Email from Dan Levy of MI Dept of Civil Rights

Last week, I was alerted via the Michigan Deaf Association that a draft of the PA 204 (Deaf Person’s Interpreter Act) rules was released. Unable to find it on the MI DODHH website, I emailed Dan Levy, the Director of Law and Policy for the MI Department of Civil Rights. To be clear however, he is not the director of the entire Civil Rights Department. Just for the Law and Policy section in the Civil Rights Department. And the MI DODHH is under the Dept of Civil Rights, who has been overseeing this whole process with the PA 204 rules.

My email stated:

Dear Mr. Levy,

As you probably already know, many of us in the Deaf Community have been anxiously awaiting the latest draft of the PA 204 rules and regulations. Just now, I was made aware of at least one person who now has the latest draft of said rules and regs.

I am wondering if you could point me to where I could obtain a copy of the latest draft as well.

Thank you for your time and attention.

Best,

Jeannette

Several hours ago today (November 26, 2013) Mr. Levy responded with the following:

The document you request is attached, but it also requires a bit of explanation.

The proposed rules set was fully reviewed after the previous submission was withdrawn, and the new proposed set was submitted to the Office of Regulatory Reform last week. The Division on Deaf and Hard of Hearing is currently working on a couple of tweaks requested by ORR. Once those are done the draft will need to be cleared by Legislative Services Bureau before publication. The Division informed ORR that they would have the draft back to them by Dec. 6th, so it should go to LSB shortly thereafter. We will set a comment period and hearing date as soon as we are cleared by LSB to publish.

We did not intend to share the draft until we had a final version ready for publication, as we hoped to avoid the confusion that can be created when there are multiple versions floating around. However, based on a couple of stories (links below) recently done by Crain’s Detroit Business it appears that somebody did share the draft that went to ORR with at least some members of the public. Because we want to ensure that all interested parties are on equal footing we will now be providing a copy of the proposed draft that was sent to ORR (attached) to those who request one, even though it is not an official document.

Please let me know if you have any questions.

Daniel M. Levy
Director for Law and Policy
Michigan Dept. of Civil Rights

First article: Michigan developing regulations to govern difficult area of deaf and hard-of-hearing interpreter services

Second article: Deaf community backs stiffer regs for interpreters: Legislature to hold hearings on proposal

Edited to add — Submitted Rules Draft to ORR – NOT OFFICIAL YET: 2007-047 shared copy General Interpreter Rules – Resubmitted to ORR 11-18-13

I wonder who released it to the public. And I really have to wonder why, since that definitely would create confusion.

But at any rate, I am glad that the process for the rule making has been clarified to me, and hopefully to others as well. And by the way, an one page summary of the rule-making process can be found at: https://www.michigan.gov/documents/lara/Admin_Rules_Process_353271_7.pdf

 

Sexism Within The Deaf Community

I am a member of the Deaf Freethinkers group on Facebook – a forum where Deaf people come together to discuss politics, atheism, agnosticism, and religion. In the last several days, many women, including myself, have been outraged at the conduct by several men in the forum. Initially, we were mainly outraged only at one male, whom I shall call L.P.

This was his opening post in the Freethinkers group:

Deafie free-thinkers here? Are they born-again nudists in order to save $$$ at thrift stores Are men brave to keep out of women issues except for red hot sex on damp beach towels? Are we free-thinkers willing to fight for our lives for sake of religion? Hello, I am a free thinker after nine months in a womb and nobody tried to argue with a die-hard NRA nut. Game to test a scarred old warrior here? Let me know so I can prepare a dish of hemlock as a tribute to a philosopher who satisfied his bride on the wide open sidewalk. Many deafies call me Plato and please do ask me why as I am still clueless to date!

Now, it is obvious he was trying to be funny. However, it quickly got old for many of us women. The moderator, Kevin wrote:

I have no problem getting into women’s tissues xxxxx issues, but I do insist on clean dry towels.

L.P. replied with the following:

Do you, Kevin mean that you can bear babies inside your he-man body? Dry towels always get damp during sex, so what is the difference in the first place? Just move to another dry spot on that BIG beach towel, mind ya!

As a long time member of the Freethinkers forum, this was the first that I had seen an overly sexual exchange. It did not stop there though. L.P. then went to another post discussing the brain and how puritanical people used to be, when discussing sexual organs and the brain. It did not focus on women vs men until L.P. started posting remarks such as:

Some researchers say that sex is all in the brain and the brain controls all sexual functions exclusively, Wondering what means in man’s brain and in woman’s brain as it is said that a woman loses her mind during sex, hmm?

