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How to Educate the Hearing about d/Deaf Peoples and Culture

Posted Oct 20 2009 12:00am
by kim

clownDP asked how we educate hearing people about d/Deaf people.  That’s the hard part.

I believe diversity education needs to start young, but with only 1 out of 1000 babies born deaf, hearing children do not get enough exposure to deaf children when young.  On top of that, many deaf children are removed from their communities to attend deaf programs elsewhere.  So hearing children grow up never meeting a deaf person, except possibly an elderly grandparent who suffers in denial and may have self-esteem issues– a sad picture.

Now that baby signs have become popular, hearing children are getting fun exposure to the concept of a visual language.  So there is that.  Also I think many teachers have begun using sign to supplement spelling lessons, which is fun for them.   Still–few children ever meet a Deaf person.

If we based an education program on what other groups have done to gain acceptance, then we need more media exposure of Deaf.  But I don’t just mean Deaf actors taking Deaf parts because there aren’t enough of those parts.  The exposure needs to be consistent.   The Deaf pepsi commercial was a great example.  We need more of those, but the commercials should not always be ads for other products.  The ad itself could be for recognition of Deaf culture and d/Deaf people.

Other Ideas–  A huge event with programs, ads, publicity, marches, parades, etc., etc.– but it should all be happy and positive, which means we need to leave the oral/ASL politics at home.  A fun educational event is not the place to protest audism.  Both deaf and Deaf have to overcome challenges.  We’re in this together.

There are ethnic parades all over the country.  Here in the Seattle area, we have Norwegian Independence Day and Chinese New Year.  Nevermind that most the participants are not really Norwegian or Chinese.  For one day they celebrate their roots by dressing in traditional costumes.  It is not unusual to see a black person wearing traditional Norwegian dress or Viking horns.  This is about unity, not authenticity.  The celebrations need to be inclusive, not exclusive.   If we were to have a d/Deaf event, for one day ALL participants should be accepted as Deaf.

My vision of this d/Deaf event– parades and a fair type atmostphere where the entire hh/deaf/Deaf community gathers to educate hearing people about hearing loss, deafness and Deaf culture.  We could have vendors with information about accommodations, interpreter and ASL programs.  Earplugs would be free to the public, as we would educate them about noise pollution.   This could be our one annual shot at exposing hearing people to the idea that normal Deaf and deaf live amongst them, so we need to present a united front and let them know we’re a large group of diverse people with many different abilities and talents.  We should appear positive, not angry.

I envision Deaf entertainment, lots of food, lots of humor, face painting, music with signers, motivational speakers with interpreters and CART, dancing with balloons, representatives from ALL deaf/Deaf organizations.  Deaf and deaf wearing costumes, ASL clowns, vendors of accommdated equipment, dogs for the Deaf.  EVERYTHING d/hh/Deaf should be represented, esp. ASL.

We need a traveling Deaf hero exhibit that can go from school to school and city to city– so hearing people will learn the contributions and accomplishments of our many Deaf and deaf heroes.  We need Deaf entertainment/speakers who go out to the public schools to educate about hearing loss and Deaf culture in a relevant way to hearing people.  In other words, the message should be “overcoming adversity’ kind of thing, so that hearing children will be inspired to succeed and also to take care of their ears.  Why?  Easier to sell to the public schools– but it would kill two birds with one stone, since the hearing children would also be exposed to a respected successful Deaf person speaking at their school.

What won’t work– anger, protests, complaints of audism.  For one thing, audism is often too subtle.  The reason anger and protesting worked for blacks was because racism was horrifically ugly.

If there should be anything to remind people of audism– possibly a silent candlelight vigil for Deaf victims of crimes perpetrated against them solely because they were Deaf, but only at the end of a very fun event.

None of these ideas are all that original but they are based on what I feel has worked to educate the public about other groups.

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