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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

Oct 12 / admin

2015 Deafhood Banquet Presenter David M. Eberwein on “Shocks to the System: Deafhood and Capitalism”

Mar 12 / Editor

The Claggett Statement (1984, re-edited 2015)

NOTE: This video was created in 1984 by Christians for Liberation of the Deaf Community (CLDC).  Although this organization is no longer in existence, their work is historical and rooted in an ideology similar to Deafhood. We are posting this and other videos by CLDC here as potential resources for Christians who desire to pursue a Deafhood theology. The Deafhood Foundation also encourages the exploration of Deafhood in various aspects of life including other spiritual/religious avenues.  

Original English Version:


A small group of deaf and hearing women and men from diverse parts of the United States and Canada came together at the Claggett Retreat Center in Maryland on June 21-25, 1984. Although our denominational, cultural, educational, and vocational backgrounds varied considerably, we were held together by a common commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ and to the eradication of the injustice and oppression that historically has been imposed upon the deaf community.

We came together to pray, to study the Bible in the context of the struggles of deaf people, and to explore the implications of liberation theologies as they shed light on the historical experience of the deaf community.

On the final day of the meeting, the group drafted the following statement of our shared faith and hopes:


God created the world and saw that it was good. God created women and men to live with dignity and self-respect as children of God. God wants people to live together with justice, equality, freedom, and mutual love.

Instead of trusting God’s plan, people made themselves into false gods, oppressing each other and creating injustice, wars, suffering, and death.

But God did not give up on them (us). God sent Jesus as a visible sign of God’s liberating love.

Jesus grew up poor. He loved and intimately associated with poor and oppressed people. He knew their suffering and their needs. In relationship with these poor and oppressed ones, Jesus showed us God’s compassionate love and God’s desire for us all to live with justice and freedom.

Instead of accepting Jesus’ way, people rejected the Truth. And Jesus suffered the depths of human pain, degradation, and death.

But praise be to God who enabled Jesus to break through the shackles of deceit and death, and raised Jesus to new life. The resurrection of Jesus gives us great hope that we, empowered by the Holy Spirit, too can break through the shackles of arrogance and oppression.

a variety of experiences of hearing loss. Some people are deafened as adults; some as children; and some are deaf from birth. All have suffered.

Many deaf people share a common culture, a common language (American Sign Language or “ASL” in the United States and many parts of Canada) and a common heritage of oppression. These deaf people, collectively, are often called the “Deaf community.”

Deaf people have long been shackled, often by the “good” intentions of hearing people who haven’t understood them. Deaf people lack meaningful representation and leadership in the major educational, professional, and political institutions that affect their lives. This lack grows out of both the intentions and ignorance of the hearing people in power and the “successfully oppressed” condition of Deaf people who experience themselves as powerless and incompetent.

Beginning at a young age and continuing into adulthood, Deaf people characteristically view themselves as intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually inferior to hearing people. This low sense of self-worth is widely known in the psychological studies of deafness.

The majority of Deaf children have hearing parents who did not want to have a Deaf child, and who grieve over their child’s deafness. Large numbers of these parents do not accept their child’s deafness for a long time. Some never accept it. Many, perhaps most, of the medical, social service, and educational institutions which “serve” Deaf children and adults encourage the parents to resist acceptance of the child’s deafness. They are encouraged to try in every way possible to make the child look and act like a hearing person.

This regularly takes one of two general forms: The first is the extreme oralist position of the Alexander Graham Bell Society which insists Deaf children can and should learn to hear and speak. The second is the so-called “total communication” position of the majority of educators in the United States and Canada. This second approach tolerates the use of signs because they are considered necessary for the acquisition of “language.” “Language” in this context always means “English.” The type of signing usually prescribed in this context is some form of signed English.

Deaf children attend school in a variety of educational settings. In residential schools for the Deaf, the teachers typically are hearing persons who do not understand the children’s peer language, do not know American Sign Language, and believe the children to be intellectually and psychologically inferior to hearing children. The primary focus of their educational program is the acquisition of spoken, written, and/or signed English. Often the children do not understand the teachers. Most “communication” is one-way: teacher to student.

Most Deaf children mainstreamed into public schools are partially or completely isolated from groups of other Deaf children like them. Thus they do not experience the comforting reassurance of sameness and peer group identity. Most schools do not provide interpreters for these children and they miss much or most of what is being taught and said in their classes. Many try to catch up by frantic reading outside the classroom.