 

Some researchers also say that women’s brains are wired differently from men’s brains. That takes me to a subject why couples argue so much, huh?

The next comment that L.P. made irritated many women even further:

Whoa, hold your hosses, girls! I was just quoting what others had said here and there to see how you’d opine. Oh boy, I am accussed of thinking dirty and different about the lovely better halves when I am open to anything on the earth. Please just think me as a starter gun instead of a biased bastard. Thank you very much!

A woman, E. replied to L.P. with the following:

“The lovely better halves” and calling women “girls” are both things you should look at. Compliments like “better halves” aren’t compliments because they are essentialist. Grown women aren’t girls. And with that, I end my mini-lecture. Don’t respond to this right away. Read it and think.

Kevin, the moderator quickly came to L.P.’s defense:

To add a bit of context here, L.P. is probably older than any of us in the group, so he grew up in a time when relations between men and women were substantially different than they are now. Cultural views of women were pretty much “stay at home and look after the children”. And even for someone who is trying, you grow up in that atmosphere, it takes real work to shuck it off. So I take that into account with his humor.

Another woman, K. replied:

Nah. We’re freethinkers. We should expect more. I mean, I’m all for letting people have learning curves and all that, and I have no problem with giving L.P. some guidance and helping to figure it all out if he’s open to it. However, we should ask for more. We are freethinkers, damnit!

For a brief moment (several hours), the sexually charged remarks stopped. However, later on in the same thread, L.P. wrote (which came out of nowhere to me):

Kevin, your description of girls in past is correct for East Coast, but not for So. Cal and Arizona where I was raised. In winters girls wore chemises and thick quilted skirts with colorful woolen shawls and in summer deep tanned girls with no tan lines wore bosom bands and hot shorts. They surely signed scary stuff to us hapless boys. That is how it was in the past (over fifty years ago).

A woman, K.W.E replied with:

No less dressed than y’all nor less profane-signed than you guys, surely?

L.P.’s response was:

Oh girl; have you met old ASDB girls who have been very outspoken?

K.W.E:

Am I supposed to titter to be called a “girl”? I’m not that advanced yet in the years, even if I’m getting up there. With the exception of my female friends that’s just weird, so I guess not ever. I can’t imagine anyone calling Hilary Clinton a “girl”. :p

L.P.:

Do not blame me as I was raised in a family which always believe in girls who turn into women at age of 90 or later. My family girls will raise Cain if they are called beautiful women, not cute girlies!

This is the point where many of us women started to object to L.P.’s behavior. E. replied with the following two comments:

Context is everything. I don’t like terms of endearment from strangers, and most women with self-respect and dignity don’t expect or like them either.

 

You have to know me very well to call me “girl,” “honey” or anything else on that continuum.

Again, Kevin, the moderator of the Freethinkers group came to L.P’s defense:

Think of it as an opportunity to observe a vanishing species – a genuine atavism from the early 20th century. I’m going to make popcorn and watch.

K., a female later on replied with this directed to L.P:

it really very simple. If you are not related to that person or don’t have a close relationship with them, don’t use terms of endearment. Applies to both men and women. Easy rule, right?

L.P. replied with the two following comments:

Oh, terms of endearment — I was taught that girls and boys are proper formal terms while women and men are improper distasteful terms. Looks like that terms change from time to time like this. Do tell me why those terms are reversed, please. No endearment jazz, please!

 

For example, ladies and gentlemen are terms used in Great Britain and rare in the ole’ USA.

K. politely replied with:

Does it really matter? Things change. We all adapt.

That is when L.P. made this comment, which ultimately derailed the Freethinkers forum into a free-for-all.

Good, hey ole’ boys let’s go play poker while the ole’ girls chit-chat over bingo cards!

At that point, I got involved and I made the following statement to Kevin:

*smiles* Kevin … There is only so much sexism I will put up with in this group. And I believe I’m not alone in this regard. Please instruct Mr. L.P. to cease & desist, since he appears to only listen to males.

Kevin blew me off with this statement:

I don’t do instructions. L.P. has not attacked anyone personally. I’m not defending him, nor chastising him. I think from his perspective he’s teasing, and I’ll leave it to others to explain when they feel offended.

My response:

Plenty of us have already made it clear that we’re offended by his sexist remarks. :p This ain’t teasing. It’s trolling.

L.P. then started a new thread where he made an apology, but many of us women considered it half-assed and in some ways, backhanded. He then continued to make sexually offensive remarks, until numerous women (4 of us) shouted him down. It was at that point, that numerous men came to L.P’s defense. One of the males complained that people were starting to make rules for everyone, even when it wasn’t a good idea or not.

