Most people know, of course, that a language difference exists between people who are deaf and those who can hear. People who are deaf communicate using a variety of strategies, ranging from lip reading and speaking, to writing notes, using gestures, or communicating via American Sign Language. Deafness can be a different experience for every person, and people come from all backgrounds and walks of life. So when we bridge only the communication gap between a deaf and a hearing person, there is still a lot of room for cultural misunderstanding!In America, many people who are deaf prefer using the visual language of ASL to communicate. These individuals consider themselves members of Deaf Culture, a linguistic minority group that has its own unique traditions, jokes, stories, and cultural norms. Deaf culture has no age, gender, race, or religious barriers, and members of Deaf culture frequently exist within several other intersecting cultural identities. To create truly effective communication with the Deaf community, hearing individuals must come to a greater understanding of what it means to be both medically deaf, and culturally Deaf.
It’s become trendy for businesses and organizations to use words like “Diversity” and “Inclusive” without actually taking any steps toward creating diversity or inclusion. Hiring an individual with a disability, but then making no effort to support their success, does not empower anyone, and can create resentments between people in the workplace. When a deaf individual shows up for a medical appointment (or any appointment at any business) and nobody in the organization knows how to accommodate their needs, that business has failed at providing equal access to their goods/services.
If an organization chooses to embrace diversity and multiculturalism, and truly wants to empower people of all abilities, Cultural Competency Training is a great next step. Educating staff from the top level down, and from the bottom levels up, offers a chance for organization-wide professional development and a much greater understanding of what diversity really means.
The first step toward welcoming d/Deaf individuals to connect with an organization is to get a contract on file with a local interpreting agency that offers high quality sign language interpreting services. Look for deaf-owned or ASL interpreter-owned agencies, or ask a deaf individual if they have a preferred agency to contact.
Cultural competency is not a feat, it is an opportunity! This is a chance to strengthen relationships within the organization, as well as relationships with customers, clients, and the community at large. Cultural Competency Training helps to identify the many different perspectives— employer, employee, deaf, hearing, interpreter, customer, consumer — and assists in creating mutual understanding from all sides. By working with deaf trainers to explore the various scenarios where d/Deaf and hearing people interact, everyone
gets an opportunity to ask those awkward cross-cultural questions, or clear up any misconceptions in a safe environment. With proper training, buzzwords like “diversity” become very real and applicable concepts and everyone reaps the benefits.
LC Interpreting Services is thrilled to offer Cultural Competency Training seminars for businesses and organizations. Working with a set of Deaf consultants, employees at all levels can deepen their understanding of deafness, Deaf culture, and Deaf communication to effectively bridge the persistent gaps that exist. Cultural Competency Training is an excellent solution for progressive companies ready to take it beyond basic communication.
This week is International Week of the Deaf, a worldwide celebration of deafness, d/Deaf individuals, Deaf cultures, and signed languages which is held every year at the end of September. This year, the theme of the week is “Full Inclusion with Sign Language.”
To celebrate International Week of the Deaf, I wanted to highlight 5 major civil rights issues that Deaf advocates are actively working to address.
Access to Signed Language
Because 9 out of 10 deaf babies are born to hearing parents with no connection to the d/Deaf community, the first few months of a deaf child’s life can be confusing— for both the parents and the developing child. This is a critical window of time for cognitive development. This is a time when babies are learning so much about the world, and they need a language with which they can begin to frame it.
The National Association for the Deaf (NAD) takes a very strong and clear position on the topic of access to signed language, stating: “Deaf and hard of hearing children like all children have a right to language. Signed language, being a visual language, is the only completely accessible language for these children… Research has shown that thousands of deaf and hard of hearing children are experiencing various levels of language deprivation, many to an extent that constitutes harm in the form of educational, social-emotional and cognitive delays. For this reason, it is the position of the National Association of the Deaf that an all-out effort needs to be made to ensure that all deaf and hard of hearing children have full and meaningful access to language from birth and the benefit of visual language and visual learning.”
Dr. Peter Hauser, a Clinical Neuropsychologist and associate professor at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID) at the Rochester Institute of Technology, has given numerous lectures and conducts ongoing research that makes a strong case for giving deaf children access to signed language. He even wrote book along with his esteemed colleague Dr. Marc Marshark called “How Deaf Children Learn.” Further underlining support of early access to signed language, NTID offers a FAQ on their site about Educating Deaf Children with answers from international experts.
