Deaf Student Allowed To Enter Speech Contest

Article Tools
  • PrintPrinter-Friendly
  • EmailEmail Article
  • ReprintReprints
  • CommentsComments

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.''

Vol. 12, Issue 12

Notice: We recently upgraded our comments. (Learn more here.) If you are logged in as a subscriber or registered user and already have a Display Name on, you can post comments. If you do not already have a Display Name, please create one here.
Ground Rules for Posting
We encourage lively debate, but please be respectful of others. Profanity and personal attacks are prohibited. By commenting, you are agreeing to abide by our user agreement.
All comments are public.

Back to Top Back to Top

Most Popular Stories





Sponsor Insights

Free Ebook: How to Implement a Coding Program in Schools

Successful Intervention Builds Student Success

Effective Ways to Support Students with Dyslexia

Stop cobbling together your EdTech

Integrate Science and ELA with Informational Text

Can self-efficacy impact growth for ELLs?

Disruptive Tech Integration for Meaningful Learning

Building Community for Social Good

5 Resources on the Power of Interoperability from Unified Edtech

New campaign for UN World Teachers Day

5 Game-Changers in Today’s Digital Learning Platforms

Hiding in Plain Sight - 7 Common Signs of Dyslexia in the Classroom

The research: Reading Benchmark Assessments

Shifting Mindsets: A Guide for Training Paraeducators to Think Differently About Challenging Behavior

All Students Are Language Learners: The Imagine Learning Language Advantage™

Shifting Mindsets: A Guide for Training Paraeducators to Think Differently About Challenging Behavior

How to Support All Students with Equitable Pathways

2019 K-12 Digital Content Report

3-D Learning & Assessment for K–5 Science

Climate Change, LGBTQ Issues, Politics & Race: Instructional Materials for Teaching Complex Topics

Closing the Science Achievement Gap

Evidence-based Coaching: Key Driver(s) of Scalable Improvement District-Wide

Advancing Literacy with Large Print

Research Sheds New Light on the Reading Brain

Tips for Supporting English Learners Through Personalized Approaches

Response to Intervention Centered on Student Learning

The Nonnegotiable Attributes of Effective Feedback

SEE MORE Insights >