My response to this remark about too many rules was, “I’m sorry that you think outrage against disrespecting women creates too many rules. :p”

His response:

I never said outrage against dissing women creates too many rules. 

And twisting people’s words is simply looking for an argument.

I replied succinctly with the following:

Well Eric, I don’t think anyone was asking for more rules. Only for L.P. (and his supporters) to cease and desist his obnoxious, sexist behavior and justifications. So when you raise the issue of ‘too many rules’ in this context… *shrugs*

The males continued to qualify their comments, and defend L.P. This went on for two days. One male, Ian, showed up and blasted K. for telling L.P. to shut up.  and even compared what had transpired, to Mark Twain’s Huckleberry. Yes. He compared a conversation that took place TODAY, to a piece of classical literature. And when I pointed out that we were not characters in a book, but real human beings, another male sarcastically replied with, “Well, I’m a character in a book, but that’s for another thread.”

Another male, furious at K’s snarky remarks to L.P. and other males, made a motion for the group to boot K. Many of us, including male allies, came to K’s defense. But, none of the males made a motion to boot L.P.

In my conversations with several women about this, the feeling is unanimous. All of these events send a resoundingly clear message: it is okay for a man to debate vigorously, even boorishly… but a woman is NOT allowed to strongly state her opinions on the same level as men.

Many of us women feel that their opinions and positions are not welcome. So why bother continuing to comment and participate in the Freethinkers group?

In response to this ongoing controversy, a woman has already quit the Freethinkers group, and a new freethinkers group has been set up (with both women and true male allies). This is 2013. And all of this took place in a group full of men who we thought were very progressive in their thinking.

I think it is high time that the Deaf Community acknowledge and face that rampant sexism is a SERIOUS problem. These events in the Freethinkers group is stark evidence of that.

Trust Our Government?

Should we trust our government?

The State of Michigan is telling the MI Deaf Community to trust them and to wait and see what is in the Deaf Persons’ Interpreter Act’s Amended proposed rules and regulations. And we are being asked to support these rules and regulations, without knowing what exactly is in it.

Concerns

Diana McKittrick, the co-chair of the Rules and Regulations Committee (and former MI Deaf Assoc. president) wrote this in the MI Deaf Association group page, regarding concerns about the rules and regulations:

“Sounds like it. We don’t have a clue as to what the submitted rules look like. They are keeping DODHH on short leash while the upper management is changing the documents ( I am guessing) without our knowledge. We might be supporting a set of rules that have been changed and not what we want. Time for everyone to start calling JCAR , your elected reps as well as Mich dept of civil rights. Mike Zelly is chair of mDCR”

Diana McKittrick is not the only one who’s been making these kinds of claims.  The MI Deaf Association made similar allegations. (See their vlog on their concerns and allegations: https://www.facebook.com/groups/173219933284/permalink/10151473433633285/ )

And now a MDA member (with assistance from someone else other than me) is raising concerns about the VRI portion in the rules and regulations, which could very possibly conflict with the ADA, which supersedes state laws. We don’t know for sure if this is truly the case, since we don’t know what’s been altered in the latest version of the rules and regulations. But we’re being told by the government, ‘Wait and see.’ This is the same government who was alerted by the National Association of the Deaf, in its public comment last March, for the very same concerns regarding potential conflicts with federal law.

The NAD wrote under the sub-heading ‘Federal Law Supremacy’:

“The regulations cite the supremacy of federal law in a couple of places, but the NAD recommends clarifying this important point. Rule 393.5051(3) states that “[i]f there is a conflict between these rules and a local, state, or federal law, the interpreter shall comply with the law.” This is important but is almost undermined by Rule 393.5055(11) which states that “VRI interpreters must comply with all federal regulations established by the [United States] [D]epartment of [J]ustice under Title III of the Americans With Disability [sic] Act, as amended, and published on September 15, 2010, section 36.303 (f).”

The implication is that only VRI interpreters must comply with this provision of the Americans with Disabilities Act. It would strengthen the regulations if it stated that all interpreters in Michigan must comply with all federal regulations established by the Department of Justice under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and specifically cite section 36.104 which defines the phrase “qualified interpreter.”

Throughout the regulations, there is the common refrain of “if effective communication is achieved.” However, such caveats are not consistent in the regulations, and therefore it becomes necessary to state unequivocally that “effective communication” as it is defined by the ADA is paramount and overrides any assumption that an interpreter is qualified for a specific assignment if the deaf or hard of hearing individual does not have such effective communication. The NAD strongly recommends that a statement be made in the regulations that any interpreter who has the appropriate certificate or level must nevertheless remove himself or herself if it becomes clear that effective communication is not being achieved, or calls in a CDI if necessary to achieve effective communication.

