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Laurent, SD--- The Deaf Town That Wasn't
You've surely heard of the attempt to create a Deaf town in South Dakota named Laurent. If not, go here: (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laurent,_South_Dakota).
A somewhat similar situation existed on Martha's Vinyard, an island off Massachusetts, mostly throughout the 18th Century. Laurent would have been much more extensive, with a mostly deaf population, and might have become an international attraction and role model for future Deaf towns around the world. It's not an original idea. We cover that down below in this column.
Below is from The New York Times.
Well, it transpired that Laurent won't materialize. So Olathe, Kansas remains the most Deaf-friendly city, according to certain sources, or Rochester, New York, according to others. Fredrick, MD and Sioux Falls, SD are on the list, too. None are any comparison, however, to what Laurent would have been.
For Olathe, go here.
For the rest, go here:
The Town's Namesake
Louis Marie Laurent Clerc (d. 1869), a deaf teacher of the deaf in Paris,
co-founded in 1817 (with Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet) the first school for the deaf in North America, and devoted most of his life to it. He brought French sign language (FSL) with him, to mix with the sign language already here. FSL remains dominant in the American version, though the two are not completely comprehensible mutually. Clerc is often called The Father of American Sign Language.
The school still exists in Hartford, Connecticut as the American School for the Deaf, though not at the original location. Clerc is perhaps the brightest name in Deaf Culture. This bio is one of the best written of him:
But if you are really getting into Deaf Culture, you should get to know this man as if he's your lifelong friend or even a brother. Go along with him throughout his career all the way from his youth. He'll talk to you personally through 333 pages of the landmark book,
When the Mind Hears by Harlan Lane, Vintage, 1989. (Actually, the author talks through Clerc). No one else can tell you as much.
There is an effort ongoing for a dozen years to honor him on a United States postage stamp. You can read about that here:
How did Laurent Clerc become deaf? When an infant, he fell from a kitchen highchair into a fireplace. He suffered facial burns that lead to fever and the loss of his hearing and olfactory senses.
Why No Laurent, SD?
Laurent, SD was not exactly to be a town for the Deaf, but rather a town where sign language was universal among both deaf and hearing. It was a dream whose time had come in 2005. (Actually, the idea is 150 years old, as described at the bottom of this column).
Why did it fail to materialize?
As envisioned, it was too ambitious. It was to be far more than a one-stoplight town. It was to have a full infrastructure, and a spectrum of commercial and professional services in brick-and-mortar offices. It was to eventually have two hotels, a water park, and a mostly Deaf population rising to several thousand.
It was to rise in Cook County in the SE corner of South Dakota where land is relatively cheap and there's no zoning. SD has no personal or business tax. Against the County's population of only 6000, Laurent as envisioned would have substantial political clout. It was near a major highway with a reasonable drive to Sioux Falls, and thus not hopelessly isolated.
If it was to rise within some economically depressed town having the basic things and infrastructure in place, it might have had a good chance. In fact that was an alternate plan, but not pursued. But to create it on bare earth in a secluded agricultural emptiness, with fierce winters and desert-hot summers, is enormously expensive and takes years and years to develop.
For an example of modern construction costs, there’s a giant pool and bath house for 7,000 people in Brooklyn, New York (McCarren Park Pool). Closed 30 years ago, it was recently restored and reopened. Surrounding streets, sewage system, subways, water sources, etc.--- were already there and didn’t have to be created for it. But Laurent was in the middle of nowhere.
Nevertheless, the cost of restoration was 50 million dollars. Laurent, SD was to be several times the size, not of just the pool part, but of the whole 35 acre park ----and of course a great deal more than just a swimming pool and bath house. Lots and lots of money was needed just to get the digging started at Laurent, SD.
A rural development loan of up to 25 million dollars was a possibility. But this very controversial project was out of the mental space of those who control loans and grants, or invest substantially. It had plenty of detractors, one who called it a "deaf ghetto so isolated, it wouldn't need any walls".
Things did get moving and over 150 Deaf families were on the waiting list to purchase plots there. Considering the extent of the task, 150 was inadequate and uninspiring. Ten million dollars anticipated from some "angel", never arrived.
The project, still on paper, went into bankruptcy and closed down in 2007, with (sadly) heavy loss to its co-founders. It remains, with its many pros and cons, an important item in Deaf Culture.
