With Hands to Hear: deaf awareness in a hearing world

25 September 2018

Edna Newey

[email protected]

    When was the last time that you used your hands to talk? Odds are, it was without any formula but for the deaf, hands and their movement speak volumes. September is deaf awareness month and UCCS students should be aware of the invisible disability that is deafness.

    I myself am not deaf. The only hearing damage that I have, I did to myself. I am blessed with my hearing and yet there are many times where I have seen signs speak louder than words.

    My senior year of high school, I went to The Thespian Regional Committee 50 (lovingly called Thescon) and among the winning monologues for a scholarship, was a girl who could not speak the way that I can. I remember her face clearly – a face of defiance against who may think she has no voice. Her words rang through the five thousand capacity amphitheater and demanded silence and attention.

    That young actress took possession of a platform to speak about her disability to thousands of high school students, but it is important to remember that few have that opportunity. When I met with Bev Buchanan, an American Sign Language (ASL) instructor with the UCCS Department of Languages and Cultures, I was pleasantly surprised. My own assumptions had led me to believe that she would speak like I do, and though that was not the case, she worked with me to ensure that I could understand as much as I could in the short amount of time that we had together.

    Buchanan told me that one of the biggest barriers to deaf awareness is the fact that it is an invisible disability. Almost 80 percent of deaf children worldwide go uneducated because of their inability to communicate. Reading and writing abilities can also be affected due to an infant’s inability to connect the sound of a word with how it appears on paper.

    All is not gloom and doom when it comes to being deaf in a hearing world. One of the largest and earliest steps forward with deaf culture was the creation of Gallaudet University by Abraham Lincoln. Gallaudet remains the only liberal arts university to specialize in education and research for the deaf.

    As with many other minority groups such as race and sexuality, Buchanan tells me that representation is one of the largest contributors to bringing awareness to the deaf community. Nyle DiMarco and his foundation are easily recognizable for their contributions to expanding the knowledge available for the deaf and their generally hearing families. This in combination with movies such as “The Shape of Water,” “A Quiet Place,” and television series such as “The Magicians,” means that ASL users and Deaf Culture are gaining more awareness than ever before.

    What can UCCS students do to bring awareness to deaf culture? Like what Buchanan did for me during our interview, we can understand communication barriers better. Something that made me swell with pride is when Buchanan told me that living in Colorado is nicer than other areas for the deaf, because we generally understand, immediately, that a little creativity is needed for communication.

    I learned so much in the short amount of time that I spent with Buchanan, but I can only think of  a few hundred words that convey the enlightenment she gave to me on the topic. International Week of the Deaf 2018 runs from the 23 to the 30 of September. I invite all UCCS students to take the opportunity to learn just a few signs to appreciate the language (and not just swear words).

     For more information about Deaf Culture and awareness, please visit http://wfdeaf.org/,  https://nyledimarcofoundation.com/, or contact the ASL section of the Department of Language and Cultures at UCCS.