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Apr 6 / admin

AG Bell and Deaf Economic Justice

Transcript of Video:
[Ella Mae Lentz, white presenting woman with short curly hair, green blouse, and red eyeglasses, narrates]

In the last few days, the Deafhood Foundation board has been thrilled to witness all the wonderful re-framing activities throughout the Internet, all the standing up and clearly saying to AGBell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing “Enough with your lies! Enough of your manipulating the framing of Deaf people, that ASL is on the decline. Enough of your telling us Deaf people what being Deaf is about, that our lived experiences are no longer authentic, no longer worthy of existence. Enough!”
The many many amazing statements, re-framing, points, facts, are coming from what we call the Deafhood examination. It comes from deep inside ourselves, increasing our consciousness about our existence in this world. It promotes us to reflect on our past, examine our presence and visualize our future, and recognize our collective experience of oppression as well as our gifts.

Truly exciting to be on this continuous collective Deafhood journey during this time.

It. Is. Powerful. You. Are. Great.

We have seen evidence again and again throughout our history that when Deaf people embrace who we are as Deaf beings, and when others recognize our identity and use signing with us, equality and respect happen. And that’s what the whole world needs. Not just between Deaf and hearing people but among other communities around the world.

When we care for each other, aim to understand each other and improve our relationships, our love grows and conquers the fear, hatred and bigotry.

AGBell is an organization that encourages fear, hatred and bigotry. That needs to be stopped.

We with the Deafhood Foundation really do not have anything to add to the many wonderful dialogues the past few days. We will delightfully refer to as many of them via our web and media sites.

Some of you have wondered what more you can do to ensure AGBell’s bigotry does not continue to exploit and spew its negative influences. We propose that we examine what economic justice is and how it affects Deaf lives. We have examined social justice quite a bit lately. Social justice for Deaf people includes language rights, valuing Deaf culture, celebrating our Deaf identities. Indeed, economic justice and social justice go hand in hand.

Some of you have examined AGBell’s finances, including its history, donors and sponsors. Quite a sight to see who donated to AGBell, perpetuating its practices of marginalizing Deaf people, or were they just cozying up to that organization?

Indeed, that bigotry against Deaf people was dominating for a very long long time. Time now to stop it. Examine the money. That will help promote the needed changes. There are different ways to do that.

One possible way is to look into how AGBell has promoted economic justice for Deaf people, if any. For starter, let’s examine the “for” in the organization’s name, AGBell Association FOR the Deaf and hard of hearing.
“For” can mean to support, to be on the side of, to rally in favor. In this case, supporting what exactly? The organic Deaf person, or the masked, obliterated Deaf identity? The ongoing stress to be something the Deaf person is not? To deny people’s signing, their being Deaf, and their fellowship among other Deaf people?

What is AGBell’s policy or priorities with their funds, their expenses? To who do they pay? For what? Based on what? Who do they sponsor or donate to? What do they Invest in? Anything that celebrates or honors great achievements Deaf people made?

Deafhood Foundation has been exploring one idea called DEJI – Deaf Economic Justice Indicator, a possible way to check the percentage of an organization’s expenses from its revenues that is directly benefitting Deaf people economically and socially. Examples are hiring Deaf employees, contracting with them, having Deaf people in decision-making and other positive roles.

We started by examining our own DEJI. Oh yes, we did consciously seek to hire Deaf people whenever we are able, to make contracts with Deaf businesses, etc. Yet, we found we averaged about 55%, not so bad for a start, yet we acknowledge the areas in where we can do better.

What would AGBell’s DEJI be, we wonder. Who does the hiring of its employees? Who make the major decisions for the organization? Who do they contract with for various activities?

Well, the Deafhood Foundation believes that we all should constantly review our organizations’ finances and how our money has been used to promote Deaf-owned businesses. We can begin these questions….Where does our money go? Is it used to invest in the Deaf community, our language, culture and history?

We ask you to please support us in our journey to achieve economic justice for all Deaf people.

Again, congratulations and hands-waving to all of you who have written letters, made video messages, shared personal stories, and shared others’. It has been a beautiful moment to see people standing up with clear messages, facing AGBell and not tolerating any longer its dominance over Deaf people.

Mar 15 / admin

Deafhood Foundation and #WHYISIGN

Feb 12 / admin

BBC “See Hear” on Deafhood and its impact worldwide


Dec 16 / admin

“Climbing the Avalanche” Third Trailer & Transcript

Transcript for the “Climbing the Avalanche” Trailer.

Laurene Simms >> Hello.  I am Laurene Simms with some exciting news to share.  The Deafhood Foundation has graciously provided funding to support the production of our documentary, “Climbing the Avalanche.”

Our work on this project is coming to a close.  All the travel, interviews, and editing are wrapping up.  The Deafhood Foundation support will help us add an English voiceover and captions, as well as do the final editing.

What follows is a preview of some of our work.

Paddy Ladd >> Deaf people have experienced oppression for years, meaning…

Dr. Crenshaw >> Intersectionality began as a tool to tell a complicated story about how…

Laurene Simms >> … So, growing up, did they have any understanding of their identity?

Native man >> Growing up as a Native, the only thing we learned about Indians was about Thanksgiving and the Pilgrims. We never learned anything about Native culture.

Laurene Simms >> I want to thank you for your ongoing support.  We look forward to being able to show you our completed documentary soon.

Dec 3 / admin

Deafhood Media Challenge Third place winner: “My personal experience”

Transcript Provided Below:
Title: “My Personal Experience.”
By Stephanie Weiss
**American Sign Language is used throughout the video.

[Narrative Shot with Stephanie – Brown-hair down to arm, white female with black t-shirt stands.  Background reveals shelves in a library with colorful books on them.]