Some Deaf children do have access to “interpreters.” However, most interpreters are not even minimally conversant in American Sign Language. The majority simply try to code the spoken English into a signed form of

English (which many argue does not make meaningful sense). Most Deaf children have very limited skills in English, and have a hard time understanding a (presumably) signed form of English. However, even those who have good reading and writing skills often say they have a hard time with English-based forms of signing.

Most Deaf adults do not understand most “interpreters.” But Deaf people have become accustomed to not understanding. They tolerate it, usually because they blame themselves—blame their own presumed ignorance. With so few interpreters fluent in ASL, the majority of Deaf people have never seen spoken English properly interpreted into a form of communication they readily understand. Also, because most interpreters are unable to accurately convey the meaning of an ASL message in spoken English, most Deaf people have never had the opportunity to express themselves freely in a hearing context, and often have been misinterpreted in important settings. These instances of misinterpretation have furthered the myths that Deaf people are inferior, inarticulate, immature, etc.

Most (signing) Deaf people marry people who are also Deaf, and socialize primarily with other Deaf people. The language they use for such social interaction is usually American Sign Language. However, most of them do not believe that their indigenous language is really a “language,” but rather it is an inferior, make-do form of communication. This is what they have been taught by their hearing teachers, counselors, speech therapists, audiologists, and other professionals. ASL is rarely, if ever, taught to any Deaf children in school. Instead, they learn it from Deaf children of Deaf parents, older students, and Deaf adults. Generally, Deaf people do not realize that their community has a “culture” and a “language” which is central to that culture.

reject the Church because its representatives have been as oppressive as their teachers and therapists. “Religion” has become one more place where Deaf people feel they are told to stop being “Deaf” and try to be “hearing.” They must try to fit into hearing forms of worship with its heavy emphasis on music, its wordy English liturgies, and its love for ancient phrases—all through an interpreter they frequently can’t understand.

Unfortunately, even in the separate Deaf churches and/or programs, there has been little development of indigenous worship forms that reflect the experience of Deaf people. All of this has led to alienation and/or superficial involvement in the Church. Clearly, the situation has not encouraged any real understanding of God and the message of Jesus. Exceptions exist, of course, but unfortunately the exceptions are all-too-few.

The Church generally has not looked upon Deaf people as a potential gift or resource to the broader Christian community. The Church has considered Deaf people to be “handicapped” and, relatedly, has thought Deaf people to be intellectually and morally inferior, unable to learn properly and/or spiritually inhibited by the lack of adequate language. Burdened with such stereotypes, Deaf people have not been accepted as equal members of the Body of Christ. The Church has not recognized Deaf people as persons equipped with theological and cultural gifts with which to enrich the life of the whole Church.

that the message of Jesus is a message of liberation—not liberation from deafness, per se, but liberation from all forms of oppression, which include the denial of basic human needs for things like unencumbered communication, healthy human interaction, self-esteem, positive recognition of one’s culture and language, and meaningful education.

We do not view deafness as a sickness or handicap. We view it as a gift from God, which has led to the creation of a unique language and culture, worthy of respect and affirmation.

We believe that it is necessary to stop trying to communicate the Gospel through hearing people’s eyes, through their interpretation and understanding of the Bible, and through their methods. Deaf people have a right to know the Gospel in their own language, and relevant to their own context.

We believe that American Sign Language is indeed a language—and a worthy and powerful vehicle for expressing the Gospel.

We believe the Holy Spirit is leading all of us to work for a new day of justice for all Deaf people. We believe the Holy Spirit is leading Deaf people to develop indigenous forms of worship that can adequately convey the praise and prayers of the Deaf Christian community.

We stand in solidarity with the oppressed peoples of the world. We believe that God empowers the oppressed to become free. By the act of attaining their own freedom, the oppressed can also help liberate those who have oppressed them.

We believe that God is calling the Church to a new vision of the liberation of both Deaf and hearing people. This vision is deeply rooted in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and in an understanding of the spiritual, socio-economic, political, and educational struggles of the Deaf community.

We believe God has given Deaf people a unique perspective and unique gifts. The Body of Christ remains broken and fragmented while Deaf people are separate and their gifts unknown and strange to most Christians. We believe God is calling us to wholeness.

We commit ourselves to this vision, and trust God’s Spirit to lead, to strengthen, and to empower us in this task. And we call upon Deaf and hearing Christians alike to join together in this struggle toward freedom.

Dec 11 / admin

Deafhood 101 Testimonial from Kristeena Thaten

Deafhood 101 Kristeena Testimonial from The Deafhood Foundation on Vimeo.

Dec 11 / admin

A message from Eberwein Zornoza Family.

