Deaf advocates rally against Mendoza screening bill

AB 2072, sponsored by Assembly Member of Tony Mendoza, has met with serious criticism and opposition from deaf-advocacy groups, including the National Association of the Deaf, American Society for Deaf Children, California Association of the Deaf and several others. They believe the bill both inspires disdain against learning American Sign Language and treats California’s deaf children as a commodity.

The bill passed in the Senate Human Services Committee on Wednesday. It would have every hospital with licensed perinatal services offer every infant a hearing test, then provide information on community resources to the parents of the diagnosed child. AB 2072 would also allow parents with a diagnosed deaf child to get an appointment from an audiologist and receive information about treatment.

The bill is supported by a group called the California Coalition, which includes audiologists and two schools focusing on teaching deaf children to listen and talk, Oralingua and CCHAT. It’s also supported by several outside organizations. It was heard by the Senate Health Committee on Wednesday, though the outcome of a vote wasn’t known as of press time.  

Many in the deaf community, led by a group called the California Deaf Newborn Identification Advocacy Stakeholders, see the bill as a move against American Sign Language, in favor of surgical, hearing aid, or ‘oralist’ solutions to deafness. They note that AB 2072’s supporters, such as Oralingua and CCHAT, are for-profit organizations, and not advocates for the deaf and ASL. Opponents have also argued that the bill as written is basically a promotion for coclear implants, which won’t benefit all-hearing impaired children, and can come at the expense of deaf children learning sign language early in life.

Numerous organizations have attacked AB 2072 as commercializing the treatment of the deaf, not providing parents enough information to make an informed decision, and playing into the pockets of audiologists and oralist schools. The fact that no information from deaf-advocacy and consumer-advocate groups would be distributed to the parents is seen as a move by audiologists to gain more customers.

In 2008, the California Coalition, then called OptionSchools attempted to have similar legislation introduced by Assembly Member Dave Jones, but he turned them down. State Senator Pat Wiggins was also approached by OptionSchools in early 2009, but did not give them support.

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