Frontrunners through Sarah's eyes!

Friday, December 09, 2005

It's not goodbye...

I can’t believe it! It’s my last weekend at Castbergaard in the Frontrunners program! The last 3 ½ months have flown by so quickly… at times, it was frustrating and overwhelming but overall, the experience has been awesome! I’ve met so many new people, not only in Frontrunners but also Deaf leaders and people from all over the world. This was my first time becoming involved in the European Deaf Community and learning more about WFD and other organizations. Because of my focus working in developing countries, I never thought about participating or working with the Deaf in other developed countries… I didn’t think it’d benefit me because we both come from similar backgrounds. Boy, was I wrong- I learned so much! I was also often surprised how similar and NOT similar our situations can be!
Being here has opened my eyes… in America, I basically lead a normal life as an educated person who has a supportive family and enjoy many basic rights in society. Especially in Minnesota, I also live in an environment where Deaf Awareness and ASL is so strongly promoted. However, I am not doing enough. I was going through life as a teacher helping the future of the Deaf in my own way- expanding children’s knowledge of the world one by one. Now I realize that I want to do more.
We need to be aware of all the efforts in the progress to basically eradicate the Deaf World. The situation may be better in America where so many people support bilingual education (at least compared to other countries!) and where ASL is actually cool and many college students want to learn the language. However, we need to prepare for the future… I really do not want us to be trapped in a situation where we are caught empty-handed, unable to defend our culture and ways. We need to be armed with statistics (which the government loves) and change society’s perspective on the Deaf World- removing phonocentrism and audiocentrism. We need to face it- mainstream society is obsessed with the ability to speak and hear, and associate that with being successful in life. Without these skills, we are unable to succeed, many people believe.
We may not be able to keep up with the race of cochlear implants or genetic engineering (yes, they have already found a way to “cure” deafness in mice!) BUT we can help influence what people think. If society is aware of Deaf people and the Deaf World, a parent who suddenly has a Deaf baby will be able to better accept the fact and perhaps not see the need to change their child.
Being surrounded by wonderful Deaf people for basically 24 hours everyday, attending Deaf events, learning from Deaf professionals and reading works about the Deaf World was overwhelming and tiring at times. (we often had to stop from discussing Deaf issues at the lunch table!) But it did make me realize how rich our lives are, how fortunate I feel to belong in the Deaf World. Now I understand why my (hearing) parents say their lives are more rich and complete with a Deaf child; it is something that cannot be replaced.

Although this is a “farewell” note, it is not goodbye! I have many goals- both personal and relating to Frontrunners projects; I intend to keep the Frontrunners website and this blog updated with my progress. Back home, I will be doing more research on the situation of cochlear implants and genetic engineering in the USA and become more involved in Deaf organizations/events. I have always been a part of the Deaf Community but in a more sociable form, now I am interested in becoming more political and being involved in advocacy. The Deaf youth are our future and they are the ones who will make sure the Deaf World does not become history; I will give workshops and teach them about different issues that is important for them to know and understand. I also want to teach them about activism, how important it is to become involved and to fight for our rights- our future.
I hope you have learned from this blog and from the information in our Frontrunners blog! There is so much we must do, the Deaf World needs to unite and fight for our future! I hope you will take part and wish you luck in your own actions!

Friday, November 25, 2005

S, M, L, XL

Paal Richard Peterson from Norway discussed his thesis about Deafness and Deaf Culture that was completed in 2001. He sent out questionnaires to the Deaf Community and collected approximately 300 replies; the thesis is based on information from this research. Paal was able to determine Deaf Identities based on questions relating to background and behavior.

Background: belonging to a Deaf organization or club, attended a Deaf school, fluent in Sign Language and have family members who are Deaf.

Behavior: read Deaf Magazines regularly, active in the Deaf Club and have Deaf friends.