Stephanie “Home Exposure. All deaf and hard-of-hearing people are raised and taught differently, especially when it comes to language. Also, everyone has various background experience. Many grow up and have no idea what ASL is. You learn from whatever your parents teach you, as they become your role models and try to support you anyway you can to make you feel like you’re one of them, or better yet – normal. When I watch tv shows, there are no captions on. When I sit at the family table, everyone talks across the table, while I just sit there quietly and eat my meal. Frustration and struggling happen. My parents would yell at me furiously, and I would be in terrified. I would say to myself, “What did I do wrong?” and become depressed. I grow up thinking that I’m the only deaf person in this world. I feel like something is missing. I get these hearing aids, and I put them on. I hear everything, and I start to wonder why other people don’t have these hearing aids. It becomes super annoying, and my self-esteem becomes low. I always worried about what people thought of me. This is my life story.

[scene: Stephanie with black t-shirt and blue jean shorts sitting down in a classroom at a small round table for children with wooden toys on it.]

Stephanie: ”Kindergarten. I played a game called telephone line. All students get in a circle, and the teacher whispers sentence a student’s ear; when it’s your turn, you must hear what the student next to you is saying and pass it on. The goal was to make sure the students’ sentence matched the teacher’s sentence. As the first student went and already passed it on to a few students, it was soon to be my turn. Everyone seemed to enjoy it and think it was fun, while I disagreed. When it was my turn, I was already sweating, pressured, and nervous. I asked the student to repeat themselves twice. Do you wanna know the truth? I still didn’t understand and had no idea what the student said. I was too embarrass to repeat myself, and so I made-up a sentence. After all the students completed whispering the sentence, the last student said the sentence and it was totally random; it didn’t match the teacher’s sentence and everyone laughed. I laughed with them, but felt completely sad and embarrassed on the inside. Why does this happen to me?”

[Stephanie holds up three wooden blocks with letters WHY]

[scene: Stephanie with black t-shirt standing in front of a bamboo wooden wall]

Stephanie: ”Middle School.  I don’t have any friends. Students mocked me and ask what’s in my ears. [Film changes from color to black and white] I covered my ears because I don’t want them to see me; I get sucked into this dark place. [Film changes from black and white back to color] I feel weak, like I want to breakdown and I’m overwhelmed. I want to be like everyone else. The only people you depend on is your family because they accept you for who you are, even though you know you still feel disconnected to them. Do I accept myself? No. Do I hate myself? Yes. [Film changes from color to black and white then back to color] I cry, and I express rage and emotion. I ask God, ‘Why? Why did this happen to me?’ I feel different. I am truly and deeply heartbroken. I become isolated.”

[scene: Stephanie with black t-shirt is standing in a gym with basketball court.]

Stephanie: ”High School. Traumatic. Wanna be popular? Gotta be arrogant, judge and label everyone. There were cliques. My clique? only myself. Everyone was superior, while I was inferior. I was so mad inside. I was involved and focused on my academics and sports. How did I express my rage? I expressed it by consistently writing and playing. On the first day of high school, I received my schedule and it said “ASL.” I was like whatever and was not really interested. Anyways, I went into the classroom all pissed off. I didn’t want to be there. I wanted to take Spanish like the popular people, but that didn’t happen. [Film changes from color to black and white] My teacher would deeply stare at me and I held in all the patience I could. [Film changes from black and white back to color] I didn’t want people to know that I was deaf. It was just so embarrassing and I just wanted to hide. [Film changes from color to black and white and back to color while signing “hide”] Anyways, as time progressed throughout my 4 years of high school, my ASL perspective changed! I fell in love with this language and became natural/fluent. I was doubting myself ever since I took this language class. Finally, I accepted my Deaf identity, which grew tremendously and I’ve proudly accepted it. I started becoming confident and not caring what other people think. They should worry about themselves, right? I learned about Gallaudet; I never thought it would be the place for me and was very hesitant on attending the school in the future. During my senior year, two big accomplishments happened: I become a lead in a ASL play and got awarded Student-Athlete of the Year. [Stephanie throws a basketball and it goes in the hoop without touching the rim—she smiles and cheers] My self-esteem grew.

[Stephanie makes a gesture showing she smiles]

[scene: Stephanie with black t-shirt is standing outside in front of Gallaudet University’s Chapel Hall.]

Stephanie: ”College. Where did I decide to go? Here, at Gallaudet University. PAH! I felt connected and everyone understood each other. We were united and still are one big family, who all share the same experiences. All you have to do is consistently believe in yourself. Without ASL, I would never know who or what I represent; ASL truly changed my life. I feel blessed!

Dec 3 / admin

Deafhood Media Challenge Second place winner: “Sign to sign”


**Sign Language/ASL is used throughout the video.

[Brown-hair, white male with black t-shirt and a short beard stands.  Background reveals a dark blue poster with the white lettering: “SIGN TO SIGN” and logo of hand merged into a pen]

Jonathan: “Throughout history, people have used petitions to promote change in our society.  Signatures are collected and presented to those in positions of power in order to convey a need for action.  But names on a page are just that.” 

[ two women on sidewalk next to a street full of cars, the female assistant on the left hands the woman on the right a clipboard and a pen.]

[a male assistant looking at two employees behind a counter inside a market, both employees looking at a clipboard, one of them signing with a pen.]

[Jonathan with pen in his mouth, holding some pens and markers in one hand, and holding a backpack against the back of a car with the other hand.]

[female assistant signing: “first time doing this kind of thing” as the male next to her signs a clipboard with a pen–on sidewalk of busy street.]

Jonathan: “Our team has come up with a new campaign idea.  We are calling it “Sign to Sign.”  This time we are collecting clips of people using American Sign Language to represent signatures.” 

[Jonathan inside a building, holding a camera, focused on a female.]

[female assistant on sidewalk, holding camera, focused on a male.]

Jonathan: “Rather than signatures, we are using American Sign Language to spread awareness for our cause.  Our hands and faces will show just how important this is to all of us.” 