Moreover, the ADA emphasizes “impartiality in the definition of “qualified interpreter” and this needs to be reflected throughout the regulations. For example, Rule 393.5051(4) states as follows: “A qualified interpreter may interpret for a proceeding for a co-worker or peer during organizational meetings, workshops, seminars, union discussions, when not a participant in the meeting, but shall not be compelled to interpret for a co-worker or peer during a disciplinary meeting, conflict resolution, or employment dispute. A neutral qualified interpreter shall be used at the discretion of the D/DB/HH person.” The problematic phrase in this particular rule is that the qualified interpreter “shall not be compelled” to interpret, when it should be prohibited outright rather than be subject to whether the interpreter wants to do it. It is recognized in the rule that the interpreter must be neutral or impartial, yet there is no outright prohibition as there should be.”

Have these issues raised by the NAD, been resolved in the latest version of the rules and regulations? We do not know. We’re being told, ‘Wait and see.’ We’re basically being told to trust our government.

Trust our government? Trust our government, after allegations from credible individuals that the MI Deaf Community’s concerns are not being heard? After concerns from numerous individuals about possible conflicts with federal law?

But we’re being told that we still should support rules and regulations that we do not know exactly says because, well, having a law is better than having no law, and we should trust our government.

I would like for everyone to recall that similar remarks were made about the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law.  And we all know the consequences of that were, and what happened to ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ in the end.

I do have to say that one thing that the MI Deaf Association said, amidst all of this confusion and lack of information, is absolutely right. The eyes of the national Deaf Community is on the State of Michigan.

MI Interpreter Proposed Rules and Regs

The Michigan Division on Deaf and Hard of Hearing last month finally released their proposed rules and regulations for the PA 204 Act, or known as the Deaf Persons’ Interpreters Act.

Unfortunately, many K-12 interpreters are opposing the proposed rules and regulations because they will be required to obtain a 4.0 (Advanced Intermediate) on the EIPA test, which I fully support. We need interpreters who sign and voice well, and I’m very disappointed with these interpreters who oppose the EIPA standard. The EIPA standard of 4.0 should stay! The Michigan Deaf Community should inform DODHH and the interpreters that the EIPA 4.0 needs to remain.

With that in mind, I have copied and pasted my public comment that I submitted to DODHH on March 8, 2013, listing my concerns with these proposed rules and regulations. There is far more to this than just the EIPA matter, and these issues deserve just as much attention as the EIPA. And these concerns are shared by many, hence the fierce backlash from many interpreters, unfortunately. (Here’s my DODHH Public Comment_redacted in PDF format, if you don’t want to read the copy and paste below).

Dear Director Emery:

My name is Jeannette K. Johnson and I am a Deaf Michigan citizen who’s proficient in American Sign Language. I have a Bachelor of Science degree in Public Administration from Grand Valley State University and this document is my public comment on the PA 204 2007 amendments’ proposed rules and regulations, pursuant to the PA 206 Michigan Administrative Procedures Act. As a consumer of interpreters for the deaf, while I overall support the PA 204 amendments, I have numerous concerns with the rules and regulations. They are the following:

Issue One:

Under the definitions section (R 393.5003 Definitions) it states the following:

  • (x) “Quality assurance certification” or “QA” means an interpreter certificate granted under the division’s quality assurance certification interpreter testing system, which will phase out.
  • (s) “Michigan BEI” or “MI-BEI” means the Michigan board for evaluation of interpreters test which this state leases from the state of Texas to evaluate interpreters in this state.

The definition of the Quality assurance certification, especially the portion about being phased out, seems to conflict with the PA 204 law, since it does not give any provisions for the QA certification to be phased out or even be replaced. A direct quote from the PA 204 regarding this matter:

393.508d Possession of Michigan quality assurance certification; expiration; renewal.

Sec. 8d. Any person possessing a Michigan quality assurance certification at the level of I, II, or III, on the effective date of the amendatory act that added this section, shall be considered a qualified interpreter for purposes of this act until that certification status expires.

Thus, resolution is needed. Furthermore, it should be noted that the Division has already phased out the QA prior to the promulgation of these rules, without any input from the public and stakeholders. A comprehensive investigation should be held and corrective action should be taken against these individuals whom (whether they’re still employed by the State or not) are responsible for this egregious conduct, and the QA reinstated with input from stakeholders. 

Issue Two:

The definition of the MI-BEI makes it explicit that it is leased from the State of Texas. However, in the PA 204 law, it does not make provisions for the State to use or recognize another State’s interpreting certification as its own. The PA 204 law appears to give the Division authority to recognize Michigan and national certifications only – not other states. Therefore, all mentions of the MI-BEI should be stricken, and all mentions of the QA being phased out should be stricken as well.