Eberwein Zornoza Kids from The Deafhood Foundation on Vimeo.

Sep 29 / admin

Deaf Women of Color Will Receive $5,000 from Deafhood Foundation for 2014

Announcing 2014 Deafhood Foundation Grant from The Deafhood Foundation on Vimeo.


With much pride and joy, the Deafhood Foundation is announcing that its grant of  $5,000 will be presented to Dr. Laurene Simms of Deaf Women of Color. She will spend a year developing and directing a documentary titled “Eyes of Color”.  The film will show how Deaf People are being redefined through a multicultural lens.

The intent is to explore and promote a new multicultural and social justice framework in pedagogy for Deaf learners.  This is critical and it will require a transformational change in teaching.  As teachers become more aware, students will become better learners.

A $3,000 grant from Walk for ASL will be given in 2015 after a new set of applications is received.  The grant will be for projects with ASL-related studies/activities.  If anyone is interested in applying for this, please look for the announcement on the Deafhood Foundation website in 2015.

The Deafhood Foundation was incorporated in 2009.  Dedicated to achieving economic and social justice for all Deaf people, it has the goal of providing annual grants to increase the understanding of Deafhood by both individuals and organizations.  The Foundation’s first grant was to a youth leadership camp in Washington in 2012.  And it 2013 it gave a grant to an organization of performing arts and another to a creative reading program.
As part of our outreach, the foundation presented The Deafhood Monologues in California and in Washington.  More performances will be offered in other states.  Deafhood 101 classes offerings have expanded.

Along with providing grants, the foundation also engages in consulting, outreach, and networking.  The website is available to anyone who wishes to know more about the foundation.  Deafhood Discussions have been added to the website this year and is drawing audiences daily.

Sep 29 / admin

Ella’s Thumbs October 2014

2014-09 EllaThumbs1 from The Deafhood Foundation on Vimeo.


translation / summary of Ella’s Thumbs #1 October 2014

Ella’s Thumbs will be a part of the Deafhood Foundation e-newsletter. For each e-newsletter, I will discuss one THUMBS-UP and one THUMBS-down topic that affect Deaf people and Sign Language. Reasons and explanations will be given for each selected topic. The intention of this part is not to degrade or to promote, but to share information, raise awareness and/or encourage reflective dialogues among members of the community.

DISCLAIMER: The contents of this segment are entirely mine and not the Deafhood Foundation’s. The Foundation is providing me space in this e-newsletter as it always supports Deaf-centered discourses.

The topics:

THUMBS-UP: the ASL 1-10 Number Stories – the recent rage on Facebook

THUMBS-DOWN: The business of Signing Songs – not all of them get “thumbs down” from me, though. Those that do are videos and actions by people like Tina and Paul. To cap this example, Tina is an interpreter in a mainstreamed setting. Paul, her finance, doesn’t know sign but is learning some from her. They videotaped themselves practicing a signed song, they plan to do for their upcoming wedding, while driving. This video went viral and as a result, they set up fundraising to make more videos of signed songs as well as teaching some signs.

THUMBS-UP: The ASL 1-10 Number Stories

This has been considered a genre of ASL literature for a long time. It works by taking the handshapes of the cardinal numbers in ASL, in this instance between 1 and 10, and by matching signs with the handshapes to create a flowing story that is sensible with a plot within those constraints. For Number 1 a sign that matches the handshape must be found, and then the same for Number 2 and so on. The story must have continuity from Numbers 1 through 10. The hardest parts are usually the signs with handshapes for numbers 6 and 7 as there is quite limited number of signs with those hand shapes. Signs can be slightly modified but can’t go too far where it looks strange or doesn’t make sense. Yes, it can be challenging! it’s also fun. It is great entertainment. Some of the stories popping in Facebook have been really awesome. For me, seeing all those stories on Facebook has been an immensely enriching experience.

One great bonus with these ASL 1-10 stories is due to its constraints, it is a good way for the narrator to focus on telling the story without any undue influence from English. This will be a challenge that helps us all to appreciate ASL more. This challenge going viral on Facebook has been true delight!

You can see collections of the stories from Facebook in these two places: 1) the Facebook page called “ASL 1-10 Stories” and 2) the YouTube account for

THUMBS-DOWN: The idea of signing songs

The idea of “music” among Deaf people is rather murky. It may be assumed that it’s because of “lack of hearing” that makes Deaf people at a disadvantage when it comes to hearing music. No it’s not that. It’s beyond that. It’s related to the idea of culture. Paddy Ladd has mentioned somewhere, maybe in his book, that music is often a good way for people from different cultures to reach out to each other and to appreciate each other. That’s one positive aspect. Yet, there can be some dangers. For example, if members of a majority or dominant culture are drawn or fascinated with music from a minority or sub culture, appropriation can happen where the dominant cultures takes the other culture’s music and takes over the marketing and production and reap profits off it. It would be better and more appropriate if the sub or minority culture create and control the marketing and production of their music to others. This should gain respect from the majority as well.