[two white males dressed in red t-shirts, the male on the left wearing a hat, and male on the right sporting a beard. Both are inside, background is brick with a bookshelf and an indistinct picture] 

Male with Hat: “Well, think about it this way: Imagine telling a straight couple that they couldn’t get married.  Perhaps then they would feel the same way we do.”

Male with Beard: “Yeah, I think marriage should be permitted on the federal level.  It shouldn’t be left up to states to decide whether or not somebody can get married.  I think it’s ridiculous.  It doesn’t matter who you love; it’s a person’s right to marry whomever they want.”

Jonathan: “To love is a human right.  To use sign language is a human right.  By combining the two, we are showing our support for marriage equality.”

[behind Jonathan walking inside, holding camera.]

[Jonathan looking into camera, and then pans to a woman standing, ready to sign.]

[female assistant and male assistant helping another male and female sign.]

[male assistant teaching the sign “support marriage” to two male employees behind a counter.]

[female counting, “1, 2, 3” to male standing in front of Jonathan and his camera.]

Jonathan: “ASL is a marginalized language just as marriage equality has been denied to those who love one another.  This has to change!”

Male with Hat: “Yeah, that would be tough if I couldn’t get into the hospital to see if he was okay.  I’d want to make sure everything was all right.  If that weren’t possible then I don’t know what I would do.”

[behind female assistant teaching the sign “support” to a woman, facing her.]

[ female assistant teaching the sign “support marriage” to three people at a corner of a street.  Black male helps black female sign “support.”]

Male with Beard: “And for legal reasons.  Again, related to hospitals…if I were in the hospital and you wanted to visit me, it’s important that you could.  Suppose you had to make a decision for me in the case that I couldn’t.]

[female assistant teaching the same woman the sign: “support.” Jonathan holds the camera from behind.]

[Jonathan holding camera with female assistant helping.]

Male with Hat: “You really are denying someone the opportunity to see if their loved one is all right.”

[Jonathan holding camera and female assistant guiding three people in signing.]

Jonathan: “Want to get involved? Show your support by SIGNING for Marriage Equality!”

Male: “I support marriage equality. [with text shown on screen]”

Female: “I support marriage equality.”

[Four consecutive shots show four different women signing “I” “Support” “Marriage” “Equality”]

[Four different shots of four women signing “I support marriage equality” at the same time.]

Female: “I support marriage equality.”

Female: “I support marriage equality.”

Female: “Marriage Equality”

Two Employees: “I support”

Female: “Support”

Male: “Support marriage”

Male: “Support”

Two male employees: “Support marriage equality”

Female: “Marriage equality”

Female: “Equality”

Male and Female: “Equality”

Male: “Equality”

Female: “Support marriage equality”

Male: “I support marriage equality”

Male: “Marriage equality”

Female: “I support”

Male: “I support marriage equality”

Three people: “I support marriage equality YAY!”

Female with Flannel Shirt: “I support marriage equality.”

Male with Beard: “Any issue regarding human rights should not be left up to a popular vote.  To me it just doesn’t make any sense.”

Female: “I support marriage equality”.

[Jonathan and female assistant cheering with female.]

[couple giving thumbs-up sign.]

[female with flannel shirt cheering.]

Male with Beard: “So which do you love more, me or basketball?”

Male with Hat: “Tough question!”

[Blonde female on sidewalk views the video of the male couple and then signs: “I support marriage equality.”  She shares the video on Instagram through her phone.]

Logo against black screen, [@signtosign] and

Dec 3 / admin

Deafhood Media Challenge First place winner: “Kissing my child’s forehead”


Title: “Kissing My Child’s Forehead”
ASL Poem
By Justin Dean Vollmar

[Text: This poem, signed in American Sign Language, is a visual and allegorical expression of our personal experience.]

[Image of white female mother kissing her baby on the forehead.]

[Text: A Deaf-Blind child from a Deaf family’s perception.]

[Narrative shot with Justin – White male with gray hair combed to the right, gray beard, and black glasses, wearing a gray t-shirt.]

Justin: “Our Deaf family was looking forward to the new baby.”

[Image of sonogram showing a baby.]

[Image of a pregnant mother signing 6 on her stomach.]

[Image of a pregnant mother signing 7 on her stomach.]

[Image of a pregnant mother signing 8 on her stomach.]

[Image of a pregnant mother signing 9 on her stomach with Justin on his knees kissing her stomach.]

[Image of Justin kissing the pregnant stomach.]

[Image of a pregnant mother lying on a grass by purple flowers and three daughters sitting in front of her.]

[Image of a pregnant mother sticking her tongue out at the photographer.]

[Image of a pregnant mother standing in a hospital in front of a sign with text, “Labor & Delivery” and signing “Now”.]

Justin: “When this baby was born, we were so shocked. Our heart literally broke. This baby is DEAF-BLIND! We wept in grief.”

[Image of an eye with black eyebrow and eyelashes. A tear is rolling down from the eye.]

[Image of an open eye with two tear drops rolling down from it.]

[Illustration of a red heart broken and crumbling apart.]

Justin: “We asked, ‘What could we do?’ I say, ‘Stop with the negative view!’ Why did you focus on their mouth, ears, and eyes?”

[Image of four surgeons in blue surgery outfit, blue mask, blue cap, and special protective glasses holding surgery tools.]

[Image of a tray with surgery tools and special bowls with surgeons in the background wearing their blue surgery outfits and latex gloves.]

[Image of a medicine bottle with one pill in it and a yellow label with black text on it says, “FIND A CURE.” A magnifying glass is over the label, making the text appear larger.]

[Image of an open medicine bottle toppled over with many white pills spilled out of it.]

Justin: “Have a positive viewpoint of your child! Say with pride, ‘This is my child! A real person!’ Just hold the baby, look into her eyes and kiss her forehead. It would be like the fireworks shooting into the sky.”