An interesting video (in ASL but without captions) has the prospective co-founder (Marvin Miller) describing his dream:
Imagine that Laurent, SD had materialized. If you know the Deaf world and have the talent and imagination, consider writing a novel about the town fully developed. It's a unique situation and there would be much to envision. What did it develop into? What notable things happened there? How were native hearing people involved? Did it inspire creation of similar towns throughout the world?
Actually, there is already one novel about a Deaf enclave on an island, Islay, by Douglas Bullard (1986, T.J. Publishers, MD). See:
"The Deaf-&-Dumb Republic" , "The Deaf State of the USA", "Deaf Mutia", "Gestoria", or "Eyeth"
Laurent, SD is not an original idea.
The idea of a Deaf enclave was alive in both the USA and France in mid-19th Century. A Deaf state of the USA, and even a Deaf republic, was discussed here. Laurent Clerc was in favor of a Deaf enclave to some extent, though he was skeptical of anything materializing. Nothing got off the ground.
John J. Fuornoy (d. 1879) was a graduate of the American School for the Deaf. Starting in 1855, he began to advocate for a Deaf enclave in the empty western territories, around what is now Utah. It was to be a state or perhaps even a republic. It was a hot topic of his time and came with many questions, lots similar to what came with Laurent, SD.
And the problems back then were much greater. Moving into that area required a trip in a covered wagon. The Civil War arrived 6 years later and wiped out the whole matter.
There were other attempts since then and we believe the basic idea does not end with Laurent, SD.
You can read more about Mr. Fuornoy through the link below, and it's worth it. It mentions names that arose in people's minds for such enclaves: "the Deaf & Dumb State", "The Deaf Mute Republic", and amusingly........."Deaf Mutia", "Gestoria" (for gesture-language), and "Eyeth" (instead of "earth").
Mr. Fuornoy was instrumental (with others) in creating the Georgia School for the Deaf.
An interesting comment from a supporter at the time was, "[The deaf] would be very happy there ...... for everyone would understand every other person's language all the time. [They] could engage in all the professions and arts; they could be, for example, mayors, teachers, judges, lawyers, businessmen, entertainers........".
Likewise, and thought-provoking, was a detractor's comment, that most of the children of the deaf residents would be hearing. Nine out of ten births of deaf children are from hearing couples, not the other way around as too many people think. Thus, In several generations a majority of residents would be hearing, destroying the deaf exclusiveness. A.G. Bell wrote of this as well. He thought the only way such a place could sustain a deaf majority, was by constantly importing deaf people. We recommend you read more of these earlier plans in Harlan Lane's book, When the Mind Hears, PB, pp. 274ff., and in Bell's book through the link on our Page 6.
A close thing to the Laurent, SD idea, actually existed on Martha's Vineyard in the 18th Century. There is much to read about it on the internet. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martha's_Vineyard_Sign_Language ).
The American Realist painter, Thomas Hart Benton (d. 1975) summered there often, and produced many of his major works there. This magnificent work (The Lord is my Shepard), is of a deaf couple living there, George and Sabina West.
It was worked on over four years, and hangs in the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City. People have seen some visible links to deafness in this work and that is discussed in this clearly captioned video: www.youtube.com/watch?v=Apmuyp1hkpw
...............is the imaginary planet inhabited by "People of the Eye" or Deaf persons, opposed to Earth inhabited by people of the ear. It is cleverly and amusingly named Eyeth ("Ear" in "earth" replaced by "Eye").
There's a DVD of that name in ASL, inspired from a silent weekend for ASL students whose theme was Eyeth. Follow actors Betel, Camas, Nilson, and Pitard into Eyeth. You'll see much unfamiliar; e.g. a floating orb, a car videophone and an eye implant. Visit interesting places like the communication center, the grand council, and Bell University. Issues related to Deaf Culture and the Community are interwoven in the narrative. One and half hours, $20 new or used on Amizon.
There's a funny old slapstick video about a fumbling Deaf scientist experimenting with ways to travel from Earth to Eyeth.
Watch it through the link below.
Eyeth, usually thought of as amusing (and included in jokes in the Deaf Culture), makes a sad and unpleasant statement, in a way: that our planet earth is not for Deaf people, that the life we want is to be found elsewhere.
De'VIA art plays with the subject of Eyeth, and this is one of our favorite works for its power: Awakening Trees of Eyeth, by Paul Scearce.
~~~The Americans with Disibilities Act~~~
Watch Senator Tom Harkin Ttalingv about the ADA at the Democrat National Convention, July, 2016
"Most of us [hearing people] hearing the words 'disabled' or 'disability' still take the word to mean what it has always meant to society: 'unable', 'incapable'. 'People with disabilities means simply people who lack ability, who are incapable."
