Listen 2 Us - Literacy, Self-Determination, and Interdependence for Nonspeakers

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Do you identify as nonspeaking? as nonverbal? both? or neither?

DJ:  I am nonspeaking. I am not nonverbal. In fact, I am highly verbal. I don’t use my body’s voice—my vocal chords—as my primary way of communicating. I think I will learn to talk, but I use other means to communicate because at this point it’s not easy for people to understand what I’m saying. I might look “dumb,” but I’m not. I’m just nonspeaking. Speech is assessed as not important by me because it uses a lot of my body, and I don’t have it all under control yet.  For now, I like to sign and to write my ideas. I am verbal. If I weren’t, I couldn’t be writing to you right now. I have a lot to say, and I use my written language to say it. I am verbal. I can message
my ideas but not say them  out loud. I am verbal.

So why is it important for people to quit equating nonspeaking to nonverbal?
DJ:  Nonspeaking doesn’t mean I have no ideas or no way to communicate them. Nonspeaking doesn’t mean I can’t learn to read or write like everyone else. But I can’t if you don’t teach me how. And calling me nonverbal is like saying I can’t learn to read and write. Sometimes I look sandy, but I’m not. (Sandy is a word I use to describe when I meditate in my mind and lose my language.) Assume you are me and you sanely learn to read and write. Not nonverbal.

People use the verbal/nonverbal binary a lot, particularly when it comes to autistics. How is that
binary used?

DJ: I think people use it to desert hope for nonspeaking people. It’s part of the idea of a spectrum or of a weeding out classification. And it’s unjust because it’s segregating my people into classrooms of easy lessons.


About Me...

DJ Savarese graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Oberlin College in May 2017 with a double major in Anthropology and Creative Writing. An ASAN Scholar Fellow, he was also the recipient of Oberlin's William Battrick Poetry Fellowship and their Comfort Starr Award for meritorious scholarly work in Anthropology. As a writer, he has published poems and prose in The Iowa Review, Seneca Review, Prospect, Disability Studies Quarterly,  StoneCanoe, and Voices for Diversity and Social Justice:  Literary Education Anthology. A self-advocate and national social activist, he consults and presents at  conferences across the country, working to make literacy-based education, communication, and  inclusive lives a reality for all nonspeaking people.