Piggybacking on the problems caused by delayed language acquisition, access to education is one of the biggest issues that the d/Deaf community seeks to address. So many young people who are deaf suffer, often without complaint, through years in an educational system that simply was not designed for them to succeed.
The World Federation of the Deaf (WFD) website explains: “Deaf children have the right to expect that their needs and human, linguistic and educational rights are respected and supported … Studies by the WFD reveal that the enrollment rate and literacy achievement of Deaf children is far below the average for the population at large. Illiteracy and semi-literacy are serious problems among Deaf people. Without appropriate education, advancement in society as an independent, employed, contributing citizen becomes problematic…. WFD takes the unequivocal position that there is no excuse for this deplorable situation, since Deaf children have the same innate intellectual, social and emotional capacities, as do all children.”
Access to a curriculum that makes sense for their abilities can determine the course of a deaf student’s future. Schools need to be prepared to offer captioning and high quality interpreting services for students who are deaf, as needed, and these costs need to be built into the budget right from the start.
Although the exact statistics can be a bit fuzzy, the indisputable fact remains: Unemployment is a problem that disproportionately impacts the d/Deaf community. Deaf individuals are unemployed at a significantly higher rate than the hearing population.
From the interview process onward, discriminatory attitudes create barriers to career success. Employers might be afraid to hire a person who is deaf because they don’t understand how to open lines of communications and integrate this person onto the team; they may overlook a perfectly qualified deaf candidate in favor of a less qualified hearing person. Once they have been hired, typically deaf individuals are given little support, encouragement, or room for career advancement. Without satisfactory employment opportunities, the cycle of oppression just continues ad infinitum. It never ends.
Those who are d/Deaf deserve the same opportunities to build a life for themselves as everyone else, without being limited by a language barrier or limited by a lack of cultural awareness. Deaf activist groups have to advocate constantly for the basic human right to earn a livable income. In 2015, there was a march on Washington DC to raise awareness about deaf unemployment, and to demonstrate support for opening up better job opportunities.
To learn more about this topic, check out the following blogs:
Things don’t get easier once people are returned to citizen life, with the combination of a disability and a criminal record it can be nearly impossible to find decent work. Without equal access to justice at every s
tep along the way, the entire system continues to uphold the oppression of marginalized people.
Just turn on the local news with the closed captioning, you will quickly witness how live captioning can be almost hilariously inaccurate (or in the case of an emergency, dangerously inaccurate). And, as the “No More Craptions” campaign points out, accessibility for internet content is even worse. The bottom line here is that people who are deaf— when they actually do receive “access” to the communication services they need— are often still being denied an equal experience.
With regards to interpreting services, unfortunately, some organizations just hire the cheapest interpreting agency they can find, and this agency might not even have anyone who is fluent in ASL screening the interpreters before they are sent out on assignment. These unqualified interpreters serve as yet another communication barrier for the deaf consumer, and they might even dramatically impact or endanger the person’s life. At the end of the day, effective communication is not being offered, which is a violation of the ADA.
In 2004, RID and NAD implemented a joint Code of Professional Ethics for all members and certified interpreters. RID has established an interpreter certification program to to help maintain a high level of excellence, and the organization provides a support network for constant professional development. Although these efforts are slowly improving service for deaf consumers, they have sadly not prevented unqualified interpreters from getting work.
Even now, in the year 2017, there are persistent barriers that people who are deaf must overcome to gain basic access to everyday goods and services. The Americans with Disabilities Act endeavors to protect the civil rights of all Americans, regardless of ability, by requiring businesses and organizations to offer “reasonable accommodations” that allow effective communication. For people who are d/Deaf, this could mean anything from captioning, texting, video relay services, or sign language interpreting services, dependent on the individual.
At the same time, the d/Deaf community is becoming stronger and more cohesive than ever, connecting across countries, languages, religions, genders, races, and disabilities. As this happens, we begin to recognize where these discussions intersect and overlap with other systems of oppression, finding greater strength even still. Deaf issues have seeped into the mainstream consciousness and will continue to find footing in the ongoing public discourse on diversity, chipping away at the cultural ignorance that places a lifetime of limitations on a person just because of their hearing ability.
So you’ve planned an event: choose a date, gave it an official name, rented a space, perhaps you rented tables and chairs, and booked speakers or performers. It’s happening! Recognizing the value of creating an inclusive space, you even took the steps to ensure communication access by hiring ASL interpreters. But since so many events are NOT inclusive, how can you get the message out there to the deaf community that they are welcomed at your event?