Mary Johnson, Author
"The Americans With No Abilities Act"
The ADA was just off the ground when Fortune quoted The American Association of Manufacturers ---that the ADA will become the most expensive legislation for business in this country's history. That was another voice in the protesting chorus that began well before the ADA was enacted. It was about the cost to comply with, and be penalized for failing to:
Provide special accommodations (elevators, interpreters and all that).
Hire, reasonably use, and properly promote qualified disabled workers.
There's a popular mindset that disabled people qualify only for limited types of employment and need to be over-supervised. E.g., "A blind turret-lathe operator? Are you kidding me?" (Surprise! We know of three very low-vision machinists, one a master, all who learned their skills while blind). That mindset goes deep and wide, and sometimes very deep. E.g., "If she walks like that, she must be on welfare", a stranger's comment we noted, about a woman who actually owns and operates an art gallery.
There's also a mindset that disabled people are "traditionally disabled" --- blind, deaf, wheel-chaired, and have mental disorders. If you're not of that group, you are unqualified to be assisted by this law. And if you are taking advantage of it, you are a faker.
The Onion, a popular satirical newspaper, created a hoax, an unfortunate double entendre. It aided the mindset that disabled workers are unqualified, but the ADA will qualify them anyway. In their 6/24/98 issue, The Onion announced that Congress was revising the ADA into 'The Americans With No Abilities Act". It was supposed to protect 135 million "talentless" Americans.
We imagine It was funny to most readers, and we know a disturbing number of them fell for it (because Snopes had to move in and declare it a hoax). You can read it here if it's worth your time:
A Cartoon on the ADA
"Make Them Go Away"
If you want a detailed and well-written study of why the ADA is opposed by many, read: Mary Johnson's
Make Them Go Away (Avocado Press). The title refers to lawyers who rush to enforce the ADA the way they chase ambulances. The guy on the cover is the actor Clint Eastwood. He's there as an example after he went loudly public against the ADA, over legal action against his Mission Ranch hotel for ADA violations.
For something brief, see the Reader's Digest article of 1998 (and still timely). They open with:
"The Americans with Disabilities Act will never truly become an effective civil rights statute if it continues to be misunderstood and viewed negatively by the American public." Go to:
The ADA and the Lap Dance Incident
The editorial below with its bold, angry headline is from the New York Post of 07/22/02. It says that the ADA is being taken advantage of. We somewhat agree, but not with their example, below. It's within the Post’s well-known hallmark of sensationalizing.
A lap dance isn’t everyone’s piece of cake, but it’s not illegal. In this club, non-disabled men (including the guy who wrote the editorial, below, if it was a guy) have access to lap dancers upstairs. The wheelchaired guy doesn’t, and has every right to it. That’s within the basic spirit of the ADA.
We aren't saying the club should spend $350,000 to install an elevator ---only that the matter is worthy of consideration under the ADA, and not a matter for ridicule of this law. If it was a community center and an inability to attend church services upstairs, the Post would say nothing.
Well Before the Americans With Disabilities Act
Below is one of the so-called "ugly laws" that several cities enacted. Actually, they were aimed at getting rid of beggars who made an unpleasant display of their physical disabilities. However, it did in effect criminalize physical disability. In Chicago's case, it wasn't totally repealed until the 1970's.
"No person who is diseased, maimed, mutilated or in any way deformed so as to be an unsightly or disgusting object or improper person shall be allowed in or on the public ways or other public places in this city, or shall therein or thereon expose himself to public view, under a penalty of not less than one dollar nor more than fifty dollars for each offence".
Ordinance of the City of Chicago, 1911
And in some connection----------
After World War II Soviet soldiers who lost limbs, especially multi-amputees (callously called "samovars"), were not permitted to live in major cities of the Soviet Union, to preserve their sublime appearance.
Presently in Pyongyang, North Korea, a similar rule has been in force for decades, for anyone they think unsightly. At one point all the midgets and dwarfs in the city were forceably collected and relocated in a distant suburb.
Excerpts from the New York Times, July, 1989:
".......the treatment of the handicapped reflects a society's most fundamental values...."
"A disabled child is more likely to be abused [by peers, siblings, and guardians]".
If You're Unsure What the ADA is For.............