Using a points system, Paal determined if a person’s Deaf Identity is S (1-2 points) all the way to XL (7-8 points). He cautioned that the results may be different now than in 1999 where there was less media, less internet use and limited texting. The Deaf Community depended more on the Deaf Club as an information centre in the past.
Paal discussed the different ways we are involved in politics: election, organizations, media and protest actions. In today’s age, media is involved in all aspects of politics and is usually the best way to get “attention” about an issue. In 1949, the UN Human Rights convention included the freedom of opinion and expression and the right to receive information from more than one source.
Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1949

Do the members of the Deaf Community enjoy this privilege? Compared to the majority, Deaf people tend to receive less information because of problems with captioning/subtitles, interpreters and not getting the whole information. As a result of this, less Deaf people participate in the elections and voting. Other factors such as employment and education also have an impact. Paal found that Deaf people with S and XL identities have the highest percentage of voting.

Compared to the majority, as well as other minorities, the Deaf Community has the highest percentage of participation in Deaf organizations. A higher percentage of Deaf people are also involved in activism and protests. Paal concluded that Deaf people who are involved in organizations and activism are more likely to vote. He also stressed that the Deaf Community is still very much involved in politics but in mediums where we have control. Deaf organizations and protests allows more authority and control for the Deaf while elections and media still exclude us. Communication and information are very important for Deaf people to become involved in the general society. If we can improve access to communication and information, such as interpreters and more sign language usage, we will be able to participate more as natural citizens.

Paal discussed with us our goals after completing the Frontrunners programme. Many of us are interested in working with Deaf youth and strengthening their participation in the Deaf Community. In doing so, we need to increase awareness, networking, membership and teach leadership, provide more information and improve the education system. All this needs to be done within the Deaf Community as well as in the general society.

In determining and achieving goals, the following steps should be followed:

  1. Find out what you want
    Determine what is most needed and what goals you need to make.
  2. Find out where you stand
    Using the new goals you made, see what aspects you need to focus on.
  3. Find out what you need to do to reach the goal
    Create steps in determining how the goal can be achieved.
  4. Do it!
    Take action and complete all the steps for achieving your goal!

Politics and Activism

Tomato Lichy from England spent two days with us sharing information about activism in the Deaf Community. We opened our discussion by examining political systems and how we can work with politics.
The personal is political.
We, as Deaf people, are constantly working with the government for different issues such as sign language, discrimination and disability laws, monetary support and so on. The government has power over many aspects in our life relating to education and sign language, BUT can they control our hands? Do they have a right to decide if we want to express ourselves through sign language, the most accessible and natural language of the Deaf?
Everything we do in life CAN be political. The philosopher Foucault makes this point so beautifully:
The war between the state and the individual is fought on the battleground of the skin. The state can be the government, society or religion and constantly fights with the individual regarding their human or personal rights relating to their body (skin). That is what happens with government/society and Deaf people- we are constantly fighting for our rights to use sign language and to have fully accessible bilingual education. We are also constantly fighting organizations who are focused on "fixing our problems" relating to hearing loss.

One way for the Deaf Community to fight for more rights and protection is through activism. Activism can include protests, demonstrations, marches, blocking access to a building or street, distributing posters and flyers, etc. There are different levels of activism; it can range from a non-violent small group of people handing out flyers in a public park to a massive demonstration with hundreds of people that results in the use of violence. Tomato Lichy has had experience with activism, including working with the Deaf Liberation Front in England. This group focused on British Sign Language (BSL) and demanded that the government make BSL an official language of the UK. Tomato shared his experiences and showed us pictures of different marches and demonstrations in England. You can read more about the Deaf Liberation Front and see pictures at The group was successful and England approved BSL in March 2003.
For a demonstration or protest, it is best to have 3 to 9 people so the action is more clear and there is less confusion. However, for a march, the more, the better! In preparing for a march or demonstration, the group must have a clear objective, to understand clearly and agree what their demands are. It is also important and more effective if the group is non-violent. Is it almost always unnecessary to resort to violence during a protest or demonstration and will protect the group from arrest or a court visit. It is also important that the group forms affinity groups, almost like a buddy system where two or three people watch out for each other and provide support when needed. If the group needs to split up, the affinity groups stay together. It is extremely important that no trespassing or theft happens during a protest/demonstration. If entering a building or office, it is important that nothing is touched or moved and caution is taken with photographing and the use of a video camera.
There are many different kinds of activism that the Deaf Community can participate in. It is important that we stand up for our rights and the best method for each situation needs to be assessed. Some will be successful but others may not be; support and determination is essential.
Never doubt that a small group of individuals can change the world,
for it’s the only thing that can.

