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Recognizing Deaf History Month

March 31, 2020

     “The hearing people do not know that they are hearing until they meet a Deaf person,” said Ida Wilding, Instructor of American Sign Language (ASL) and a member of the Deaf community. 

Deaf history month takes place from March 13 to April 15. According to the Deaf Interpreter Services, Inc. (DIS) website, “[National Deaf History Month] is a celebration of contributions of the hard-of-hearing and the Deaf community to American society.” 

 Within Deaf culture, deafness not considered a disability. 

However, society tends to view the Deaf community as disabled.  

“The systems within our society often trap the oppressed into the goal of ‘normalcy’ without including the Deaf themselves,” Wilding said. “Because of the pressure towards normalcy, the Deaf are categorized as a disability group, rather than an ethnicity.” 

“It is good to respect this language and community as a minority rather than a group that (has) hearing loss. We are very proud to be Deaf and we love our culture,” said Allison Tyler, another instructor of ASL and member of the Deaf community. “The Deaf community needs to be celebrated as a unique group of people that use their eyes. We have different humor, language, and tradition.” 

The DIS website lists three important dates to recognize during Deaf History Month. 

The earliest date is April 15, 1817, when the first permanent public school for the Deaf community, American School for the Deaf, opened in Hartford, Connecticut. 

The next date recognizes the day former President Abraham Lincoln signed the charter to officially found the Gallaudet University in Washington on April 8, 1864. This University was the first higher education school for the Deaf and hard-of-hearing community. 

 The last and most recent date listed is March 13, 1988. On this day, Irving King Jordan became the first deaf president of Gallaudet University. Jordan was selected after those in the Deaf community pushed for the Board of Trustees to elect a Deaf president, known as The Deaf President Now movement. 

 “The awareness months are opportunities for the oppressors to learn about the oppressed. In this case, the Deaf awareness month is vital in our Deaf community, as in breaking down barriers we face [every day],” Wilding said. “There are too many laws, policies designed to oppress the Deaf.” 

 When asked about challenges those in the Deaf community face at UCCS, Wilding shared some challenges she personally has faced. “As an employee, I already see [an] oppressive system set up by the Disability Services and Human Resources. For example, as a professor, I am not able to change anything in my benefits since it requires a voice message to change anything.” 

     Regarding the hearing community, Wilding said, “Often times, they do not realize that, solely on the fact that we are Deaf, we face two different kinds of oppression on daily basis. The unique part of our culture is our language, which requires different modality and challenges hearing students.” 

The Hearing Speech & Deaf Center (HSDC) website lists a few things to keep in mind to ensure respect of the Deaf community and to avoid miscommunication with those in the Deaf community. 

 The website explains that the phrase “hearing impaired” is not appropriate, as the word ‘impaired’ has a negative connotation. 

 It is also important not to use phrases such as, “I’ll tell you later,” “never mind,” or “it doesn’t matter” when communicating with a Deaf or hard of hearing person. This can make those in the Deaf community feel excluded from conversations. 

Body language, gestures, and facial expressions can help a hearing person communicate with a Deaf person, but keep in mind that this is not the same as, nor can it replace, ASL. 

“If you see a Deaf person, you can wave to say hi, and if you need to communicate with them, you can use paper and pen or type on your phone to communicate with them,” Tyler said. 

There are a few things students at UCCS can do to better recognize and respect Deaf culture. Wilding encourages her ASL students to set up events for the Deaf community, allowing her hearing students to mingle with Deaf community members. 

“We do have Deaf Night Out events monthly, however, I would not recommend any of my [hearing] students to attend since it is the Deaf community’s time to gather, socialize and be free from the oppression we face (every day) at our jobs, daily lives and so on,” Wilding said.