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February 15, 2005

Retired U of L professor publishes memoir

From: Louisville Cardinal - USA - Feb 15, 2005


February 15, 2005

After retiring from more than 30 years of teaching English at the University of Louisville, Dr. Robert Miller reflected on his life and early childhood in producing the book "Deaf Hearing Boy."

The book describes Miller's experiences as one of four hearing children of deaf parents. He began to work on the book as a way to remember his childhood. It started as a work of fiction and took its current form in the summer of 2004. After a few reviews from friends, Miller sought out an agent and "Deaf Hearing Boy" became the first book published by Gallaudet University Press. Gallaudet University, located in Washington, D.C., is the premier university for the hearing impaired.

Miller's parents are still alive and had reserved feels about the book at first, he said. Miller said that they were apprehensive about the book because it details their lives and discusses some hard times the family went through. But, he said, everyone was more at ease after the book was published.

To date, the book has met much acclaim. The book received five-star ratings on A Courier-Journal review praised the book equally, stating, "Miller has written a moving and loving memoir. The book is a testament to the parents who, while deaf, instilled in him a love of language and an empathetic heart."

According to a review in The Lexington Herald-Leader, "Miller finds liberation, it seems, in at last being able to analyze his parents' individual personalities, their weaknesses as parents and their many hardships, while celebrating their resolve to survive."

A reflection of ASL –– past and present

Miller's book reflects on the change in attitudes towards educating deaf children in the United States. Miller said his parents were taught the oral method, better known as lip reading.

Seen before as a code rather than a language, American Sign Language now holds a more substantial role with current linguists and is a part of the modern language program at U of L.

Miller said that for children of deaf adults, things are probably much different because of how the public views deafness. "My parents did not have the advantages of an enlightened system of education that was informed by a lot of research," he said. Many of these developments are likely to continue to change the experiences for the hearing impaired over the next 50 years.

Currently, there is a growing trend toward genetic research and cochlear implants, a surgical option that helps correct hearing problems. Timothy Owens, a professor with the Interpretive Training Program at Eastern Kentucky University and U of L, said there is a moral issue on the use of the implants.

"The Deaf Community [does] not oppose the use of cochlear implants on adults who can [decide whether or not they want the device]," he said. "[The community] strongly feels that children who are not ready to make these kind of decisions should not [receive the implants] until they are well-informed of what this technology does to [the] body."

Miller said the push for implants is largely because the average person is unaware that they carry the genetic potential to give birth to a deaf child.

He also said that fixing the problem with surgery instead of teaching sign language is a growing fear among the deaf community. "Many deaf people feel very threatened by this, because they see this as a loss of their culture," Miller said. He argued that deafness should be seen as an identifier of people, not a handicap.

Like any language, sign language takes on dialects from country to country. Miller said that when he watches sign language from other countries he cannot always understand the signs. Part of the evolution of ASL is its standing as part of the bilingual experience. Miller said that in deaf education today, deaf children learn a blend of communication –– both sign language and verbal skills.

Miller recalled his grandparents' insistence that his parents not use sign language. He said his parents instead used "a grotesque pronouncing of words" to learn speech reading.

In recent years, advancements have been made in deaf communication, such as e-mail, fax machines and digital/wireless technology.

"The Deaf Community is embracing technology," Owens said. "We now have communication systems that do not require auditory or vocalization."

Miller is presently working on another book and has taught part-time at U of L since his retirement in 2003.

© 2005 The Louisville Cardinal Online