[Image: A dark, starry sky with a landscape of trees and a person standing in the middle with arms outreached to the heavens.]

[Image: A dark, starry sky with a landscape of trees. The Milky Way is shown vertically across the middle of the sky.]

[Image: Fireworks exploding across a green pasture with a dirt road and wire fence through it.]

[Image: Big, colorful fireworks exploding in the sky.]

Justin: “We will imagine that the whole family… will learn how to use Braille and Tactile Signing because we want to include fully her. We will include her fully at the family dinner table.”

[Image: Entire family is sitting with a person in a Santa Clause outfit.]

[Image: Entire family is sitting around a dinner table.]

[Image: Entire family is sitting around a dinner table having a Thanksgiving meal.]

Justin: “We will imagine of an exciting future… when she puts on a graduation cap, put on a wedding ring, and many exciting possibilities!!! It is all in a positive viewpoint of your child. Just hold the baby, look into her eyes and kiss her forehead.”

[Text: Clarissa Delilah Vollmar. Born on June 30, 2015.]

[Image: A newborn baby wearing a cap sleeping on a pink and white blanket, covered by a white blanket.]

[Image: Justin in a hospital room wearing a blue t-shirt holding a swaddled newborn baby.]

[Image: A newborn baby being held, crying with her toothless mouth open.]

[Image: A white female mother kissing her newborn baby on the forehead.]

[Image: A swaddled newborn baby being held by a man’s arms.]

[Image: A swaddled baby with blonde hair being held in her older sister’s arms. Her sister is wearing a red shirt.]

[Image: A newborn baby without a shirt is wearing a cap. The baby has some rashes related to the birth process.]

[Image: Another sister with glasses wearing a white shirt is holding a swaddled newborn baby.]

[Image: A swaddled newborn baby with a cap is wrapped around in a white baby blanket with many cartoon animals on it.]

[Image: Another sister with pink and red shirt is holding the swaddled newborn baby in her arms and looking with awe.]

[Text: A Deaf child from a hearing family’s perception.]

Justin: “A hearing family is looking forward to the new baby.”

[Image: A pregnant woman’s stomach has a pair of light blue baby slippers on it.]

[Image: An adult’s and child’s hand both hold a pair of children’s pink Converse-style shoes with white laces.]

Justin: “When they give birth to the new baby, they become so shocked and so sad! Because the baby is DEAF! They wept in deep grief.”

[Image: A status of an angel with wings resting her head on her arms on top of a pedestal.]

[Image: A person is holding his hands over his face.]

[Image: A kneeling person with her head down is holding her hands over her face.]

Justin: “They asked, ‘What could we do about it?’ I say, ‘Stop with the negative view!’ Why did you focus on their mouth and ears?”

[Image: A woman in 60’s clothing is holding an old fashioned sound amplifier to her ear.]

[Image: A person is cupping her hand over her ear to collect sound better.]

[Image: A man wearing a suit with a red tie is sitting down between two very large sound amplifiers over each of his ears.]

Justin: “A positive viewpoint of the child would mean… Say with pride, ‘This is my child! A real person!’ Just imagine a wonderful future. Just hold the baby, look into her eyes and kiss her forehead. It would be like the fireworks shooting into the sky.”

[Image: A shooting star streaking across a dark, starry sky.]

[Image: Silhouettes of a family and other people watching colorful fireworks in the sky.]

Justin: “Just imagine that the whole hearing family will learn American Sign Language. The Deaf child will be fully included at the family dinner table.”

[Image: An older couple places a large turkey on top of a long, rectangular table with various family members sitting at it.]

[Image: A bored white child with blond hair is sitting between two adults using their smartphones.]

Justin: “Just imagine of many exciting possibilities for your child. She will put on a graduation cap; she will put on a wedding ring. It is all in a positive viewpoint of your child. Just hold the baby, look into her eyes and kiss her forehead.”

[Image of a mother kissing her newborn baby’s forehead. Text: Just hold the baby, look into her eyes and kiss her forehead.]

[Text: All images used in this video are copyright free images. Created by Justin Vollmar. ASL Consultant: Guy Vollmar.]

Nov 27 / admin

Collective Healing: Coming Together to Recover, Recollect, and Redefine our Community From A Painful Hxstory.

[opening credits – black background with white text:
Collective Healing: Coming Together to Recover, Recollect, and Redefine our Community From A Painful Hxstory.
Najma S. Johnson, Co-Founder of Together All In Solidarity.
Keynote Presentation 2
Deafhood Banquet vive la Parisian tradition
April 11, 2015.]

[Najma with a grey beret, large silver loop earrings, white top, black pants, standing on stage with dark blue background. Behind and to her left is a white male pro-tactile interpreter]

(English translation of presentation is entirely the responsibility of the Deafhood Foundation.)

Hello all. Let you know, this is my pro-tactile interpreter. You may be wondering what he’s doing here. He’s here to work with me.

Before I begin, I want to thank you because I am truly honored to be here. My experience and relationship with Deafhood may be different but honestly I am grateful to be here. To the board, thank you for inviting me. To the community, thank you for inviting me. I am here presenting not for myself, but for my various intersecting communities: Deaf, Deaf-Blind, People of Color including Native-American, Black, Southeast Asian, West African, et cetera, and also the disabled communities.

Sometimes when I give presentations, people share various information with me for me to examine as part of my community work. Here, I will discuss community collective healing. The Deaf history has been horribly painful. Like [person on right] mentioned, it began with Milan and Oralism is still controlling Deaf education causing a long struggle that continues today. Yes, painful.

