf children
when they're growing
up they think
that when you are deaf
that you die when you get older.
There's a common story there.
A lot of my deaf friends will
say because they've never met
any deaf adults.
>> Patty Satalia: Oh.
>> Joe Valente: So we don't,
where are the deaf adults?
What happens to them
when they get older?
So, for me being able to go
to these deaf schools is my
to finally get a chance to go
to a deaf school;
that's on a personal level
but on a professional level it's
exciting because I get
to see the kinds
of fascinating things
that are happening in schools
around the world, you know,
there's this huge debate that's
happening right now
and it's been happening
for 100 some odd years
about whether
or not you would raise a child
early --
>> Patty Satalia: --
as you were.
>> Joe Valente:
Like I was this speaking,
using hearing aids things
of that sort, cochlear implants,
or whether you raise a child
with sign language.
>> Patty Satalia:
Their natural language.
>> Joe Valente: Right.
Their natural language,
but really one of the things
that I found in my research is
that that, that's a fantasy.
It's one of the things I write
about in my book is
that this fantasy of having sort
of the hearing world
and then there's the deaf world.
It's not two options.
Deaf people operate and navigate
within the hearing world.
So it's much more complicated
than this sort
of polarized the storyline
of deaf world
versus the hearing world that's
not really the truth.
When I go to these schools
for the death,
the children are learning spoken
language and sign language.
>> Patty Satalia:
Why weren't you learned spoken
language and sign language
as a child?
How difficult is it
to learn both simultaneously
as someone who grew
up in a household, for instance,
where the parents were Hispanic
and spoke Spanish
and they lived in the US?
>> Joe Valente: I think that one
of the most difficult pieces
about growing
up in a disability family that's
hearing is that they don't
understand a lot
of these pieces.
It's not to say that my mom
and my family members didn't
understand to some degree,
but they can never understand
as well as someone
who has experienced
deafness themselves.
So I think that one
of the real difficulties,
for instance,
I'll give you a perfect example
like being in school my teachers
would often say things to me
like when you miss something,
let me know.
If I miss it, how would I know ?
So, I think one
of the key things
about being hearing
and not having the deaf
experience is things
that seem obvious
to a deaf person are not
so obvious to a hearing person.
>> Patty Satalia:
You wrote in your book
that you were hurt a lot
as a kid and there were lots
of examples.
One that sticks out was
as a child, a preschooler,
being on the playground
and signing with another kid
and a teacher came by
and slapped your hand
for doing that.
>> Joe Valente:
Back in this time period,
this was 1979, 1980,
and at that time period there
was this myth
that still carries even
to today.
People believed
that deaf children
who learned sign language will
somehow be prevented
from learning how to speak
and that is absolutely,
actually it's the opposite.
If deaf children were to learn,
have access to sign language,
they would pick
up spoken language much more
quickly and I think that one
of the things is that it wasn't
that the teacher was mean,
the teacher was doing what she
thought at that time the
scientifically had been shown
to benefit deaf children,
but in actuality the research
that was coming out at that time
by William Stoker [phonetic],
he was talking about this idea
of how American Sign Language
itself is actually a
real language.
So I think one of the things
for me when I was a kid
and an incident took place
when my teacher ran over
and smacked my hands it was
interesting to me
because I didn't know it was
called sign language
until much later
that the kid was showing me.
It wasn't until I reflected
on that experience
when I got older, but one thing
that was interesting was
that I always associated using
your hands as bad language just
like someone using the middle
finger for instance.
So, I didn't know there was any
difference between one
and the other.
>> Patty Satalia: Well,
another example was
when you were
in high school you were taking
AP courses,
which should have entitled you
to an honor's degree
when you graduated
from high school
and because you couldn't take
or didn't take a foreign
language, French or Spanish,
for example, you were denied
that honor's degree
because they didn't look
at American Sign Language
as a legitimate language.
>> Joe Valente: Yeah,
I think about that
from time to time.
It really frustrates me
that I didn't get the
to get the honor's
regents diploma.
In New York State,
they have a regent's diploma
and to get an honor's diploma
you had to take a certain course
of honor's classes, AP classes.
At the time when I was
in 10th grade, I went and met
with my guidance counselor
and he was misinformed
about what was happening.
At the time they were actually
in New York State they passed a
law allowing children
to use sign language as a way
to get the foreign
language credit.
And so what ended
up happening was he had said
to me something along the lines
of take X amount of art classes
and so I took all these art
classes trying to circumnavigate
around this requirement
and then before I was
about to graduate I found
out that I wouldn't be able
to get the honors regent diploma
and I was so broken hearted.
Having thought this was just
another example.
It wasn't that being deaf was
so difficult; it's that I had
to be super hearing
or a superhero of sorts.
I had to supersede
in every possible what was
expected of the average
normal kid.
>> Patty Satalia:
Speaking of being a superhero,
you are telling your story
as part of your promise
to yourself
to make a contribution
to the deaf world.
