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America's Got Talent singer sent death threats from deaf community

From BBC - November 14, 2017

Deaf singer Mandy Harvey made headlines around the world after being put straight through to the finals of America's Got Talent. But when she first took to the stage, she received death threats from within the deaf community for promoting a "hearing" activity.

It was two months ago that Harvey sang live on prime-time NBC television across the United States. Barefoot and nervous, she had overcome a series of traumas to get there.

"I used to get some pretty strongly-worded letters and death threats," she reveals. "I got a lot of backlash from certain people in that community because I was promoting oralism."

Oralism is the name given to the practise of educating deaf people to use speech and lip-reading rather than sign language.

It was first encouraged at a conference in 1880, but despite the near-ban for almost 140 years, sign languages developed across the world, including British Sign Language, and became part of Deaf culture - always written with a capital D.

The shortened term, oral, is now sometimes used to refer to deaf people who are thought to favour the hearing world.

Harvey, who is from Cincinnati, Ohio, says: "When you are doing something that is living inside the hearing world, such as music and singing, it can be frowned upon because we are supposed to be encouraging ASL (American Sign Language) only."

Charlie Swinbourne, editor of deaf blog The Limping Chicken, says the term "oral" can also be used as an insult within the deaf community.

"It's like saying 'you are not one of us'. Although some deaf people use it to describe themselves, I would not call anyone oral out of the blue and because I can communicate with speech as well as sign, I have had it said to me, which has taken me aback."

He calls Harvey's experience an example of the "ugly side of our community" and says "even though she sings, it does not mean that she has not got a foot in the deaf community".

Harvey gradually lost her hearing as a result of the connective tissues disorder, Ehlers-Danlos syndrome and by the time she was 19, having just started college, she was legally deaf.

Prior to that, she says, "music was my life". She had been accepted into Colorado State University to study Music Education but, within a month, that "happy dream-bubble burst" when she had to sit a dictation test and chart every note played on the piano.

"I was sitting there, waiting for the test to start, and I am looking around the classroom and all these pencils are moving and everybody starts getting up and handing in their papers and one by one they left and I was just sitting there."

'The pigeons told me to shoplift'

Mandy joined the BBC Ouch team podcast to talk about how she tours successfully with a live band when she ca not hear.

And bipolar comedy songster Chris Smith reveals how he performs when he ca not remember lyrics and gives the team a rendition of his original song, 'The pigeons told me to shoplift'.

Listen to the 'I knew that going deaf would kill me' podcast here.

She was given a letter that day asking her to leave the programme and as she walked back to her halls a biker collided with her. He had been shouting at her to move, but she had not heard a thing.

"He smashed into me and I broke my hearing aids," she says. "I am sitting there and I am looking at my hearing aids and looking at this piece of paper and seeing the situation and I broke. That was the moment that it was real."

It felt that a future in music would now be impossible and the disappointment began to take its toll.

"I made the mistake of associating my entire identity with one single dream, and when that dream died I very much felt like I died. I became a husk of a person for a while."

Harvey put her energy into integrating with the deaf community but when her Dad suggested she give music another go, she agreed, just to prove a point.

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