People say that history repeats itself. No, actually, it is ongoing, not repeating. There may be different faces, appearances, or approaches, but the painful history goes on.  And when it goes on like that, we cannot heal. We experience constant oppression and triggers. For example, the horribly painful impact of Milan 1880 has been ongoing, especially for Deaf people who are white.  It is different for Black Deaf schools because they did not use ASL, they used “sign language”, which was different than ASL. Their sign language was taught to them by slaves stolen from Africa. Milan 1880 did not impact Black Deaf children because they were considered unworthy of education. For white Deaf people, they endured the pain of ASL being removed from their education, from their schools, and taught only through Oralism. The Black Deaf people endured wrongful assumptions of not being smart, not being worthy, and neglect as a result. Both suffered a lot of pain yet their pain are different. Have they had a chance to sit down together to share their pains and figure how to heal each other? Not yet.

Remember the Women’s Voting Rights movement during the 1920’s? Congratulations to them for achieving that! That time, some Deaf people also achieved the same rights. Yes, their rights depended on what kind of education they had. However, many Deaf women still did not vote back then. Now, remember Black women were not able to vote until 1934. And Native-Americans? Not until about 1932.  Now, Deaf women? Some Deaf women, white ones, if they were smart enough and had access to written English, they did get the rights to vote. But Deaf women of color couldn’t, and Deaf Native-American women couldn’t. Where is the collective healing for this injustice among Deaf people? Each of the different Deaf groups was too busy struggling with their issues in isolation. We need the time to get together and heal collectively and examine our histories together.

Remember the Dawes Act, the forced assimilation of Native Americans to follow the “American way” denying their clothes, hair traditions, and language? Ouch. Native Americans were here on this land first. I would like to share about my grandmother like I shared yesterday. She was from the Peede tribe of South Carolina.  She forbade us to deal with any Native American issues in the family, nothing at all! I was rather perplexed by this. She told me that if I wanted to survive, I need to identify as fully Black, and not mention the native American part of me at all. Because I was actually Black myself, I was able to do that, but my grandmother, who did not have any Black in her, labeled herself Negro in order to get a job, cleaning toilets. She denied her native American identity for this survival purpose. My father’s grandfather was a white man whose family owned slaves. When he fell in love with my grandmother, he was demoted to being a quadroon, which meant of mixed races, despite his being fully Irish. He lost his land, his Irish tradition, and became a “brown man”.  It was not a positive experience for him and his wife;  there were also a lot of sexual violence, so my family couldn’t touch that part of history.

My point was that my grandmother’s experience was truly horrible, thus her reason for denying her native American identity. Her name, heritage. etc. were also removed from her while I was able to use my name. I can go to school; I was not forced to assimilate into the white American system. I can wear African clothes. My grandmother couldn’t touch upon her native American identity at all. Now, what about Deaf Native-American children? Where is the space for them?

I am not trying to bring back a sore issue, but a few years ago a Deaf Native-American from California contacted me and wanted to discuss the Bear Hunt statue issue. I was like “Oh no. Honestly, it is not my experience, so I am not the right person to work with you.” He responded, “But you are strong!” It was a difficult situation for us.

Two problems I see here with this situation. One was that the Deaf Native-American children, who are now adults, never had the opportunity for healing dialogues. They experienced heartbreak and oppression over and over whenever they saw the Bear Hunt statue. “What can I do?” they ask.  I do not have the answer for them. I can however answer and provide support for my Black Deaf community because I grew up in it,  learning and getting my experiences from it. But with Deaf Native Americans, I honestly don’t know. I did my best dialoguing with them. However, I made a mistake too when I share my experiences with them, it ended up I had hurt them more, making them feeling worse. As a result, did we have collective healing? Nope, not yet.

Remember NAD? It was founded and operated exclusively by white men and eventually women became part of it. Meanwhile, the Black Deaf and Native-American Deaf people did not trust NAD. When Black Deaf people were finally allowed to be part of NAD (AFTER Deaf white women got in), they were expected to follow the NAD mission and vision that didn’t really accompany their Black Deaf experience and identity.  Nevertheless, they wanted the white Deaf people to accept them, so they went ahead and became involved in NAD. It was not easy. A lot of struggle and conflict ensued. Finally, they founded their own separate organization, the National Black Deaf Advocates (NBDA).  Did both organizations meet and try to heal that painful history? Not yet.  They are still hurting. Many older members of NBDA, still traumatized, don’t want to have anything to do with NAD, which I completely understand, and NAD has been trying to figure how to accommodate the different needs and perspectives. They both definitely need to sit down and truly dialogue with each other in order to heal.

Now, let’s talk about the Deaf school, where my heart is. I work at TSD (Texas School for the Deaf), oh sorry, I meant TAS (Together All in Solidarity). I mix up the fingerspelling between them because my grandchild goes to TSD, so I finger spell TSD a lot.  Anyway, through my work with TAS, I face this issue concerning ASL, that language I cherish. Not all children at the Deaf school has equal access to ASL.  For example, through TAS, I tutor ASL to a student, a Black boy on a one-to-one basis. I wondered why one-on-one ASL tutoring with him and found out that white kids at school refuse to play with him. Children learn ASL incidentally though socialization and play, that’s how language and culture are learned, right? Because the boy was Black and considered “dirty” and untouchable, the other children didn’t allow the incidental learning opportunities, that’s why he’s having the ASL tutoring one-on-one. That was his painful experience.

As for myself and my experience, I enrolled at Gallaudet University in 1995.  Before that, I went to St. Mary’s School for the Deaf in Buffalo, New York. Also, I was an oral education product before I attended SMSD. When I arrived SMSD, did I understand ASL? No. I understood something.  I used English-like signing. I believed it was the real language. I viewed ASL negatively. Looking back on that time, I am embarrassed about my attitude then. However, the point is back then, as I proceeded with my education at the school, I felt others thinking “What’s that Black girl doing here at the school?” so I kept my distance from them. I cherished my Black skin. I thought it was the most beautiful color on this earth but I also needed to socialize and learn ASL from them. How do I disregard the racism and learn ASL? I can’t, because racism hurts.

