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A few years ago, Naomi Caselli, a Boston University Deaf Studies researcher, stumbled upon her father’s faded class picture from the 1960s. He stood in the back, a suited adolescent in a sea of elementary schoolchildren. Caselli assumed he was a teacher’s aide.
He wasn’t. Her father had been held back.
He had lagged behind his peers for a specific reason. Caselli’s father, Raymond Kenney, is profoundly deaf in both ears. He was in a class for deaf and hard-of-hearing children, but they didn’t teach sign language there. Instead, teachers spent years coaching him to speak using physical and visual cues. Over and over, they sounded out words like ‘ball,’ repeating ‘bah-bah-bah’ while holding his hand at their mouths to show him how to mimic the vibrations. “They really wanted him to speak,” says Caselli.