A fascinating two days!

Joe Murray from America, currently residing in Norway, worked with us for two long days. We covered a wide range of subjects such as eugenics and genetic engineering, what it means to be a Deaf person and Deaf history. We also presented three articles that shows different perspectives about the Deaf Community as a whole and had a great discussion!
First, we focused on the history of Deaf people and eugenics, how intermarriage between Deaf persons were discouraged. Alexander Graham Bell, ironically the inventor of the telephone, was a pioneer in the eugenics movement against Deaf people. Joe shared some personal information about Bell and his life; it was amazing to actually view Bell as a human being who himself had personal doubts about what he was doing. It was also interesting to learn about the reactions Deaf people had toward the eugenics movement and campaign to keep Deaf persons from marrying one another. The movement can be considered a failure because approximately 90% of Deaf still marry other Deaf, one of the highest ratings of a minority group. As I said before, in order to understand life as it is now, it is important to understand the past, to learn from mistakes and to find strategies for the future.
My group presented Harlan Lane's article Ethnicity, Ethics and the Deaf-World. This was a fascinating article where the argument that Deaf people belong to an ethnic group is a strong one. He explained how we can't be identified with other disability groups because of several reasons: our needs are very different, we have a high percentage of intermarriage and we do not view ourselves as disabled. After presenting this article and learning about different perspectives as presented by the other groups, we had a heated discussion about which group we should belong to: Disabled or Minority (linguistic, ethnic, etc). We also discussed whether we can belong to BOTH. Some of us were unsure what we could do- like me for example. In America, we've been classified as disabled for many years- many of our privileges, rights and protection are under disability laws. I can't help but wonder if it IS possible to make a transition from being a disability group to a minority group completely. What would happen with all the laws that protect us from discrimination and provide us with access to interpreters, captioning, etc. When I think about it... almost everything I do in America is somehow related to being "disabled"- at the University, I use Disability Services, my government monetary support is from Disability funds and I am a licensed Special Education teacher, meaning I teach "disabled" children. I feel the concept is already so much rooted into the system that I must wonder how we can make the transition to being protected as a minority group. What about using both labels? Harlan Lane argues against using both labels; he believes that would make our fight weaker and offers those involved in oralism/pathology the opportunity to continue and try to fix our disability. What a dilemma!
We ended our two rewarding days with Joe by discussing how we should view ourselves and what argument we should use against the oralism/cochlear implant movement. Many Deaf activist groups have steered away from the ear, having nothing to do with our inability to hear. Many people supporting oralism tend to focus on the 5 senses and how Deaf people lack one sense: hearing. We discussed embracing this concept and using it against them! Why don't we declare that YES, we do lack one sense but that does not make us any less than anyone else. Our other senses are enhanced and we have adapted to living without the sense of hearing. We ARE different and there's nothing wrong with that! I must agree with this... I was raised with this perspective. My parents always told me that EVERYONE is different or unique in their own ways. If it is not deafness, it could be a particular skill or ability to do something. For me, I am a visual person who uses a beautiful visual language and live in a rich culture. I am different and accept myself just the way I am! Maybe if we used this perspective and jumped over to the same "side" as our enemies, we would be able to accomplish much more. Maybe we would be able to preserve our rich heritage, culture and language, helping countless Deaf children have a positive view of themselves!

Deafism and Philosophy

Whew... what an interesting couple weeks we've had here! I've absorbed so much information about a variety of topics relating to the Deaf World. I've learned so much but my list of research topics has been expanding ever so rapidly! I wonder if I'll ever have time to just sit at my computer and surf the web!

