Interview with Sheri Ann Farinha, LEAD-K National Director

May 11, 2018

 

In the past two months, state governors in South Dakota and Georgia have signed LEAD-K bills into law, with Louisiana likely to pass it very soon.

 

LEAD-K is short for “Language Equality and Acquisition for Deaf Kids.

 

It is a nationwide campaign to address language deprivation in deaf children ages 0 to 5.

 

Statistics have shown a sizable percentage of them growing up without exposure to language, causing them to fall behind when they go into kindergarten.

 

The LEAD-K team seeks to change this by making it a law for children with hearing loss to be monitored on their language development from ages 0 to 5 with certain langauge benchmarks.

 

They also want assessment data that focuses on deaf and hard of hearing children, and for it to be available to stakeholders.

 

I will show you clips of my interview with Sheri Ann Farinha, who is the director of the LEAD-K national team. She will explain what motivated her to start this campaign several years ago.

 

Sheri: My role is to serve as National Director of the National LEAD-K Team. It comes back to my vision in 2010 when I served on the NAD Board as a secretary. I started to see more and more problems come up nationwide and I realized that part of the problem with the education system, on why changes were not happening in the way we wanted, to see ASL recognized on the same level as English, is because it wasn’t in the law as a language of instruction for deaf and hard of hearing kids.

 

That’s when I knew to put in my area of expertise, which is politics, legislation, and work by putting together an action plan to focus on where the problems really began. It starts with ages 0-5.  

 

Alex: Sheri said she was inspired by previous President Obama’s campaign — which relied on a nationwide, grassroots effort with state-level persons of contact and representatives.

 

The LEAD-K team looked at the U.S. map and identified various organizations and people they could work together to push for legislation.

 

[Map]

 

So far, six states have passed LEAD-K legislation. The first is California in 2015, then Hawaii and Kansas in 2016, and Oregon in 2017.

 

LEAD-K had a recent “hot streak” — with the South Dakota governor Dennis Daugaard, who is a CODA, signing legislation in March. This photo is from Patty Kuglitsch’s Instagram page.  

 

Most recently, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal signed a bill on Tuesday. This photo is by Sign1News, who did coverage of the event.  

 

Up next is Louisiana. The bill has been passed by the state Senate and is now pending a concurrence vote in the House, where it will go to the Governor John Bel Edwards’ desk, who has signaled he supports it.

 

I asked Sheri what makes the LEAD-K campaign so successful. She said it was very important to have parents, state associations, deaf organizations, and other groups involved.

 

Sheri: Get involvement from various representatives so everybody takes ownership of what they are trying to do. This is critical that everybody believes in what they are doing, that they understand the message clearly -- to get deaf kids a language. To put an end to language deprivation. That was the key point of the whole movement. And that’s why we are successful with legislation in six states, hopefully seven soon. It’s because legislators can see that it is a no-brainer. It’s a no-brainer what we are trying to do. That’s why every state that this bill passed has been unanimous. I don’t think people realize that. Democrats and Republicans, it doesn’t matter, they are 100% in favor through the entire process. The policy committee, the appropriations committee, the floor, both houses, 100% in favor of it. Not one opposed. So that should tell you something, it is powerful. That what we are doing is right.

 

Alex: Although LEAD-K can be considered a success with six states passed, there are more states that did not pass it — Michigan, Rhode Island, Mississippi, New Hampshire, West Virginia, Virginia, Missouri, Alabama, and Texas.

 

I asked Sheri what were the main reasons why they didn’t pass, what obstacles she faced.

 

Sheri: Few states have tried and when it did not pass,  they tried again, and it didn’t pass. It has nothing to do with the bill itself but more because of opposition from chapters of AGB.

 

To me that is very sad. To see the tactics they use, to flood legislators with calls. They show up and say “they are trying to take away my son’s right to speak, my son’s right to hear, my son’s right to get a cochlear implant, things that have nothing to do with the bill.

 

Nothing in it says ASL is required. But that’s what they tell legislators. So you can imagine when legislators, who have no idea about our issues, they get calls from speaking hearing parents who use hearing privilege, really -- and they make many calls with high anxiety, panic, saying, “Oh my God, this is horrible,” that’s when legislators pull back. That’s what is happening.   

 

Alex: Sheri said when states’ LEAD-K groups fail to push a bill, they will just roll up their sleeves and try the next year. Sheri encourages people to be proactive and to build relationships with legislators and community stakeholders, and even to reach out to the local AGB chapter to build relationships, but she said not all will be willing to work with you.

 

Sheri: The team will roll up their sleeves and be ready to try again. Even after two years, the team wants to try again. Every time, we provide support and encouragement for them to contact the opposition, invite them to meetings, sit down with them.

 

In the case of Virginia, they did, and the chapter president turned it down, was very rude and nasty in their approach. Every time. If you see the correspondence back and forth, it’s really ugly. So they say they have “defeated” us. That’s the attitude and arrogance. They make it about themselves, not about deaf children. To me, that is horrible. It is horrible. We have a group that will just be persistent in saying, “they are trying to make ASL a requirement in the bill” and other things. But really, just read the bill. Read the bill. There’s nothing in there, there’s no hidden agenda. In the bill it’s very clear, it’s very simple. It is about language acquisition towards English reading and writing skills. It’s simple. Whatever language you use, give babies a language, period.  

 

Alex: I asked her on how the LEAD-K team was able to empower so many different Deaf communities nationwide.

 

Alex: The states team, all of them, regardless if the bill passed or not, they all work hard. All of them -- many of them came to our summit two years ago. We’ll have another one soon. We train them on different ways to work with legislators and build relationships. How to get stakeholders involved across the board. A neat thing was to see them go back, we provide them with the tools, and they are empowered to do it themselves. We provide technical support, but they do all the work. And of course when they have questions, no matter the time of the day, all night, we often get texts from different states asking what they should do about this or that, I tell them to push forward and do what it takes to be successful, because they know what they are doing is right. And that is the beauty of seeing that they did it in their own state, with their team of people, they feel good and they’re ready for the next one. That’s the best thing you can ask for. That’s what I really want to see. To wake up Deaf America, to go and do it. We have a lot of work to do.

 

Alex: Sheri said they plan to have a LEAD-K summit in October in Sacramento. So if you are interested in learning more about this, you can plan on that.

 

Here are some final words from Sheri.

 

Sheri: If we all can take that first step together, we can get there. Leadership doesn’t have to be the same person over again and again. People can take turns. That’s why state associations, organizations, and individual communities in every state are very important. Stakeholders are key, with parents. Over and over again I will say that, with parents. And the system, teachers, EHDI folks, everybody. There’s much more we can do together. Divided, we fall. Thank you, bye.  

 

Alex: Thank you for your time, Sheri. This is amazing work. You can support them by donating money to them at their LEAD-K website or by getting involved with your state-level LEAD-K group.

 

There are 44 more states to go.

 

Patty Kuglitsch’s Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/p/BgK6pVhl4pp/?taken-by=pattykuglitsch

 

Sign1News’s Video Post: https://www.facebook.com/sign1news/videos/vb.203078343495824/437216860081970/?type=2&theater

 

LEAD-K Website: http://www.lead-k.org/

 

Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/ASL4DeafKids/

 

LEAD-K “Live Binder” With Information on States’ Bills: https://www.livebinders.com/play/play?id=2106355

 

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