A Deaf acquaintance had to temporarily relocate to Rome, New York, to be near his very ill mother. As his stay could be long, he got a job at the former Griffiss Air Force Base nearby. He was in a materials-handling group with a broad job description. After weeks of nothing but lifting, stacking, and pulling things on wheeled carts, he complained to his supervisor. All the others, even a younger new guy, were sometimes moving loads with vans and fork-lifters. Why not him?
His supervisor discovered him unaware of the result of his
pre-employment medical report. It held him "unsafe to operate machinery" because of his deafness. Our friend had not told the doctor, since it was a medical exam and not a job interview, and he wasn't even asked ----that he had OSHA fork-lift certification, and a state commercial driver's license.
His supervisor assured him that the "error" would surely be corrected, and phoned the involved base doctor, who was unimpressed. The doc claimed responsibility if an employee is injured due to failure to hear an audible warning from or about the machinery he is using. Or failure to understand an instruction related to use of machinery. The surprised supervisor shrugged it off to our friend with, "Well, I'm sorry, he knows noting about machines, but feels he has to cover his ass".
That was before the ADA. Now you know what the ADA is for.
An Article From Business Week, 06/06/1988
~ ~ ~Two years before the ADA
"For America's 35 million disabled people, life is more difficult than it need be. Social acceptance remains in the dark ages. Even skilled individuals often can't work ---despite technologies that let paralyzed people run computers, and help the blind and deaf do just about anything. Only a third of the 15 million working age disabled are employed, many below their capabilities."
The above article included an example of a young blind man with a Masters degree in Aerospace Engineering from Cornell
University, who couldn't find a job in 18 months of trying.
~~~Are They Worth the Expense?
Early on, the ADA had lots of detractors when it was still a proposal. There was a question in The New York Times about the mandate for ASL interpreters for the Deaf during litigation. Was a law firm’s interpreter expenses justified? It inferred that Deaf people, being a sort of underclass, are involved mostly in minor legal matters that can be pursued without expensive interpreters.
A letter to the Editor was written in response, and here is an excerpt:
[The law firm} would discover that the interpreter’s salary was
not a burden but an investment. Guess what? Deaf Americans engage in business, practice professions, convey property, bring suits and are in turn sued. They are born, go to school, marry, have children, divorce, consult physicians, go to hospitals, and die. In short, deaf Americans engage in every form of litigation-generating activity prevalent in this society. Judith A. Baer, 12/28/89, The New York Times
The ADA Is For Whom?
It is popularly thought that "Americans with disabilities" for whom the ADA was created, are mostly the "traditionally disabled"; that is----- blind, deaf, mentally retarded, and in wheelchairs (especially in wheelchairs). Actually, based on various published materials (which don't always agree but are in the same ballpark), the mentally retarded are less than 4% of the disabled working-age population. Wheelchaired adults are only 2% . For the legally blind, it's about the same. For the d/Deaf, it's closer to 1.6%.
If the public objection to the ADA had to be explained in just one sentence, that would best be: The definition of a "disabled" person in the ADA is too broad.
The "disabled population" actually served by the ADA are mostly ordinary people with back problems and athritis, followed by those with heart problems, depression, and limitations related to spinal cord problems.
Kleptomaniacs, pyromaniacs, drug addicts, compulsive gamblers, and those with "gender identity disorders", are specifically excluded from protection by the Americans with Disibilities Act.
A Deaf Nurse?
You can't become a RN if you're deaf, according to the "everybody knows" syndrome at a school of nursing in Missouri. So far, a jury thought otherwise. Read about it here:
No Terps Allowed?
You can't study medicine using sign interpreters in the classroom (even if you offer to pay for them yourself) said Creighton University' School of Medicine, a Jesuit institution in Nebraska. Yes, you can, said the National Ass'n of the Deaf (NAD). Read about that and more here:
"Are You Listening?"
Andre Aciman, a professor at CUNY, wrote a fascinating memoir of his deaf mother for the New Yorker's issue of 03/27/2014. She is the beautiful woman below, shown at the time of her engagement in 1946. Her language was French and they lived in Alexandria, Egypt..
From the memoir:
"In those days, there was nothing resembling deaf pride. Deafness was a stigma. The very poor often neglected their deaf children, condemning them to a lifetime of menial labor. Children remained illiterate, and their language was primitive, gestural. In the snobbish view of my mother’s parents, if you couldn’t cure deafness, you learned to hide it. If you weren’t ashamed of it, you were taught to be. You learned how to lip-read, not sign; you learned to speak with your voice, not your hands. You didn’t eat with your hands; why on earth would you speak with them?"
You can read the entire article here:
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