Issue Three:

Under the R 393.5021, it states the following:

  • (b) A certification from another state which has a reciprocal agreement with this state.

Again, the PA 204 law does not appear to give the Division authority to have a reciprocal agreement with another state. Furthermore, in my opinion, this is akin to Michigan having a reciprocal agreement with Texas for attorneys’ bar exams and licensure, which does not happen for a good reason. Each state is different, thus their certification and its procedures must reflect such reality. Therefore, I believe the Division is evading its duty in this matter, and R 393.5021 (b) should be stricken.

Issue Four:

Under the R 393.5032, it discusses the matter of reciprocity and states the following:

An applicant for certification by reciprocity shall do all of the following: …

(c) Hold a current, valid license or certificate in good standing to practice interpreting in a state with which this state has a reciprocal agreement.

(d) Have no report of disciplinary action pending in another state, …

The same issue arises as in Issue Three. The PA 204 law does not appear to give the Division authority to recognize other states’ certifications – only its own and national certifications. Thus the R 393.5032 in its entirety needs significant editing, (c) needs to be stricken and (d) needs to be edited.

Issue Five:

Under R 393.5022, it states the following:

  • (c) Endorsements are required to interpret for a proceeding involving a deaf-blind person, medical, and legal situations. Endorsement requirements shall be required 2 years from the effective date of these rules.

Endorsements are not defined in the Definitions section. Who provides the endorsements, and how will it be provided? This needs to be defined and clarified then R 393.5022 and R 393.5028 edited to accurately reflect the endorsements definition.

Issue Six:

The matter of R 393.5054, covers the matter of the interpreter practicum experience.

I do not believe that the student interpreter practicum should be regulated by the Division. Rather, I believe that student practicums should be regulated and monitored by the Michigan Department of Education. Thus, R 393.5054 should be stricken. If not stricken, then have the supervising interpreter hold either a state or national certification, and a minimum of a Bachelor’s degree along with a year of professional interpreting experience.

Issue Seven:

Under the R 393.5026, it states the following:

  • (3) Interpreters meeting the certification requirements of subrule (1) of this rule may interpret for a proceeding for children and youth only in the following settings, if effective communication is achieved: ….

I believe this exceeds the Division’s authority and should be instead regulated and monitored by the Michigan Department of Education. Thus, R 393.5026 (3) and its subsections should be stricken.

Issue Eight:

Under the R 393.5058, it states the following:

  • (4) A written waiver shall be initiated only by a D/DB/HH person and retained by the appointing authority with a copy sent to the division. ….
  • (5) All waivers must be completed on a division created waiver form.

This rule makes it clear that only a Deaf, Deaf-Blind or a Hard of Hearing person can fill out the waiver (which I’m fine with). However, is there a reason for the (5) regulation? Why cannot a D/DB/HH adult create their own waiver? These rules and regulations should only regulate interpreters, not us D/DB/HH. I believe this exceeds the Division’s authority, thus R 393.5058 (5) should be stricken.

Issue Nine:

I believe that the R 393.5094 conflicts with the PA 204 law, since the PA 204 law already outlines fees and does not give provisions for the Division to impose additional fees. Therefore, I believe that R 393.5094 should be entirely stricken.

Issue Ten:

Under the R 393.5052, it states the following:

  • (1) … NAD-RID “Code of Professional Conduct,” effective July 1, 2005 is adopted by reference. …

I recommend changing that line to: “Interpreters shall follow the most recent official version of the NAD-RID Code of Professional Conduct.”

Issue Eleven:

The R 393.5023, R 393.5024 and R 393.5025 discuss the minimum for each level. I have many, many concerns with these rules. I do not see how it is possible for anyone, deaf or hearing, to remember these extraordinarily nuanced restrictions for each level. This reeks of micromanagement. Furthermore, interpreters must be allowed to exercise their own independent judgment, so there should be a provision somewhere in this section regarding that. (It also should be noted that even in Texas these restrictions are only recommended, not codified). Instead, I would have the following in the respective section of the rules and regulations (phased in within 6 years of these rules and regulations taking effect):

  • A Level I interpreter must hold a minimum of an Associate’s degree from an accredited institution and interpret at the most, in non-complex, low risk environments. They may interpret in moderate and high risk environments only if partnering with a Level II, III or national certified interpreter, respectively.
  • A Level II interpreter must hold a minimum of a Bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution and interpret, at the most, in moderately complex environments such as government; employment; or finance. They may interpret in a high risk environment if partnering with a Level III or national certified interpreter or if they have obtained legal/medical interpreting endorsements from the State or NAD-RID.
  • A Level III interpreter must hold a minimum of a Master’s degree from an accredited institution, may interpret in all environments, including high risk environments such as medical or legal situations.
  • Nationally certified interpreters, with prudent judgment and compliance with the most recent, official version of the NAD-RID Code of Professional Conduct, may interpret in any environment.