Placing emphasis on equal access, some organizations now book interpreting services for their events without knowing for sure whether there will be any deaf attendees. These efforts are obviously well-intentioned, but unless d/Deaf/HoH individuals are made aware that the event is happening and that interpreters will be provided, it does not have the kind of impact that it could.
To help event-planners and organizers more effectively reach the d/Deaf community, here are some suggestions for promoting your next inclusive event.
There is nothing wrong with using classic advertising outlets to reach deaf audiences, in fact it’s a great idea! When promoting your event in mainstream newspapers, independent papers, in magazines, or on TV, be sure it gets highlighted that interpreters will be provided. Include the logo for ASL interpreter on any graphics. If you send a press kit, place emphasis on importance of inclusion and equal communication access. Make sure any literature about the event includes this information near the top so writers and editors don’t miss it.
To reach the deaf population within your community, create eye-catching fliers and distribute them in areas that get heavy traffic. Libraries, gyms, coffee shops, community centers or schools (especially schools for the deaf) are good places to start. Make sure your flier prominently includes the fact that ASL interpreters and/or other access will be provided. Try using the logo for ASL interpreter somewhere that it can easily be seen.
LOCAL SOCIAL ORGANIZATIONS
While Deaf Clubs are not as popular as they once were, searching “Deaf Club [your city name]” on the internet may still be an easy way to connect with the local deaf community. If there is a website, social media page, or message board for a local Deaf Club, try reaching out with information about your event. See if you can find the right person to help you distribute the information effectively. You may also want to search “Deaf Events [your city name]” or “Deaf Meetup [your city name],” which is a site popularly used by the community to organize informal gatherings. If you find there is a local group of deaf individuals who get together for coffee, ask if you could drop off some promotional materials at their next meeting. Ask around at any local churches that offer ASL interpreted prayer to see if they have deaf congregation members that might be interested in your event. Or maybe there’s a Deaf yoga group? A little networking can go a long way!
The National Association of the Deaf (NAD) has chapters in every state, as well as active junior chapters in some state — NAD would be a good point of contact if you were organizing a political rally or large public event of that sort. The NAD website has links to state organizations.
The widespread use of social media has made is easier than ever for individuals who are deaf to stay connected, both with each other and with the majority hearing culture. If you don’t know where to start, Facebook is an excellent tool for promoting your event to the local community. First: create an “Event” page using your brand’s Facebook page, if you have not already done so. Include all the relevant details about the event, and make sure it clearly states that ASL interpreters will be provided. Promote this event on your brand/ organization’s Facebook page on a regular basis to make sure your fans see it. You might want to “pin” the post to the top of you page.
Overall, advertising on Facebook is relatively inexpensive and makes it easy to get your message out there. To test the waters a little bit, try making a “Boosted Post” on your organization’s Facebook page.
Find or create an appealing graphic to use as your ad. Do NOT use an event flier covered in text because Facebook will not allow you to boost the post if there is too much text on the image. High quality stock images can definitely be used for this purpose, and a small amount of text (perhaps just the event name and date) should be ok.
Now create an alluring caption for the image that entices people to learn more about what you are doing. This content should include the DATE, TIME, and LOCATION. Copy the Facebook URL for the “Event” page that you already created and then paste it at either the start or end of your caption. Make sure you include this link! I suggest saying something like “Learn More Here: [Event Page Link]”
Go ahead and post it!
Click “Boost Post.” In this menu, you can get as specific or broad as you’d like with regards to who the boosted post is seen by. You can narrow it down by city, region, interests, education, and more. Play around with these settings to tailor your audience. Then choose how much money you will spend to boost the post (even $10 or $20 can go a long way), and the duration of time that it will be promoted for. And that should be it!
If you have more time and are looking to foster a deeper connection to the deaf online community, try following the #Deaf hashtag for a while, follow deaf individuals, and observe public discussions on all different outlets. Soon, you will be able to start identifying the more active influencers. Engage these individuals, use your own platform to share their messages, and develop a solid repertoire. Then, the next time you have an event to promote, these individuals will be more likely to reciprocate and share your information with their audiences. Investing in these mutually beneficial relationships can be worth it in the long run.