You're doing
that through your research
and through storytelling,
and you found
that words really do have power.
Tell us a little bit
about what you hope
to accomplish
through your research.
>> Joe Valente:
I think one of the things
about when I first read
about Moses is
that I immediately felt a sense
of affinity to Moses
when I was a young kid
and to me Moses was no different
than any other superhero.
Moses was Spiderman,
he was Superman;
he just didn't have a really
cool outfit like Spiderman
or Superman.
So I think that one
of the things that I was,
as I was growing older
and I thought of myself as Moses
in some sense and I know
that may sound odd
to some people,
but I remember thinking
that I had a mission in life
but I didn't know what it was.
So, as I grew older
and I started to write stories
and I started to gain competency
in my ability to speak,
I started to realize that one
of my super powers was the
ability to tell a good story
and so as I grew older
and I started to come
into my own deaf identity
and I started to learn
about deaf culture,
I was thinking
about what role I would play
and I thought
at first I thought I was going
to play some big role
in the deaf community
and as I actually started
to become a member
of the deaf community I realized
that there are many people
in the deaf community
who are already superheroes
and so really when I think
about myself
as being a superhero
or being a Moses-like character,
I don't think of myself
as leading the deaf
people anywhere.
I think of myself
as leading hearing people
to understanding
about deaf people and understand
that deaf people are not
disabled; they're just a
language minority.
>> Patty Satalia:
One of the chapters
in your book is titled,
Hysterical Mother
Without a Deaf
Instruction Manual.
I wonder if there were a manual?
From your perspective,
what would it include?
>> Joe Valente:
Oftentimes parents will ask me,
you know, what should I do?
I get emails all the time,
I get letters, you know,
people try to contact me
and reach out to me,
what should I do
for my deaf child?
I often say to parents that,
you know, I can't make a
decision for you.
I can only tell you what I would
do with my own child.
I can only tell you what I would
have wanted for myself.
Now, I should stop and say
that there are privileges
because I grew up mainstreamed
and because I learned to speak
as well as I do there are
privileges that that gives me.
I'm able to navigate the hearing
world and pass
as a hearing person,
but then there's also cost
to that, that sense
of loneliness that I was talking
about earlier
and not having access
to American Sign Language.
When I think
about deaf children today
and I think about what we ought
to do, I think that one
of the things
that scares me the most is
about this movement
that we have right now shutting
down deaf schools
across the country
when we really
in actuality should be giving
deaf children more access
to these deaf schools.
Deaf kids just
like any other kid that's
learning a language they need
to be around their peers,
they need to be around people
who use their natural language.
So, in order for deaf children,
like for deaf children
for instance
in a hearing setting,
they are struggling
to communicate
so they're losing all these
opportunities to communicate
with their peers
on the playground,
in the bathrooms,
so oftentimes people say, oh,
we have an interpreter
or the kid has a cochlear
implant or a hearing aid;
what they are not understanding
is that when you're deaf,
you don't always understand
what's going on around you
and then there's also this
tricky piece
of how deaf are you?
So, we've applied deaf education
policy to deaf kids
across the world
without any consideration
for the variety of deafness.
I think that really comes back
to this idea of what it is
about if I was going to suggest
to a parent what to do
with a deaf child I would tell
them to send them
to a deaf school.
>> Patty Satalia:
Lots of people will look
at you though and see
that you have two advanced
degrees; 20%,
only 20% of deaf children who go
to college ever graduate
and so they look at you
as an example of something
that went right.
How do you attribute your
success or to what do you
attribute your success?
>> Joe Valente:
I think that I was successful
in spite of what happened,
not because.
I think that one
of the key messages I have
for people is that,
one of the things for certain is
that I don't want people
to see me as the poster child
for the oralist movement.
I don't want them to see me
as the poster child
for mainstreaming deaf children
because I'm one out of very,
very, very few.
So, maybe you might have 10,000
deaf children who would go
through the same experience I
have but they're not going
to have the same success just
like the average hearing person
doesn't get a PhD.
I don't expect all hearing
people to get a PhD
and become a professor
and do research.
So, why would you expect
that all deaf children would do
the same as me?
I think the other piece
to that is thinking
about this idea
of what do we want
for deaf children?
What is it that we want?
We want them to have access
to language; we want them
to have access
to employment later on;
we want them to have access
to relationships
with their significant others,
What these people don't really
realize is that about 150 years
ago when schools
for the deaf had ASL
and they had deaf teachers,
which there aren't very many
deaf teachers
and deaf schools now.
>> Patty Satalia: Only 10
or 15% are deaf today.
>> Joe Valente: Right.
Only 10, 15%; even less in a lot
of schools across the country.
So these deaf children don't
have access to deaf adults
to show success, right?
That's one piece.