I would also add definitions of low, moderate and high risk environments in the Definitions section (R 393.5003).

Issue Twelve: 

I question whether R 393.5026 (3) and its subsections fall under the authority and scope of the Division. I believe that rather, these detailed regulations on what educational interpreters may and may not interpret, falls under the domain of the Michigan Department of Education.

Issue Thirteen:

In the Part 4. Procedures for Testing section, I strongly feel that there should be a regulation stating that the Division shall establish a permanent QA committee that will be composed of, at the minimum, interpreter trainers and Deaf individuals who are fluent in both ASL and English, to monitor and review the QA certification process. This will ensure that the stakeholders are included in the process on an equitable basis. In the best case scenario, a NCCA* expert should be on the QA committee as well, or at the least, be a consultant with the DODHH and its QA committee.

*National Commission for Certifying Agencies.

Thank you for your time and attention to this matter.

Sincerely,

Jeannette K. Johnson

cc: Mary McLellan, Michigan Civil Rights Department
Michigan Representative MacGregor
Michigan Senator Jansen

EHDI FOIA Request Update

As some may recall, last March I sent a Freedom of Information Act requests to both the CDC and NCHAM about the EHDI’s 2012 Annual Meeting’s presentation and its selection process.

Last May, I got a response from the CDC regarding my two letters requesting the information. I originally was going to take the CDC’s responses to Huffington Post, and ask them for their assistance in this matter, but I unfortunately got side-tracked with other things. So, see below for the CDC’s responses.

For those who are unable to view the images for whatever reason, the CDC in their May 7 response, stated the following why my request was mainly denied:

  1. “Program staff inform me that CDC does not pay to advertise the EHDI meetings, but that web links to the meeting were provided on CDC web pages. These documents are enclosed.”
  2. “Program staff also inform me that CDC does not maintain the abstracts of rejected proposals for the EHDI annual meeting.
  3. “Under authority of the Freedom of Information Act at 5 U.S.C. 552(b)(6) and the Department’s implementing regulation at 45 CFR 5.67, the titles of rejected abstracts, which could lead to the identification of unsuccessful submitters and would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy, were deleted from these documents.”

In the May 22 response from the CDC, they again denied most of my request and stated the following:

“Enclosed please find a document pertaining to your request (1 page).

Program staff inform me that CDC did not place notices about a call for papers (abstracts) for the 2012 EHDI Annual Meeting.

Under the authority of the Freedom of Information Act at 5 U.S.C. 552(b)(6) and the Department’s implementing regulations at 45 CFR 5.67, the names of Abstract Review Committee members, the disclosure of which would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of privacy, have been deleted from these records.

Pursuant to the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act at 5 U.S.C. 552(b)(7)(F), which protects against endangerment of the safety or life of any individual, and the Department’s implementing regulation at 45 CFR 5.67, the names of the Abstract Review Committee members have been deleted form these records.

You can view both letters in the image gallery above, and I have also shown the 1 document enclosed in the May 22 letter. In the May 7 letter, aside from the printed web pages, they also enclosed a document that is also shown in the image gallery.

Ultimately, in my opinion, the message from NCHAM and the CDC is very clear. And that is:

You and the ASL Deaf Community can shove it.

I claim this is their message based on several things:

  1. The CDC admits that they did not issue a call for papers, nor really advertise about the EHDI Annual Meetings. So the question arises: how could a fair and transparent abstract selection process take place?
  2. You have to contend with their coded documents listing which presentations and posters to be exhibited at the 2012 EHDI Annual Meeting. What’s the purpose of sending me a coded document?
  3. And the most damning of all, the government destroyed records because they apparently believe those on the 2012 Abstract Review Committee, would be physically endangered. It’s almost laughable when you think about it.

In my opinion, NCHAM and CDC has clearly demonstrated that they do not truly want the Deaf Community to become involved or be even aware about EHDI and its process. These responses, in my opinion, lends tremendous credence to the notion that many of the Deaf Community’s concerns with EHDI are quite justified, and there is more to this than what meets the eye here.

The years of lack of transparency and answers to our questions; the overflow of irrelevant and confusing information that has nothing to do with our questions; the coded documents; the destruction of records so we can no longer ask for them… all point to something very disturbing within NCHAM and the CDC when it comes to the Deaf Community.