Learning about Deafism, we had a crash course in Philosophy and I really became interested in learning more about the field of Philosophy. Foucault's name is constantly mentioned and his work seems to "help" our cause so I find it important that we know about this philosopher. Also, in fighting for the preservation of our culture and language, we need to know the different perspectives and sciences that are harmful to us. One such theory is Positivism, the field of positive sciences. This includes biology, the area in which the Deaf community has suffered greatly. With the biological view of us and our community, the focus becomes narrow and more specific on the problem of hearing loss. From this point-of-view, our hearing loss is a problem that needs to be repaired; this perspective has persisted for centuries. How can we aid the transition from this view to a more postmodernism view, one that focus on the whole human and the betterment of human life?
I also find it extremely important that members of the Deaf Community understand and are able to discuss different topics such as phonocentrism (the discriminatory focus on spoken language), audiocentrism (the excessive and demeaning focus on hearing) and audism, oppression related to sign language and visual communication. Deafism, Deafhood and other information about minority/ethnic groups are also important. In knowing this information, we are able to defend our community and culture, provide viable arguments and basically show that we "know what we're talking about!" Armed with this information, we can help protect our community from ethnocide that may result from cochlear implants and genetic engineering.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Our excursion to Copenhagen!

First, I must say Happy Halloween!!! I know it's a silly American holiday but ... :)
We just returned from Copenhagen... what a busy week! We went to different places every day and learned a lot about the Deaf community in Denmark. A few were particularly interesting to me...

Castberg tour
Redtop, a Deaf leader, gave us a tour in his beautiful sign language about Dr. Castberg, the "father" of Deaf Education in Denmark. It was a fascinating story and touching to learn how events unfolded. Because of this man, Denmark has had sign language in the Deaf Education system since the 1800s rather than being influenced by the neighboring oral Germany.

Deaf TV
Denmark has 40 hours of Deaf TV programming every year. We learned about the history beginning in the 60s and the different programs they provide for different age groups. It was fun for me to learn about Deaf TV because America hasn't had any Deaf programming since the early 90s.

CI meeting
We met with an audiologist who works with Cochlear Implants. She explained about the device and how it works, as well as what has been happening in Denmark. In the past year, 98% of Deaf babies have been implanted and we asked her questions about this happening. She emphasized that CIs can benefit ALL Deaf people- ranging from hearing the birds singing to becoming completely "hearing". She was unable to give straight answers and kept on "blaming" the parents- saying over and over that the parents chose this for their children. They are responsible for researching and making the informed decision to proceed with implantation. She even went so far saying that she is not responsible for the long-term effects and other psychological issues that may happen with the child. Very interesting...

Sunday, October 23, 2005


We covered a wide variety of topics in the past two weeks... we also took breaks from focusing on DEAF issues by playing golf, completing several brainteaser activities and watching a film that showed characteristics of high power distance and about how people react to change. (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest with Jack Nicholson- very good movie!!!! I also highly recommend the book!)
Last week, Peter Niemela, a Finnish living here in Denmark, came and discussed different components of the Deaf World with us. He focused on history and sports and shared his "Deaf Stamp" collection with us. (105 stamps in all. Many focused on Helen Keller, sign language and L'Epee- there was even one of a Cochlear Implant! Very interesting!) As Peter was sharing historical information and pictures with us, I couldn't stop thinking about how important it is for our Deaf youth to learn about our history and to have that a part of the school curriculum. As children learn about important figures in history, they also need to learn about Deaf Education and how it developed throughout the world. They need to know about Milan and what has happened in the past century. They also need to understand why residential Deaf schools and Deaf Clubs are so important to the Deaf World and their part in our history. They need to learn about the revolutions in the Deaf community and all the accomplishments that we've made in fighting for our rights. Knowing about our history and the important figures in our community would benefit Deaf youth in so many ways. If they know their roots and where they came from, they can better understand who they are now and why they live the way they do. They would not feel lost. They would also have a sense of pride in who they are, be confident in the Deaf World and what it has to offer and share this positive attitude with others. Also, if we know our history, we can learn from the mistakes- both our own and others'. That way, we can lessen the chance of making the same mistakes- ones that can cost us years and years and one lost child too many. Knowing about past accomplishments and what people have done for the Deaf World in the past can also instill a sense of gratitude and inspire Deaf youth to fight for future generations.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Deaf Culture and the Deaf Community