The other piece, too,
is that people oftentimes don't
realize is that 100
to 150 years ago these deaf
schools were thriving
and they had ASL
as their main mode
of instruction.
These deaf children were
graduating with higher literacy
rates than they have now.
So ever since we started to try
to fix deaf children,
ever since we tried
to make deaf children
into hearing children,
they've failed
because they're deaf.
It seems so obvious to us.
So, people I think it's sort
of this myth of technology
that they're going
to cure deafness.
You can't cure deafness.
No matter what it is
that we do we can never create
an ear like our biological ear
when we were born.
>> Patty Satalia: So,
let's talk about this,
these two schools of thought.
There's the pathological view
of deafness
that this is something
that needs to be fixed
as you said
with cochlear implants
or with hearing aids
and then there's the cultural
view that says sign language is
legitimate and it has value.
Who is involved in this fight?
And how is it shaking out?
>> Joe Valente: I think,
you know, that's part
of the myth too.
The myth is
that there's this polarized camp
that says the hearing culture
and then there's deaf culture
and when you go
to these deaf schools a lot
of times people talk
about deaf schools
as if they're only a place
where deaf culture is happening.
It's not necessarily true.
When I go to deaf schools,
I see deaf children using spoken
language and using
sign language.
However, when they go
to a mainstream setting,
how they learn in sign language?
They're only learning
spoken language.
So then they don't have,
if they don't have access
to ASL, which for sign language
if they're in France
or Japan they don't have access
to sign language then they lose
for language development,
they lose opportunities
for communicating
with their peers and adults.
So, in a deaf school,
they use bilingualism
where the children are learning
two languages at the same time.
Those are the children
that we know start to thrive.
>> Patty Satalia: You have said
that deaf children face
overwhelming inequity living
in an adult
and a hearing centered world.
Can you explain?
To some extent you already have,
but what do you mean by that?
Maybe from
historical perspective.
>> Joe Valente: It circles back
to my original comment is
that what if,
what if we actually thought
of deaf children not as disabled
but as a language minority?
I think that 150 years ago
or more we actually
when deaf schools were thriving
we actually were treating deaf
children like deaf children.
We weren't pretending
that they're going
to become hearing.
I think that's one
of the key things
about what's happening today is
that there's two things I would
say; there's two
major movements.
Today there's a movement towards
inclusion and mainstreaming deaf
children, right?
So they're applying sort
of this policy for children
with disabilities
to deaf children
and deaf children are unique,
a unique subset
of that particular issue.
Then there's also this issue
of also wanting deaf children
to become hearing.
So, I think
that when we keep trying
to do these kinds of things,
when we keep trying
to make deaf children
into hearing children,
they're going to fail.
>> Patty Satalia:
You say basically
that normal is overrated
and I'm wondering if you believe
that the same effort
to make Asperger's children
normal is as damaging as it is
to try to make deaf
children hearing?
>> Joe Valente: Yeah,
I think one
of the things I often talk
about with people is
that we're not just talking
about deaf children.
When I wrote my book,
I wasn't just thinking
about deaf children.
I was thinking
about all children and people
who have been pushed
to the margins of society.
For instance,
I think that oftentimes
when I teach
at Penn State I talk to students
in my class and I can see
that the young ladies
in my class right away latch
on to the kinds of things
that I'm talking about.
For instance,
when you're a young girl growing
up in the United States,
you might see magazine ads
of beautiful women
who look a certain way
or you might see television ads
with women who look a certain
way and even though you know
these ubiquitous messages,
we all know
that you can't be a model
and even the models themselves
really aren't --
>> Patty Satalia: --
as gorgeous as they look.
>> Joe Valente: Right.
They're not what they appear
to be on the magazine cover.
Even though we know that,
fully know that well, right,
the problem is
that women will strive
to be 5 foot 8, blonde hair,
blue eyes and not everyone can
be that way.
So, part of my message is
that I value people
for their diversity.
I don't want to live in a world
where we're all the same.
So I think that there's two
different, there's a divide here
in the way in which people think
about diversity whether
or not we want people
to all be the same or whether
or not we want
to value diversity
for what it brings
and offers our world.
So, I think that when we think
about young women, for instance,
when we think about men
who are looking
at advertisements to pump iron
and get big muscles,
we all know that that's not
for everyone.
Not everyone is going
to look the same.
>> Patty Satalia: All right.
Joe Valente.
Thank you so much
for talking with us.
>> Joe Valente:
Thank you so much
for inviting me here today.
I appreciate it.
>> Patty Satalia:
I hope you enjoyed our
conversation with Joe Valente.
Comcast subscribers can watch
this program any time
on Penn State on Demand.
Find out how
through our website
where you'll find a link
to Valente's tedxpsu talk.
I'm Patty Satalia.
We hope you'll join us
for our next Conversations
from Penn State.
>> Production funding provided
in part by the Corporation
for Public Broadcasting
and by viewers like you.
Thank you.
>> This has been a production