Unfortunately, the deadline for appealing these absurd responses has passed. And as a friend pointed out to me last spring, this is really far too big for one person to take on. I do not have the financial means or the resources to fight this, really.

I strongly believe that we, as a community, cannot allow this insult and dismissal to abide. For the sake of future generations of us Deaf, I hope things will change for the better within EHDI. But that will only happen if enough of us take a stand for what’s right. I now share this information with all of you in hopes for that happening. After all… like someone once said:

We are governed not by armies, but by ideas. –  Mona Caird

HuffPo Covers Fake ASL Music Video

Yesterday, the Huffington Post did a story on a music video that was supposedly done in American Sign Language. The video was done by Mark Nakhla, Greg Faxon And Sam Choi, doing a cover of Kayne West and Jay-Z’s ‘No Church In The Wild’.

Numerous Deaf people, including myself, who are either fluent or native ASL users, upon seeing this video are quite upset. The signing is barely comprehensible to us. It has been described as gibberish and babble. A few ASL signs can be glimpsed in the video, but for the most part, it is utterly incoherent. Mark Nakhla has defended this video by claiming that this video was using ASL glosses and this was an artistic interpretation of the song. He admits he uses some gestures, which is completely different than signs in a signed language. To be irrevocably clear: gestures =! sign. Anyone who would do some basic fact-checking would realize this.

Therefore, this brings up numerous questions. Why did Huffington Post cover a music video that claims to use American Sign Language, but is incomprehensible to fluent and native ASL users? Why didn’t they at least consult with ASL experts to verify that the video does use the language? Why doesn’t Huffington Post cover music videos that are done by Deaf persons, such as Rosa Lee Timm and LankyListman, but only those that are done by hearing people who are extremely poor in using ASL?

And why is it that when we complain about the misrepresentation and exploitation of our language, we’re either ignored or scolded for daring to object?

If an English singer decided to do a song in Spanish or any other language that is spoken with the voice, and they mangled the pronunciation of the foreign words, they would be met with wide-spread criticism, even when given room for ‘artistic interpretation’. And the criticism would be considered as valid and appropriate. Yet this is not the case when it comes to the usage of the Deaf people’s language, American Sign Language.

Why is that?

I can only conclude that there is no sincere respect for signed languages such as American Sign Language, and it is ultimately not considered a real language amongst the mainstream. This is despite decades of scholarly research confirming that indeed, ASL and other signed languages are genuine languages, just like spoken ones.

This is a saddening testimony to how ignored and oppressed the Deaf Community is, in my opinion. Our objections and opinions on issues that concern us, are simply brushed aside as if we do not truly matter.

Karl White & My FOIA Request

On March 23, 2012, I mailed out two FOIA requests, one under federal FOIA, and another under Utah’s, to the National Center of Hearing Assessment and Management at Utah State University. This was my letter below (without the letterhead containing my contact information). The only difference between the two letters were the citations of the applicable law that my requests were based upon.

National Center for Hearing Assessment and Management
Utah State University
2615 Old Main Hill,
Logan, Utah 84322

FOIA REQUEST

Dear FOIA Officer:

Please send me a copy of the following public records:

  • The titles and abstracts of submitted proposals that were rejected by any authority working with and/or for the 2012 Early Hearing Detection and Intervention [EHDI] Annual Meeting;
  • The list of the 2012 Abstract Review Committee members and whom the individual Abstract Review Committee members were representing;
  • The list of places, publications, media, etc., in which EHDI placed advertisements for the 2012 EHDI Annual Meeting;
  • The list of places, publications, media, etc., in which EHDI placed notices about call for papers to the 2012 EHDI Annual Meeting.

This request for information is made pursuant to the Utah Government Records Access and Management Act, UCA §§63-2-101 to -207, which requires you to respond in writing within ten (10) business days. Please advise me in writing of the estimated cost of this FOIA request, prior to filling this request, if it is estimated to be $20.00 or more.

If my request is denied in whole or part, I ask that you provide me with your written rationale for all deletions and/or exclusions, by reference to specific exemptions of the act. Please communicate with me by email, if you have questions regarding this request.

Thank you for your time and attention to this matter.

Sincerely,

Jeannette Johnson

On April 6, 2012, Dr. Karl White emailed me, and responded with the following:

Dear Jeannette Johnson

In your letters of March 23, 2012 you requested information about how proposals for presentations and posters that were presented at the 2012 National EHDI Meeting in St. Louis were solicited, reviewed and selected. In those requests you cited the Freedom of Information Act and the Utah Government Records Access and Management Act. I don’t believe any of the information you requested is subject to the provisions of those statutes, but I am happy to provide you with answers to most of your questions anyway because we want the procedures associated with the National EHDI Meeting to be open and transparent. We are always interested in finding ways to improve the EHDI Meeting and invite your suggestions.