Deaf Culture: it is a common topic of discussion and debate in the Deaf Community. When Deaf people gather at events or conferences, this topic will somehow creep into conversations and the results may be unpredictable! Frontrunners has been discussing this topic at length but it seems like more questions than answers can be found! Why is that?
I feel that it's hard to define Deaf Culture simply because it involves so much and the members are so diverse. For as long as I can remember, I've always known that there are many different "kinds" of Deaf people- we all have different experiences with sign language, our families, education, etc. We are also scattered all over the world so it's harder to keep the culture steady like other territorial cultures can.
Hilde Haualand, a Deaf(!) anthropologist from Norway, came for one day this week. We seized the chance and asked her many questions about Deaf Culture and the Deaf Community. Her answers confirmed what we had already known, it is impossible to perfectly define a culture. Culture is a process and is constantly changing; cultures are influenced by other cultures, especially the majority culture. This has happened with the Deaf Culture- the hearing community has always been somehow a part of our community. In fact, this is how Deaf Culture was created in the first place! The Deaf people as an oppressed group came together to create a group that emphasizes sameness (deafness and sign language) and to unify against the oppressors. Deaf Culture may also differ in places around the world. In places such as Europe and America, the foundation of the Deaf Culture and Community are the Deaf Club and Deaf School (residential schools built in the 1800s). Some countries do not have these- their culture may be based on something else like clubs and community events. Also, some Deaf Clubs and Schools are closing- will that affect Deaf Culture? Not only that, but with the advances in technology and improved education, the future of the Deaf Community will look very different.
I also found it very interesting that Hilde said people belonging to minority groups are natural anthropologists. I find this absolutely true! We are constantly evaluating cultures and trying to figure out how to behave in different cultures. We are bicultural because we, as Deaf people with our own language and norms, live in a Hearing society. We face many hearing people everyday wherever we go.
Hilde explained about Deaf People being part of a Global Village when we gather at international events. We also create a Global Village at national or local events. Like I said before, we are constantly surrounded by the Hearing community so when we gather, it is like a temporary play world where normal rules are replaced by close and egalitarian communitas. The experience is intense because time is short- we use the time to socialize, share ideas, network and more. It is a time when deafness is normal and everyone is surrounded by people like us. We tend to say that we are "home" when we attend these events and participate in the temporary Global Villages.
It was a great day and I enjoyed learning from Hilde! As for the topic of Deaf Culture- all I can say is... to be continued! :)

World Federation of the Deaf (WFD)

Last week, a well-known American (from Sweden) came and worked with us for almost two days. Yerker Andersson has been working at Gallaudet for many years and developed the Deaf Studies department in the 1990s. I had heard about this man but never had a chance to meet him- it was so great being able to learn from him and even to sit down and drink tea with him! :)
Besides working at Gallaudet, Yerker has also been involved in the WFD for many years- as Vice President 1975-1983 and President from 1983 to 1995. It was fascinating listening to him describe his experiences working with different countries and the cultural clashes that happened.
Yerker explained how society followed the medical model of deafness and focused on "fixing the deafness problem" for almost a century. As an organization, WFD (established in 1951) also followed the medical model until the 1980s. Yerker called 1983-1987 the breaking point when Deaf people declared that we have a culture and should not focus on "becoming hearing." That period was our "revolution" when sign language was being recognized as a true language and that Deaf people are not broken hearing people but rather members of the Deaf Community with its own language and culture. The results of years and years of restlessness and excitement can be seen in the Deaf President Now! Revolution at Gallaudet University in 1988. WFD made many changes- for example, rules were finally established in 1995 requiring only Deaf Delegates to partake in the congress/conferences. (WFD Presidents have always been Deaf).
It is hard to believe that so much has happened in the past 20 years in the Deaf Community around the world in terms of legal rights, acceptance, awareness, etc. Of course, we have to remember that it has come a century too late and that we still have so much to do!
Yerker explained about different organizations around the world that work with WFD. WFD works closely with the United Nations and International Disability Alliance (IDA), which includes the organizations Disabled Peoples' International, World Blind Union, and more. WFD is also involved with the World Health Organization (WHO). I found it very interesting that in 2002, WHO accepted both the medical and social model for deafness. I couldn't help but think- what an accomplishment! But it happened in the 21st century!?!?
I enjoyed having Yerker here tremendously and hope to see him again at Gallaudet someday!