Finally, in my junior year, I learned to comprehend ASL but not yet how to produce it well. When I entered Gallaudet in 1995, I tried to fit in several different groups – Black oralists, Black fluent signers (who didn’t have a strong Black identity), lesbians, and alumni of my school. I had a hard time fitting in and I left Gallaudet. From 1996 to 2008. I socialized mainly with Black Deaf people. My idea about ASL continued to form mainly through interpreters. During that time my signing was Black ASL.  Then I was identified with Usher’s Syndrome which was a new struggle for me. I didn’t want the option of returning to Gallaudet, but it was better than learning through interpreters in mainstreamed college settings.  This time, Gallaudet started practicing bilingual education, including use of videos as part of formal ASL education.  I learned ASL a lot more.  But there was this one thing. When I worked with interpreters, they sometimes asked me to sign “normal.” I wonder, what does “normal” look like? For me, all the years before I returned to Gallaudet, using Black ASL was my normal. Nevertheless, as I took Deaf Studies courses and learned ASL, white people began to appreciate my signing and said that now I sign like a normal Deaf person. That hurts.

I thought about majoring in Deaf Studies because I wanted to help improve the Deaf community. I did consider the possibility of a PhD in Deaf history.  There could be more research and collections on various Deaf histories such as the Deaf Asians who experienced the US concentration camps. It happened, but nobody was talking about it.  We had Deaf slave owners but nobody was talking about it. There were other Deaf historical stuff that nobody was talking about. Yes, we have Oralism as one of our histories. Maybe a most painful history, but it is ONE OF SEVERAL HISTORIES. There are other histories that have impacted the Deaf community and yet nobody is talking about them. If we do not talk about them, we cannot move on. We can’t heal.

Healing begins with uncomfortable feelings that we must discuss openly about. Some people who are perceived as being Black or Lesbian may say they are not black or a lesbian, and we need to allow that. However, we can’t make comments like “Well, my friend is black, and he disagrees with you.” For example, one thing that bothers me so much is when hearing people ask me why don’t I speak, I respond, “Number one, I don’t need to, and number two, because I don’t want to. I feel it is not fair to use speech that benefits hearing people, and not myself.” And the hearing person rebuts “But you know I have one deaf friend who thinks speech is better.”  I argue back, “That’s only ONE deaf person, and that person represents ALL Deaf people? No.”

Each of you represent something. Each of you have a story. Each of you have a background. We need to listen to each of you.  We cannot say “I have this friend who is Deaf-Blind and they could do this, think this way, etc.” and make assumptions on what other Deaf-Blind people need. We must pay attention to an individual and make accommodations based on that individual. Collective Community means including all: people of color, disabled, Deaf-blind, all of them.

How? Begin with LUL – Listening for Understanding and Love.  When you interact with and listen to someone, and you are distracted by a blocking thought, put it on hold, and truly listen. I guarantee that you may feel awkward realizing you never thought of such and such. But listen to truly understand. Don’t listen just to find problems and say “oh wait. oh wait.” No, LISTEN TO UNDERSTAND. Love and cherish the process itself. Sometimes people will disagree with you. For example, I would sit and converse with the KKK. Will I like it? No. Yet sometimes I need to understand why. Does it mean I agree with them? No. Strangely, black families do teach them. They also want the families to accept them.  I do understand that human need. Do I like the concept of KKK? No, but I recognize they are humans.

LUL ends with Love. Love this process. Love the experience that you learn. You don’t have to love others. No need for me to love the KKK but I need to love what I learn from them. Love the changes. Love the anguish inside that may be one of the most uncomfortable feelings you may have which I think is the most beautiful feeling a human being can have.

Another thing to work from: A. C. T.

A for Accountability.  People may claim that others are responsible for this and that. No. Start with myself.  I am accountable for my own actions.  If I oppress a disabled person, I apologize. What should I do? I would read on this subject. I would discuss with friends who walk like myself. I would not ask the person who is disabled how to improve myself. This imposes more work on them. I would not want hearing people to impose more work on me. It’s their responsibility. Hearing people created audism, not us. Likewise, we caused ableism, not people who are disabled. We with privileges cause the problems. Audism is hearing people’s problem. And we cause problems in our own community for disabled Deaf people.

So, the accountability in A.C.T. is about how I improve myself so that I do not hurt others.  Improve how I talk so I don’t hurt others. Figure how I can apply this to Deaf schools. Many children with disabilities or children of color are being taken out of the Deaf schools. No, they need to be there to stay. We need to work together to assure this.

When my one-year-old Deaf grandchild was born, I didn’t know he was Deaf. His mother kept it a secret but when hearing tests confirmed he was Deaf, she immediately expressed serious concern about the racism at the Deaf school. She struggled with her child’s school placement: mainstreamed education or at the Deaf school. Public schools are better in teaching positive Black cultural identity and information, but they cause language deprivation and there is audism while Deaf schools provide wonderful ASL development but the racism there hurts.  This is why we all need to work together to resolve this.

The “C” in A.C.T. comes from an African term meaning “Come together” that expresses the idea of sitting together, putting biases aside and asking what can we do. Better yet, admit I need to improve, and ask for help. Ask those who are like us. Do not ask others who are less privileged to help you.

The “T” in A. C. T. stands for TODAY, not tomorrow. A.C.T with L.U.L is beautiful.

We can stop history. Maybe not tonight. We can talk about it. Some people may not be comfortable yet. That’s fine. There are others who are more comfortable and ready to talk. Sit with them. Set up community town halls. I don’t recommend doing it online.  Host an event at your house. Set up time for conversation at your house. Set it up at church. Many Black people attend church as our cultural centers, not just to celebrate God.

