Deaf Student Allowed To Enter Speech Contest

By Debra Viadero — November 25, 1992 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

A deaf high school student from Rhode Island has won the right to participate in a national speech contest sponsored by the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

Shannon Merryman, a 16-year-old 10th-grade student from Bristol, R.I., challenged the veterans’ group over a rule requiring participants in its annual Voice of Democracy contest to submit audiotapes of their speeches. Students who participate in the contest must write and present speeches on democratic themes.

Ms. Merryman, whose deafness makes her speech difficult to understand, asked instead that she be allowed to submit a videotape of herself making her speech in sign language.

The veterans’ organization initially refused her request, expressing concern that a visual presentation would give her an unfair advantage over other contestants.

With the deadline approaching for the competition at her school, Ms. Merryman pressed the issue by filing a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Providence on Nov. 10. The suit was quickly settled, however, after Ms. Merryman and her parents and the veterans’ group agreed that Ms. Merryman could use an interpreter to make the audiotape.

“I think the V.F.W. and anybody else that limits deaf people should change their rules,’' Ms. Merryman said in a telephone interview during which her mother, Elaine, acted as an interpreter.

‘An Equal and Fair Basis’

Elaine Merryman said her daughter, who lost her hearing at age 2 as a result of spinal meningitis, has attended regular schools, to one degree or another, since the 4th grade. At Bristol High School, where she now attends school, Shannon Merryman uses a sign-language interpreter for her academic classes.

Stephen VanBuskirk, a spokesman for the V.F.W., said the legal action caught the organization by surprise.

“It’s the first time this has ever come up,’' he said.

Now in its 45th year, the contest attracts more than 150,000 participants annually who compete for approximately $2 million in scholarships and awards.

“The judges were just not sure they could judge her against other entries,’' Mr. VanBuskirk said, “and we wanted to make sure her participation was on an equal and fair basis.’'

He said the dispute has prompted the group to review the program’s bylaws to “make sure it’s accessible to anyone.’'

Shannon Merryman said she plans to continue her efforts next year to persuade the organization to allow her to submit a videotape.

“Sign language is my language,’' she said. “My eyes are my ears and my hands are my voice.’'

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the November 25, 1992 edition of Education Week as Deaf Student Allowed To Enter Speech Contest

Commenting has been disabled on effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
School & District Management Webinar
Ensuring Continuity of Learning: How to Prepare for the Next Disruption
Across the country, K-12 schools and districts are, again, considering how to ensure effective continuity of learning in the face of emerging COVID variants, politicized debates, and more. Learn from Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent
Content provided by Class
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Schools Get the Brunt of Latest COVID Wave in South Carolina
In the past few weeks, South Carolina has set records for COVID-19 hospitalizations and new cases have approached peak levels of last winter.
4 min read
Two Camden Elementary School students in masks listen as South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster talks about steps the school is taking to fight COVID-19, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021, in Camden, S.C. McMaster has adamantly and repeatedly come out against requiring masks in schools even as the average number of daily COVID-19 cases in the state has risen since early June. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)
Education More States Are Requiring Schools to Teach Native American History and Culture
Advocates say their efforts have gained some momentum with the nation’s reckoning over racial injustice since the killing of George Floyd.
3 min read
A dancer participates in an intertribal dance at Schemitzun on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation in Mashantucket, Conn., Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. Connecticut and a handful of other states have recently decided to mandate students be taught about Native American culture and history. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
Education Judge's Temporary Order Allows Iowa Schools to Mandate Masks
A federal judge ordered the state to immediately halt enforcement of a law that prevents school boards from ordering masks to be worn.
4 min read
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks to reporters following a news conference, Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, in West Des Moines, Iowa. Reynolds lashed out at President Joe Biden Thursday after he ordered his education secretary to explore possible legal action against states that have blocked school mask mandates and other public health measures meant to protect students against COVID-19. Reynolds, a Republican, has signed a bill into law that prohibits school officials from requiring masks, raising concerns as delta variant virus cases climb across the state and schools resume classes soon. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Education Hurricane Ida Deals New Blow to Louisiana Schools Struggling to Reopen
The opening of the school year offered teachers a chance to fully assess the pandemic's effects, only to have students forced out again.
8 min read
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021. Louisiana students, who were back in class after a year and a half of COVID-19 disruptions kept many of them at home, are now missing school again after Hurricane Ida. A quarter-million public school students statewide have no school to report to, though top educators are promising a return is, at most, weeks away, not months.
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021.
John Locher/AP