The problem is the use of “2 Million Strong” in the video title as if it were a fact. I question Lauren’s use of that figure in the attempt to make the Deaf population sound bigger when it is not. The claim of “2 million ASL users” or Deaf people in the United State came from Harlan Lane and Ben Bahan:
“ASL is the language of a sizeable minority. Estimates range from 500,000 to two million speakers in the U.S. alone. There are also many speakers in Canada. Compared to data from the (U.S.) Census Bureau, which counts other language minorities, ASL is the leading minority language in the U.S. after the "big four": Spanish, Italian, German, and French.” (Harlan Lane, Robert Hoffmeister, and Ben Bahan in A Journey into the Deaf World. San Diego, Calif.: Dawn Sign Press, 1996, p.42)Although Lane mentioned “speakers,” this was not clarified exactly on the status of what constitute as ASL “speakers” in the United States. Was it to mean Deaf people who are native ASL signers? The range of 500,000 to 2,000,000 speakers is a sizeable jump in numbers - an order in magnitude jump. We can easily choose to discount the possibility of having 2,000,000 ASL (fluent and Deaf) speakers in the United States. Or we can blindly accept this large range without further questions, however. The existence of 2,000,000 “speakers” is highly doubtful and most likely an overblown (way, way overblown) one according to Thomas E. Allen in his 1994 Gallaudet Research Institute website on the number of native ASL signers in the United States as well as my own 14 page research into this population question I did a few years ago which I will put some of it in my blog here.
Now, if we take a look at what the current Deaf population in the United States might be like in a more pragmatic approach one could see how the 2 million Deaf population figure used is likely to be an overblown one. If the 50 largest cities in the United States have an average of 40,000 Deaf people in each city (not including surrounding suburban areas), noting the fact that the top 50 largest populated cities have over 1,000,000 people (2000 U.S. Census Bureau population estimates), this would come out to 2,000,000 Deaf people exactly. Now, name a single city in the United States of over 1 million people that have the potential to have 40,000 Deaf people. If you already figured it out you may have realized that there are only a few possible places that may have a Deaf population close to that size. Some of the largest concentrations of Deaf people are in some of the largest cities such as New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Atlanta, Miami, and so on rather than in some city with barely a million or so people. To make matters worse, there are very little data from each state on Deaf population counts.
Most states have a deaf and hard of hearing population count with very little references concerning the Deaf (ie culturally deaf) population. In the city of Chicago, for example, there is an estimated number of 26,000 Deaf people out of 2,900,000 persons according to the State of Illinois Deaf and Hard of Hearing Commission. This Deaf population represents 8.9% of the total population in the city of Chicago. Even for the city of Chicago, it could not even come with a 40,000 Deaf population count.
(see http://www.idhhc.state.il.us/familyInfo/demographics.htm )
Then we have the Pennsylvania census. According to the 2000 U.S. Census count for Pennsylvania, the state had a population of 12,281,000 persons. Statistics on people with hearing losses taken in 2002 conducted by the SHHH chapter in Pennsylvania are as follows:
Total number of people with hearing loss in state = 1,221,914 (9.9%)
Number of people who are prelingually or culturally deaf = 21,820 (0.2%)
Number of people who are hard of hearing = 1,134,634 (9.2%)
Number of people who are late deafened = 65,460 (0.5%)
Number of people who are deaf/blind ~ 800 ±
The number of culturally deaf people or Deaf people in the state of Pennsylvania is believed to be about 21,820. That is a ratio of 1 Deaf person for every 560 hearing people for the state of Pennsylvania. This figure or ratio should not be extrapolated to other states since population and the concentration of Deaf people can vary enormously from state to state, and from city to city. (see http://www.pa-shhh.org/profile/demog.html )
A more accurate figure on the Deaf population number in the United States could be estimated using figures found in the “McGill Study of Deaf Children in Canada” (MacDougall, 1990). In the study a ratio number was established on the prevalence of deafness in the 0-21 year range. The generally accepted number “rule of thumb” for the prevalence of deafness which precludes the use of speech and hearing without special intervention, aside from sign language, is 1/1000 (MacDougall, 1990; MacDougall, 1999).