I see many beautiful faces here. Yet, I do look forward to seeing more Deaf-blind people, more Deaf people of color and other identities being involved here.  Remember Deaf community is not just “Deaf”, it’s all of us. We need to redefine what Deaf means, what Deaf looks like, and who are the Deaf.  [picks up her cane] Even when I have this cane, I am still Deaf.  Even when I have brown skin, I am still Deaf.  I am Deaf AND have brown skin, AND am Deaf-Blind, a disabled person. From now on, your responsibility will be to be involved with intersectionality, which means layers of oppressions that one person may experience. We need to examine and understand that more. Audism is one of the oppressions. Many of you do experience several kinds of oppression all at once. What do we do about it? Examine and cherish the process. Get together with others, talk about it with your friends and allies. Deaf history has shown us that Deaf people have been very strong in their persistence. Use that damn same energy to have conversations with each other.

Oct 31 / admin

Deafhood Foundation on Activism and #WPSDOppression and #WPSDProud

[Description of scene: Marvin Miller, a white man with goatee beard wearing a solid gray collared shirt with sleeves folded up quarter of the way, sitting on a bench under shade of trees with partial sunlight that constantly moves throughout the video.]

[Text on lower left: Marvin Miller, Board Member]

Deafhood Foundation board has seen several significant examples of Deaf activism pop up including Audism Free America and their frequent rallies, Deaf Grassroots Movement and their admirable first Deaf Protest at the White House, and now the hunger strike at the Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf (WPSD) with #WPSDHungerStrike and #WPSDOppression.

Also, the local Deaf community came up with #WPSDProud in response to the hunger strike. [Marvin nods affirmatively].

We would like to discuss the word, “Activism”. The Deaf community’s experience with activism hasn’t been an easy one. Uncomfortable, actually. We lack self-confidence. Often this term brings feelings of embarrassment or the idea of our people behaving badly or inappropriately. We are quick to criticize our people for not following the steps or the “proper protocols” and many things.

Deafhood Foundation board recognizes the need for greater activism in our community. We must act. We must take a stand. All Deaf children including hard of hearing children all over the world need and access to… just those two? No, more than that, their natural birthright.

Deafhood Foundation recognizes all Deaf children’s birthright to what? Natural sign language. In America, this would mean American Sign Language. For Black Deaf child, it would mean Black ASL. For Native Deaf American, it would mean their own sign language of their people. This goes for all kinds of Deaf people and we must honor their languages. Just languages?

No, there’s more. Deaf culture. Not just that but DeafBlind, Deafdisabled and their respective cultures must be embraced and included along with their collective knowledge and stories and values. Just that two?

No, there’s more. Healthy identity. Identity? Yes, this is critical for all Deaf, DeafBlind, Deafdisabled, and Deaf people of color, their identities are of equal importance, recognition and worthy of respect and reverence.

These three things that each Deaf child need in their lives also mean they need Deaf adult role models lining up with their identity, such as DeafBlind child would need adult DeafBlind teacher and so forth.

In addition to this, Deaf Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered and Queer (LGBTQ) children and their identities also must be respected and celebrated.

With that, Deafhood Foundation board is very pleased with Gallaudet University’s recent selection of Bobbi Cordano as their next president of the University. With her emphasis on bilingualism, recognition of Deaf culture and the need for open dialogue within the community on what these things mean to each of us and bringing us closer to a shared vision going forward.

The board is also excited by the fact that Bobbi Cordon is the first openly Lesbian to be President, and this sends a positive message to all LGBTQA Deaf, DeafBlind and Deafdisabled children that they, too, can grow up and be successful like Cordano.

We recognize that activism by its very nature a disruptive action that interrupts the very machinery of the system from going forward “business as usual” with the typical messages we’ve seen for a long time: parental choice, individualized approaches with Individualized Education Plan (IEP) and so forth which requires meeting each child’s need.

We have seen how the system works and by focusing on the individuals, the system ignores the collective nature of the Deaf community which includes a wide natural variety of people including DeafBlind, Deafdisabled, Deaf people of color and Deaf LGBTQA. Within our community, we share a lot in common with shared languages, cultures and knowledge and values passed on from one generation to another.

So this emphasis on individuals is not okay.

We are keenly aware that “parent’s choice” is so entrenched in the system today that believes each parent can choose items from a menu like oral-only approach, signed English, cued speech, or ASL. With that, oftentimes ASL takes the backseat and comes in last or as an afterthought.

I’ve been teaching Deafhood classes for almost five years and the journey has been so inspiring because these classes has a powerful, paradigm-shifting impact on our people’s consciousness. I’ve asked each of them whether they truly support the idea that a parent can choose oral-only approach for a Deaf child with strict ban on ASL, Deaf culture and setting up barriers between the child and our community?

Not one. Not a single one agreed that this should be available as an option. Wait! This is from Deaf people of all walks of life including those who grew up orally, mainstreamed alone, mainstreamed with others, Deaf residential schools and those with hearing and Deaf parents. All kinds! And none of them think the option of banning ASL and Deaf culture should exist. This cannot be a choice.

With that self-examination and analysis, we’ve come to an important conclusion that I’m proposing we use the capitalized “D”eaf for all of Deaf people instead of using both lowercase d and capitalized D in order to differentiate between those who are culturally Deaf and those who are not. No. With capitalization of Deaf brings within it the true recognition that all Deaf and hard of hearing children has a natural birthright to ASL, Deaf Culture, healthy identity and being a part of the Deaf community. The prevailing system run by the schools, educators, specialists like audiologists and speech pathologists, surgeons and so forth have been too successful in preventing untold number of Deaf, DeafBlind, Deafdisabled of intersecting identities from their natural birthright. This was taken from them.

We must see that this isn’t the Deaf people’s fault that they grew up without their birthright and that we all are unique and collectively, we have a lot to offer and to teach the world. This is what capitalizing all Deaf does.