Now, among Deaf people, many of us may think it pretty weird that because we don’t hear, we would want to dabble in production and marketing of our music, that is if we do have any. Some of us may claim that “silence is golden” and that we really don’t need music to exist. That may be how some of our dialogues may appear.

However, let’s take a look at what “music” actually is. Does it require “good hearing”? Apparently not. And apparently it’s not a requirement to “hear” music.

Last May, I had the opportunity to go to Rochester, NY, to join a small group of people (Deaf artists) in a filming and discussion project hosted by the Deaf Cultural Centre of Toronto, Canada, as part of a grant they received related to the idea of “Sign Music.” It was a wonderful gathering and we had some good discussions. We realized more and more that music is not related to hearing, but it’s more of a matter of rhythm, that comes from deep inside us, that inspires and moves us. Some express the inspiration through the ears and mouth. Some express with “beats” with the body, such as dancing. There are other ways as well.

Also, apparently different cultures have different measurements and expectations of music. For example, a culture may have three strings on a guitar-like instrument, with an established set of pitches. Other culture(s) may use four strings and a different set of pitches, while yet others use five strings and so forth. There is also the different preferences and tendencies for “beats” for rhythm. Some may go 1-2-3, 1-2, 1-2-3. Others go 1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4, all evenly emphasized. Sometimes they go 1-2 with strong emphasis, then 3-4 with softer emphasis. It may also go 1 with stronger emphasis, but 2-3-4 softer. Those are cultural and passed down throughout generations. This means it applies to Deaf culture as well. And of course we do have those examples in some of our artistic endeavors and folklore. Yes, there are a lot of potential for more, especially if we recognize the oppression we experience and become more free to create new ideas and possibilities.

We explored with some of that in Rochester. It was an exciting time.

The problem currently as we notice in a lot of our social media, such as Tina and Paul, and some done by Deaf people as well, is that songs/music from the “hearing” culture is the focus as attempts of translations into ASL are done on the songs. The background instrumental music is “hearing”. The lyrics of the song is from the “hearing” culture. In short, everything is “hearing” but superimposed with ASL signs. There is practically nothing cultural or relevant for Deaf people.

Also, what is the purpose of doing this “song signing”? Is it to satisfy Deaf people’s access or curiosity about the contents of the songs? Or is it to show how “beautiful” ASL can be when done simultaneously with the songs?
The latter is dangerous. How will the ASL be evaluated? Who says if the ASL is acceptable, makes sense, is an appropriate equivalent to the lyrics in the song? Is the mood, nuance, affect of the signing comparable to those in the song? So often, examples of these signed songs are hands waving in the air with some signs not stringed together in a sensible way, along with different facial expressions with unclear meaning or grammatical use. Naive non-signers watch them and the rhythm of the hand moving and facial expressions appear to match the one in the song and claim it is awesome and beautiful. What qualifications do those people have to evaluate the performance? Even those who can hear and know some ASL are biased and drawn to the heard part and have no idea of what it truly appears to one who totally watches the show without hearing or knowing the words. Most of not all of the time, those performances do not make sense nor is culturally appropriate for those people. Yet, if we protest or criticize them, we are criticized instead, and are called haters, jealous, practicing rejection, are narrow minded, etc. This is not right.

And what’s more, if these performers get paid for the presentation, where does the money go? Typically, to themselves, for more production of same senseless, culturally irrelevant stuff while many of us struggle to get our language and cultural acknowledged and respected. Our Deaf children are mostly denied ASL in their education and our language and culture are not valued as a part of the education process. These kinds of performance do not really help solve this deeply serious problem affecting our Deaf babies and children and their families.

That’s why I am giving this kind of ASL use THUMBS-DOWN.

However, I am totally for Deaf-cultural centered creative ways of expressing music – Sign Music. Yes, I am for it.

Look forward to continuing this kind of discussion and exploration and creating.

Thank you for watching. Until the next time!

Ella Mae Lentz

Sep 29 / admin

Bethany Gehman on Deafhood 101

Bethany Gehman’s Testimonial on Deafhood 101 Class from The Deafhood Foundation on Vimeo.

Bethany Gehman
Human Sexuality Presenter