Why is a deaf singer on America's Got Talent getting death threats?

Mandy Harvey, a deaf musician and singer, also a top-10 finalist of America's Got Talent, has been receiving death threats from unexpected quarters — the deaf community, according to a news report published by BBC News. 

The cause of the anguish? Promotion of oralism.  

“I used to get some pretty strongly-worded letters and death threats,” Harvey explained in her interview to the network. “I got a lot of backlash from certain people in that community because I was promoting oralism.”

For those who don't know, oralism is the practice of teaching deaf people to use speech-skills and lip-reading instead of using the sign language. The term 'oral' is a derogatory term for the deaf community.

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

"It's like saying, 'You're not one of us.' Although some deaf people use it to describe themselves, I wouldn't call anyone oral out of the blue and because I can communicate with speech as well as sign, I've had it said to me, which has taken me aback," he explained in his interview with BBC News.

In his opinion, Harvey's case is demonstrating the 'ugly side of our community'. He explained: "Even though she sings, it doesn't mean that she hasn't got a foot in the deaf community".

“When you’re doing something like music and singing, it can be frowned upon because we’re supposed to be encouraging ASL (American Sign Language) only,” Harvey said. 

Harvey, who gained worldwide attention after her stint in the talent show, had gradually lost her hearing as a result of the connective tissues disorder Ehlers-Danlos syndrome which rendered her deaf by the time she was 19 years old and starting college.

She explained what had happened to her in her audition round. “I was sitting there, waiting for the test to start, and I’m 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,” Harvey revealed.

Even before losing her hearing, Harvey was knee-deep in music and was always drawn to the stage. 

Harvey didn’t reveal she was deaf right away on the NBC reality show, where she performed original songs and finished fourth in the finals. “I really wanted to change the idea of what is possible and to show that ‘deaf can’ and what better place to do that than on national television?” she said. “If it hacks off a couple of people, well it’s encouraging a heck of a lot more, so they can just get over it.”

Harvey performs barefoot so she can feel the vibrations of the rhythm, and she keeps eye contact with fellow musicians to signal starting and stopping points.

"Losing my hearing was always my biggest fear, so what’s the worst that can happen, sing the wrong notes?” she said. “Who cares, it’s not going to kill you. There have been a couple of times I’ve started the song in the wrong key. We stop the song, we all laugh together and we start the song again, and we go for it." she conceded.

Watch her audition round here:

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Tarunika Rajesh


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