Jessica Sergeant had mixed feelings when Koko the gorilla passed away as it triggered emotions about her own experiences growing up Deaf while being denied sign language. Here's her perspective.
Last week, Koko the gorilla passed way. While her death was sad, I couldn’t help but have mixed feelings about it. I couldn’t pinpoint what these feelings were until I read Stuart Soboleski’s written piece on Koko’s death. This is when I finally understood and connected my feelings. I’ll be discussing excerpts of Stuart’s thoughts. Be sure to pause to read them thoroughly.
I did not have access to American Sign Language (ASL) until I was 11 years old. When I was 6 years old, I was identified as significantly language delayed and this continued for 5 more years. It was not okay for me to access ASL for my language development, but it was allowed for Koko, a gorilla?! Deaf babies are still being denied access to ASL. I’m FURIOUS about this!
In September 2016, the World Federation of the Deaf released its Position Paper on the Language Rights of Deaf Children. It stated that Deaf children really need sign language for language acquisition. Just 1 out of 4 parents of Deaf children sign and 98% of Deaf children do not have access to education in sign language. This is a major factor of language delays in Deaf children, accurately known to the Deaf community as language deprivation. Deaf babies cannot access sign language, but Koko, a gorilla, can?
When I was about to enter kindergarten, my parents wanted to enroll me into a school for the Deaf, just 45 minutes away, but it was delayed for another 7 years. Why? So-called "integration" policies. I was robbed of 7 years of schooling among my Deaf peers and being immersed in ASL that would have facilitated my language acquisition age appropriately. Again, a gorilla was allowed ASL, yet I was denied it for 11 years. That’s still happening with Deaf babies today.
A gorilla has more language rights than Deaf children?