Naturally, there will be a lot of our people who do not share the feeling of a being part of our community and of course, we can not force them to change their thinking. We can continue to invite them, share our language and culture with them and hope that one day they will join the family of our beautiful people.

So with the identity being recognized along with principles we have outlines that affirms our existence and our experience, the board fully supports bilingual education approach. In theory, individualized approach would mean everyone gets what they want including getting full and rich ASL instruction. This never happens in reality. ASL and Deaf culture suffers as a result.

With activism, is it a bad word? Should we be concerned about our attitude and approaches? Its important to realize that all of marginalized and oppressed groups have made positive changes in the world through activism and civil disobedience. Whenever an unjust law, rule or policy is in place, we must stand up and say, “No.” “Enough.”

Activism can range from using diplomatic approach meeting with legislators and rule makers and decision makers to letter writing campaign, to rallies and marches, to sit ins and yes, even hunger strikes. Hunger strikes has been an activist tool used in many groups including women suffragette movement with Alice S. Paul leading the way in late 1910’s, and these women had to go on hunger strike in order to expose brutal treatment they received while being wrongly imprisoned. With this exposure, the politics in Washington shifted and the vote for women’s right to vote finally passed. You can watch this story in a movie called, “Iron Jawed Angels”. The movie is a powerful and moving experience. Also, you can watch another movie, “Gandhi”, where you will see hunger strikes employed for the cause there.

Any change doesn’t happen easily. This includes Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights movement and the LGBT rights movement also.

This work isn’t easy. Why? What we see happening at the WPSD with hunger strikers standing up for the principled cause, and the Deaf community there reacted with bewilderment and confusion with many declaring their support and love for the school. Many of them work at the school and they believe these problems can be changed over time. This creates friction and conflict and frustration for all.

The board wants you all to know that we fully support the Deaf community there, we fully support the hunger strikers and their cause and we also fully support the Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf. All of them!

We want to see all of you to recognize the value in this process and sit down and discuss this to the best of your ability. We are very concerned about the health of hunger strikers since its now 25th or 26th day, and with each passing day, the threat to their lives increases and the possibility of a permanent damage to their health increases rapidly.

We want you all to discuss and debate this. We hope you can set aside personal issues and focus on what is possible and work around what is not possible. The point is to sit down and talk about this. As a community. Together.

The Deaf community has been oppressed for a long time. Wait… Deaf? Most people would think of white Deaf people. No, not only that. Deafdisabled, DeafBlind, Deaf people of color and Deaf LGBTQ people — all of us experience severe oppression and more privileged Deaf people do oppress marginalized Deaf people within our community. This is painful. Very painful.

When we experience oppression, we feel deflated. Our self confidence falls through the floor. So any time anyone in our community stands up for our rights, we should try and support this person despite our concerns or misgivings. If we truly have concerns, then we should try share the feedback with the activist in private.

The most important point here is that all of our hearts are in the right place — we all want what is best for Deaf children today. Even the current administrators at the school think their current program and policy serves in the best interests of children today. We al want what is best for our children, period.

As we reexamine our lives, our principles and our consciousness, we begin to realize the dangers of systematic audism and the messages it broadcasts about our people daily including “Parent’s choice”. That’s profoundly dangerous message.

Yet, the idea we can disagree or dispute with “parent’s choice” is so dangerous in itself because this criticism would go against the very American ideas of liberty, freedom and choices for all. This makes this fight all more difficult. We are keenly aware of that. This becomes more critical that we continue to process the issues we’ve covered thus far and discuss how we can best move forward for all Deaf children.

Back to these main points, we all want what’s best for all of our children. We believe we have more in common than what separates us. The process of having a dialogue is a key step in moving forward.

Now if we were to pan out and gain a much bigger, nationwide and worldwide picture away from what’s happening at Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf, we will see that this picture is a scary one. Truly scary.

We learn of deaf mice being cured with genetic therapy last month. Just a month ago!

[Video of Reuters website with headline “Deaf mice cured with gene therapy” and video of Deaf kids drumming and other images of genetic therapy process.]

Whoa. There hasn’t been a serious debate on ethical and moral aspects of this genetic achievement. Is it okay for the world to erase the Deaf people, our language and Deaf culture off from the face of earth?

[Video cuts to a black background quote screen, “The simple fact is that if {American Deaf culture} could be reliably wiped out, it will be a good thing to wipe out.” — Dr Merzenich, Amercian Psychological Association with source being credited to Ladd, 2003, page 160.]

That debate hasn’t happened. Yet, the march towards that future continues in eagerness and excitement.

[Video cuts to gold color background with “Death of Deafness? Join the dialogue” by Deafness Research Foundation.]

All of that happening and we’re reacting slowly, “No… No…”

We’re telling you that we must train our people in activism and train ourselves in how to change system for better ranging from diplomatic approaches to standing up and disrupting, interrupting the system machinery from continuing to operate and forcing necessary dialogue.

If we don’t do that and soon, the future will be too unbearable t think about.

We truly love and value the Deaf community and we value ASL and Deaf culture and healthy identity for all. All of our Deaf children have their birthright that must be respected. All of us should be able to lovingly interact with our parents, family members and community at large through ASL and this would mean the children themselves will feel respected, loved, valued and truly belong.

We hope you will join us and support this important process and foster necessary dialogue which includes future activism by our people. We should support all of that through positive encouragement, private feedback if need be so we can inspire many of our people to stand up for what is right and what is just. This includes our wonderful grassroots Deaf community who has bravely stood up for what we all believe in: equality and justice for all. We applaud them all!

We need more activism by our people. When this happens, we will see our world change for better!

Thank you.

[Smiling. Nods]  Fade to black to:

Deafhood Foundation logo with • • Twitter: @OurDeafhood

Oct 13 / admin

Deafhood Film Festival Showing the Finalists from Deafhood Media Challenge

Deaf Club October DHF