‘Deaf’ should be capitalized

n I am writing to address an editorial decision made by The Daily Free Press in the recent letters regarding American Sign Language as a foreign language. I was shocked to see that the word “deaf” in Maelyn Entwistle’s letter (“Deaf studies is important,” April 1, pg. 11) had been changed from capital “D” “Deaf” to lowercase “d” “deaf.” I spoke with Editor Joshua Karlin-Resnick to explain that “deaf” carries an encoded message based on the capitalization of the “d”: When a lowercase “d” is used, “deaf” refers to audiological status, whereas a capital “D” refers to the active culture and community of (capital “D”) deaf people. The distinction between the two was raised in the 1970s and is still used in the fields of ASL research and deaf studies, though some feel it should be capitalized in all cases.

I do not fault The Daily Free Press for the changes in Entwistle’s letter; however, the bias against (capital “D”) deaf people as a linguistic and cultural group was blatantly apparent during my subsequent conversations with Karlin-Resnick, and with The Daily Free Press’s choice to continue printing letters with the lowercase “d” “deaf.”

I have been in touch with some of the authors, and learned that the word “deaf” should have been capitalized in the letters by Entwistle, Elizabeth Taylor (“CAS must accept ASL for credit,” April 2, pg. 6), Deborah Perry (“University must accept ASL,” April 5, pg. 7) and Becky Reuker (“ASL classes worthy of language credit,” April 5, pg. 6) (to see this letter unabridged, go to These authors were not discussing audiological differences, so the pathological label of lowercase “d” “deaf” is inappropriate. The letters reflected the authors’ understanding that (capital “D”) deaf people and their language deserve the same respect as other cultural groups.

Despite my explanation of the cultural significance of the capital “D,” I was told the Free Press would not be able to maintain the capitalization due to its use of the Associated Press style. “Deaf” could not be capitalized as it would make it “stand out,” and appear more important than other groups. However, other cultures are recognized with a capital letter in the Free Press.

The Free Press has made its bias clear; they do not view (capital “D”) deaf people as the cultural group that they are. This demonstrates the Free Press’ conclusion that (capital “D”) deaf people do not deserve the same rights and respect as other cultural groups. It shocks me that this decision was made despite several letters printed in the Free Press making claims of discrimination and ignorance at Boston University, and despite my phone calls explaining the appropriate protocol.

The only valid excuse the editors made was that the capitalization of the “d”s was not consistent with AP style. It is an absolute outrage to see The Daily Free Press more concerned with conforming to style than with respecting cultural groups. Several Boston organizations plan to make a stand against both the BU policy against ASL as a foreign language, as well as the ignorance of the BU community. We sincerely hope to see a large turnout at our events so the university community can learn more about a people they only think they understand. I hope to see Karlin-Resnick and his editorial board in the front row.

Becky Williams SED ’05 Boston University Deaf Studies Club President

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