Individuals who are deaf are out there living their lives around you at all times, and they enjoy all sorts of different things— so feel free to get creative with marketing. The “Deaf community” isn’t some stereotype box that people fit neatly into, and “Deaf Clubs” aren’t the only place you’ll find deaf people.
For example: if you were promoting an upcoming musical event with ASL interpreters, you would want this message to reach deaf music-lovers. Maybe you could contact local college music programs, open mic nights, or music shops to see if they could put the word out there for you, too. If you were organizing an ASL interpreted art event, it might be a good idea to connect with local schools, arts and craft stores, museums, galleries, and prominent local artists to help spread the news. Be sure to emphasize that interpreting services will be provided!
Building communication access into your event is a progressive step toward creating an inclusive society. But after so many years of being forgotten about by hearing event organizers, people who are deaf can not safely assume interpreters will be available. When offering equal access for an event, it is important that the promotions and marketing make it clear that ASL interpreting services will be provided.
It is also crucial that news about your event reaches members of the local deaf community. Don’t get discouraged if your first event does not attract dozens of individuals who are deaf. Consistency is key! Over time, as you regularly provide interpreters and advertise communication access, word will spread and your organization will earn a reputation for being deaf-friendly.
LC Interpreting Service is pleased to offer qualified interpreters in New York City and New Jersey for a wide variety or entertainment or professional events. We make the process for securing interpreters and providing equal access as simple as possible. LCIS offers quality services for deaf consumers with a strong emphasis on client satisfaction.
Over the last few years, there has been an exciting trend of Deaf influence on mainstream culture. We are seeing deafness featured in entertainment: from the critically acclaimed DeafWest production of Spring Awakening on Broadway, to various reality TV shows, to the new Smirnoff ad campaign featuring deaf dancer Chris Fonseca. But media visibility is just the tip of the iceberg. There is a massive cultural shift underway— a change in power structures happening right below the surface— and this movement is being spearheaded by d/Deaf/HoH people themselves.
The past half century has seen mounting advocacy efforts improving access to education, thus creating a positive cycle of change. The ADA combined with ongoing deaf rights movements has helped the community work toward better access in schools across the country. A well-educated population is generally more effective at communicating their grievances, calling for reform, and permanently impacting social policy.
The exponential effect of education is the cornerstone of the recent Language Equality and Acquisition for Deaf Kids (LEAD-K) campaign. A Deaf-created movement to promote ASL use and bilingualism among deaf children, LEAD-K asserts that “language deprivation or delays between ages 0-5 is the main cause of Deaf children’s eventual reading, academic, and social struggles.” By working with schools, community agencies, parent organizations, and associations of the Deaf, this movement strives to help deaf children stay on par with their hearing peers during critical early development stages. Those at LEAD-K have turned their own experiences into opportunities for generations to come, which in turn has a spiraling effect. Imagine how the future will be shaped by large numbers of teachers, tech innovators, medical practitioners, and politicians who just so happen to be deaf!
Living in this digital age, the Deaf community is more well-informed and connected than ever. Where, in the past, people who are deaf were often excluded from discussions about current events, they are now able to participate and voice in on the issues. Where people who are deaf were once segregated by language and distance, they are now able to strengthen and reinforce the narrative of the Deaf community through online discussions. The d/Deaf community can now easily communicate, organize, and mobilize for action.
Technology, specifically the Internet, has played a key role in the modern deaf rights movement. People are able to tap into a wealth of global knowledge from anywhere at any time, and they can just as easily contribute. Social media and video sharing sites have become bustling hubs for deaf content— ranging from activism to entertainment and everything in between.
Published on YouTube in April 2016, “Beyond Inclusion” is a thought-provoking short film produced by Communication Service for the Deaf (CSD), the nation’s largest nonprofit advocacy organization for the deaf, deaf-blind, and hard-of-hearing communities. Set in the near future, featuring deaf Dancing With the Stars and America’s Next Top Model winner Nyle DiMarco, this film tackles the controversial issue of “curing” disabilities and challenges audiences to reconsider the value of diversity. Launched with a corresponding social media campaign, the goal of this film is #DeconstructingDisability through open cross-cultural dialogue. CSD is only one of many different deaf groups, organizations, and individuals utilizing the speed and efficiency of the Internet to facilitate cultural understanding.