Attached is information about the process for soliciting, reviewing and selecting presentations and posters at the EHDI Meeting that is based on a recent response to someone who made a similar request.

You also requested information about the the titles and abstracts of rejected proposals and the names of people who reviewed the abstracts. In the attached material I have indicated where you can find the names and affiliations of the members of the Planning Committee for the 2012 National EHDI Meeting (which is a different group of people from those who reviewed proposals). The names of the people who reviewed the proposals have not been published since this is a “blind” review process and I think it would be inappropriate for me to publish those names. If people who were on the review committee want to disclose their own names, they are certainly free to do that.

I am providing you with the titles of the rejected proposals because I believe this information was sent to you by CDC in response to your FOIA request to them. I hope you will not publish this information because it may be embarrassing to people whose proposals were rejected.

Please let me know if you have additional questions or suggestions.

Karl

I quickly responded to him with the following:

Dear Dr. White:

Are you the FOIA officer for Utah State University?  From my experience with prior FOIA requests to a variety of public institutions across the country, it is my understanding that if you are not, you are obligated to forward my FOIA request to the Utah State University’s FOIA officer.

However, given your response, particularly your refusal to quote the applicable part of the statue on why this is being denied, please provide me with the name of the FOIA officer so I can send my request to the officer directly.  Thank you for your time and attention to this matter.

Jeannette

Dr. White replied shortly after this with the following:

Dear Ms Johnson

I am not the FOIA Officer at Utah State University. A far as I know, Utah State University has not designated an FOIA Officer. I suggest you contact the University’s legal office or the office of the Utah State Attorney General if you would like additional information . Because your initial letter was sent to me, I did my best to answer your questions.

At that point, I decided do several things, and among one was to contact the Utah State University’s Provost and ask for the FOIA officer’s contact information. The Provost, after inquiring with the university’s attorney, replied within several hours with the information. And so, I sent Craig Simper, the university’s FOIA officer, my request. Since it was sent on April 6, the results of that FOIA request is still pending.

I have to point out several things here regarding Dr. White’s responses.  I did not address the FOIA request to Dr. Karl White. If you read my letter carefully (and it was on the envelope as well), it was addressed to ‘FOIA officer’.

And it appears to me that Dr. White did not forward my FOIA letter to the appropriate officials, or even inquire with his employers whether there was a FOIA officer. Otherwise, why would he claim that to his knowledge, there was no FOIA officer at Utah State University? Given all of this, I find this to be quite a bit unusual, especially when one considers the seriousness of FOIA requests.

Furthermore, one should note that despite Dr. White’s claims of cooperation and willingness to answer questions in his initial email, I had to contact the provost in order to obtain the FOIA officer’s contact information, after his refusal to to my request for said information.

I  also find it very interesting that that except for one item which I FOIA’ed both him and the CDC for (which I might add, haven’t gotten yet from the CDC. And nor is it the only thing I asked the CDC about), Dr. White gave me information that I did not ask for. So, why did Dr. White do this? This makes me wonder whether Dr. White would have been as “helpful” to every single person who made a similar request.

Then one has to contend with how Dr. White’s response to my FOIA was done. I have had my requests both approved and denied elsewhere in the past, and his email is not how you respond to a FOIA request in any shape or form. Why was the response done in this manner? Would have he responded in a similar manner to a hearing person?

(Edited to add: If you’re curious to see one of the 3 typical response to a FOIA request is, check out http://www.ita.doc.gov/ooms/FOIASampleLtr3.pdf and compare that to Dr. White’s response to me).

And last of all, what I find to be the most intriguing is Dr. White’s second to last line in his initial email. “I hope you will not publish this information because it may be embarrassing to people whose proposals were rejected.”

Would he make this kind of statement to a hearing person making a similar request? Would he even dream of making this kind of statement to a hearing blogger or reporter?

Given Dr. White’s overall conduct, I suspect that at the very least, he has something to hide. Especially when one notes that he’s essentially filibustering by giving me what I did not ask for. I wonder what the people at the CDC, the Health Resources Service Administration and our Congresspersons has to say about all of this, if they knew. Perhaps we all should go and find out, hmm?

At any rate, we should see within a few weeks, whether my suspicions are accurate.

To be continued…

Note: I’m not publishing the rejected titles until I get an official response (either a denial or approval with applicable information) from NCHAM and/or CDC on the entire content of my FOIA requests.