One of most frequent questions I'm often asked is how can you support families without bias? I've come across several professionals in the field who give me incredulous looks when I describe the Hands & Voices philosophy:
"Hands & Voices is a nationwide non-profit organization dedicated to supporting families and their children who are deaf or hard of hearing, as well as the professionals who serve them. We are a parent-driven, parent/professional collaborative group that is unbiased towards communication modes and methods. Our diverse membership includes those who are deaf, hard of hearing, and hearing impaired and their families who communicate orally, with signs, cue, and/or combined methods. We exist to help our children reach their highest potential."
Support families without bias? they exclaim. That's impossible! Everyone is biased!
Yes, we all have our personal belief systems, but we cross over into bias when we have a pre-determined outcome in mind for a family when working with them. When we operate with an agenda, no one wins.
In the four years that I've been involved with Hands & Voices, I've had the chance to meet a variety of families who have chosen a variety of modes and methods of communication with their deaf and hard of hearing children. It is this varied and wide exposure that leads to the ability to support families without bias because we've seen families with well-adjusted, successful kids in every communication mode. If you come from only one perspective, it is difficult to see the value in other modes/methods of communication. I have grown and changed my own perspectives as I've worked with families making a variety of choices. The bottom line that families have to face: Can I communicate with my child? Does my child have the ability to turn his thoughts into language and the ability to communicate that?
With infants now being diagnosed with hearing loss on their second day of life, parents have the ability to seek out options and talk with other parents, professionals and deaf/hard of hearing adults without having to quickly make a decision about communication methods/modes. However, in real life practice, especially in the state of Illinois, what's really happening is that parents are referred to a pediatric audiologist and the state's early intervention system which has no control over the bias of information that goes out. Parents are still heavily in contact with professionals in the decision-making stage of their infant's life. In states like Colorado, Wisconsin and Michigan, the early intervention programs have a mix of professionals, parents and deaf/hard of hearing adults under a program called Guide By Your Side.
We also have the current practice of flooding parents with a variety of options and saying to them, "It's your choice, pick one." Parents are at the beginning stage of dealing with feelings, inexperience and a whole host of other factors, some factors which will only reveal themselves with time.
When parents have a good support system in a safe arena, they're going to be open to questions and exploring options and most importantly, looking at their child's perspective of the journey as well. We stress this at Hands & Voices-- that it's not just the parent's journey, it's the child's journey as well. Look at where your child is leading you-- no decision is set in stone and you have the option to make different decisions as your child grows.