Technology offers d/Deaf people a new set of tools to create meaningful connections and makes it easier than ever for individuals to participate in community advocacy efforts. But there are times when the most effective way for deaf people to raise awareness in the hearing world is to make themselves visible via public protest. Last year, there was a two-day Deaf Protest in Washington, DC where more than 1,500 Americans marched for fair opportunities in employment. There have also been small protests at various schools to rally for deaf representation in education. In May of this year, The Deaf Grassroots Movement (DGM) successfully held protests at state capitols across the nation, bringing awareness to a variety of deaf issues including access to communication, education, and employment. These deaf-led efforts are increasing in frequency and gaining traction as they continue.
In this age of activism, we are witnessing a massive shift in social power. People who are deaf no longer need the help of hearing media gatekeepers to share their own stories with the world. People who are Deaf now have the tools for communicating and community organizing right at their fingertips. Deaf culture is trickling into mainstream consciousness, forcing our society to finally let go of harmful stereotypes and misconceptions. Deaf people are reframing the very concept of deafness to better reflect the unique people who proudly wear that identity.
In October of 2012, following the Hurricane Sandy press conferences, I was stunned to find YouTube clips of myself interpreting for NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg spreading across social media. I assure you that becoming a viral video is not something any person can prepare for— it was overwhelming and quite disillusioning. When all was said and done, the biggest lesson I took away from the experience is that mainstream hearing society knows next to nothing about deafness, Deaf culture, American Sign Language, or ASL interpreters. I realized that the media exposure afforded an opportunity to help bring more attention to these topics, and this has been a primary focus of my life ever since.
Working in the Deaf community every day, from my years as a staff interpreter at Rochester Institute for the Deaf – National Technical Institute for the Deaf, through to my current position as the owner of a sign language interpreting agency, I’ve witnessed the ongoing fight for deaf rights. I work alongside deaf individuals from all walks of life, in all situations, and see that no one is immune to the struggle against discrimination. I regularly offer pro-bono services for members of the NYC Deaf community, and am active in various organizations including the NTID ASL Interpreter Education Board and the NYC Metro Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf Board. In my day-to-day life, Deaf consumers, colleagues, and friends regularly share their stories. These are the voices I seek to amplify.
By publishing articles on my website, the Huffington Post (where I am an unpaid contributor), and the Buzzfeed Community section (another unpaid venue which anyone can submit to), I strive to bridge the cultural gap that has been so obvious to me for all these years. Through my writing, I aim to educate, entertain, and ultimately raise awareness about deafness and the Deaf community. Blog topics range from ways to support deaf employees, to celebrating Deaf women throughout history, to interviews with successful deaf people working to make their dreams come true. Centering deaf perspectives while reaching hearing audiences is my end goal.
Not only do I strive to educate through my writing, but also through my company. I work with hearing businesses all the time to help make their organization more culturally competent for deaf employees and customers. LCIS makes the process of securing interpreters comprehensive and we offer literature on working with both deaf individuals and sign language interpreters. By working very closely with deaf consumers, we assess the needs of the individual and help advocate for any accommodations that they feel are necessary. Deaf interpreters are assigned whenever possible and we make sure to educate organizations about their importance. At LCIS, our ASL instructors are Deaf, as are the corporate Cultural Competency trainers, and any ASL coaches who work on film or TV sets that feature deafness or sign language. We could not do any of the work that we do without deaf people!
This is why the New York Times piece that was published this week was highly disappointing. The author offered an audist perspective that I do not endorse. At the time of the interview, I was led to believe the article would focus on discrimination against deaf individuals by highlighting the ways even public entities such as police fail to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, thus denying deaf people their legal rights. I referred the author of the piece to several prominent Deaf advocates within the community, and I know of at least one person who was interviewed whose perspective was excluded from the final draft to the detriment of the entire article. I was led to believe the NYT piece would show the vast spectrum of advocacy work that is ongoing in the Deaf community by and for Deaf people. Needless to say, the piece missed its mark.
All I can do is all that I know. I have been fighting for deaf rights alongside my family since I was a little girl. Born and raised in 3 generations of deaf family strong, I was the only hearing person. My mother and siblings all use ASL, my friends use ASL: this is the language of my roots, and the language of my culture. As a CODA (Child of Deaf Adults), I walk a fine line between the deaf and hearing worlds and I spent much of my life wondering where exactly I fit in. Now that I have an opportunity to help promote deaf issues on mainstream platforms, I use these outlets to help raise awareness and fill the cultural gap, and I will continue using them to help make the world a more deaf friendly place.