Psychologist discusses life of the deaf

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On Thursday, September 28, the Union College Psychology Department Speaker Series and Honors Colloquium welcomed Robert Pollard ’80, Ph.D. for his lecture, “The Misguided Search for a Psychology of the Deaf.” Professor Pollard is currently the Associate Dean of Research at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf and Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Rochester School of Medicine. He has written or co-authored over 100 publications and has made 15 films in American Sign Language. Professor Pollard began his lecture by criticizing the idea of a “psychology of the deaf,” calling the concept “silly.” He believes a psychology for a whole diverse group of people is impossible. He argued the concept is as ridiculous as having a psychology of a group of people based on “race.” Professor Pollard also discussed the negative stereotypes associated with being deaf. He noted that these beliefs have existed for millennia. He stated that Aristotle believed “deaf people cannot think and their education is pointless.” Professor Pollard explained how this misguided belief was widely accepted for many years and that, due to these negative ideas, most deaf individuals did not receive an education. Professor Pollard explained that with the creation of numerous deaf schools came an intense argument over how to teach deaf individuals. The debate centered between two schools of thought: oralism and sign language. Oralism is communication through lip-reading and speech, while sign language is communication by use of hands and facial expressions. However, Professor Pollard explained that today, most people accept the sign language approach as the most effective. Professor Pollard also noticed that with improvement in deaf education, discrimination towards members of the deaf community increased. However, this discrimination became less common towards the end of the 20th century. Professor Pollard emphasized the importance of a parent’s role in a child’s early  education and noted that many parents of deaf children are unable to use sign language, making communication between the parents and their children almost impossible. Professor Pollard argued that an increase in continuous communication would benefit the lives of numerous deaf individuals by raising academic abilities, independence, self- esteem, social cognition and their ability to contribute to society.

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