In applying this “general rule of thumb” using the 1/1000 ratio (or 0.001) to the United States population figure of 280,000,000 people produces a comparative number of people, ratio-wise, with hearing losses to that of Canada’s (2000 U.S. population census at 280 million versus Canada’s population of 28 million). This ratio produces a Deaf population result of 280,000 (or 280,000,000 * 0.001) Deaf people for the 0 to 21 year old age group in the United States. Using the McGill study in Canada “rule of thumb” to help estimate the 0 – 21 age group Deaf population count in the United States should make no difference statistically. The large population gap between the two countries ought to be statistically insignificant when already there was a large enough sample population to begin with in Canada in the McGill Study.
The United States population is significantly larger than Canada with the population ratio being 10 to 1. We now have a reliable Deaf population figure of 280,000 for the United States in the 0 – 21 age group only. This still leave the older Deaf population greater than age 21 to be added into the equation. With the help of the U.S. Census 2000 population result we can use those data to help infer on what the actual Deaf population number is likely to be.
According to the U.S. Census 2000 total population study the ratio of people by age group starting with people in the 0 to 18 year old age group is 73 million or 26 percent of the U.S. population (or approximately 30 percent for the 0 to 21 year old age group). The total population figure for the 18 to 64 year old group is 174 million or 62 percent of the population in the United States. This leaves 35 million, or 12 percent of the U.S. population, for people aged 65 and over. Using the same age groups seen in the 2000 U.S. Census figures to that of the Deaf population should make no statistical differences (i.e. age group 0 – 21, 22- 64, and 65 years and over) in estimating on getting the total Deaf population number in the United States.
Total U.S. population by age group according to 2000 U.S. Census figures:
Age Group.........Population Count.........% Total Population
0 – 18(21) ......73,000,000 (84,000,000)....................26%(30%)
18 – 64....................174,000,000....................................62%
65 and over...............35,000,000...................................12%
The Deaf population number for the 0 – 21 year age group should account for nearly 30 percent of the total Deaf population in the United States. That is if 280,000 Deaf people aged 0 – 21 years old represent 30 percent of the U.S. Deaf population then it means that 70 percent of the older Deaf population is over the age of 21 years old should account for another 650,000 Deaf people. This leaves a total Deaf population of about 930,000 in the United States for year 2000. The 930,000 figure comes startlingly close to the 973,000 figure given by the 1994 National Center for Health Statistics (Data from the National Health Interview Survey). This would relate to about a ratio between 20 to 1 and 30 to 1 on the number of deaf and hard of hearing people (mild to profound) to that of Deaf people in the United States.
The Deaf population figure of 930,000 in the United States is believed to be a valid but upper range figure according to my 14 page research I did a few years back. A more conservative number of 600,000 Deaf persons population figure would probably the most realistic figure to date. However, the boisterous claim of 2 million Deaf persons in the United States is certainly less believable and quite invalid without any supporting facts to show otherwise. Even if Lane and Bahan said it without any real supporting evidences it would be a bit reckless to say that there are 2 million strong Deaf voters. I have provided some of my figures and resources that I extracted from my 14 page Deaf population study showing why 2 million Deaf people in the United States cannot be the case except for those who want to use nice big round number with the word “millions” attached to it for posterity sake.
So, let’s not go down that road proclaiming that the voting Deaf population is 2 million strong because it is not.
UPDATE: An addendum. If you want to apply the number of Deaf voters who are of voting age, 18 years and up, then the actual number of Deaf voters would be much smaller than my estimate of 930,000 Deaf people of all ages. We're looking at about 300,000 to 600,000 Deaf voters (18 and up) and not the "2 Million Strong" which is just a bogus number.
Deaf Population Study by Mike McConnell – © 2007