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Our excursion to Finland!

What a week we had! We went to Helsinki, Finland to participate in the International Conference of the WFD for Human Rights. The conference was titled “Our Rights, Our Future” and had speakers who focused on the topic of human rights in the Deaf community. The right to use sign language and to be educated in sign language was the main theme of the human rights conference.
This was my first experience attending an international conference- it was amazing- all the sign languages being used, the different colors and dress, the unity of Deaf Peoples! It was inspiring to see two Deaf members of their country Parliament speak in the conference (Wilma of South Africa and Helga of the Flemish Parliament in Belgium). That got me thinking about Deaf politicians in the USA… have to research on that…
After being a professional and an educator in the Deaf Education field for some time now, it was strange attending a conference as a Frontrunners participant- which now has been termed an extremist group by some! :) As a group, we gave a short presentation and handed out flyers about genocide against the Deaf Community. We also wore t-shirts with a picture of bowling pins representing the Deaf Community and a bowling ball representing genocide. We shared information about how genocide is happening in the Deaf Community- through genetic engineering and the suppressing of sign languages.
Overall, many Deaf people at the conference agreed with us and support using the term genocide. However, some still associate genocide only with murders and devastation (the Holocaust, for example). The UN has established an international definition for genocide- two articles apply to the Deaf Community: forcibly transferring children from a group into another and causing seriously bodily or mental harm to members of the group. I feel that this is absolutely true. I have seen many Deaf children being transferred into the hearing world without having any say in the process and the mental harm that has resulted. Not only that, but also the harm of delayed language development, cognitive thinking and learning that occurs in almost all Deaf children. I do understand the countless parents and educators who believe it is best for the Deaf child to be able to function in the mainstream (aka hearing and normal) society. It is a logical argument for any minority group- in order to survive or to become successful, you have to be able to function in the majority society. However, it is impossible to have the one perfect ideal that everyone can and must follow. (Like my parents always said “What is normal, anyway!?!?“) That is why diversity is finally being embraced nowadays in many nations- resulting in more acceptance in language and cultural differences among peoples. It was interesting for me to learn about the countries that embrace minority groups and language diversity and how the Deaf usually fare better in these countries.
Outside the conference, I met many great people and did some international networking! I also attended a performance with groups from different countries- with drama, dancing and even rapping by Deaf performers! We had a great time and I look forward to attending the next international conference! :) (Hopefully that will be the conference in France next month!)

American Sign Language (ASL) as Genocide in the Deaf World

This is in response to Minna’s questions asking if ASL is our own genocide in the Deaf Community- specifically in third world countries. (See: ASL and 3rd World at Minna is right… ASL can be found in many places around the world. Although the language has been intensively studied and documented and is revered as one of the identifying factors of our Deaf Culture, it has spread outside the good ol’ USA. Why is this? Why is ASL used in many other countries? Is this in fact the genocide of sign languages?
In reference to Africa and other third-world countries that are using ASL today, I don’t think that language genocide is the easy answer to the question why ASL is being used there. The spread of ASL in these countries should be viewed more like natural language development and creolizing.
Andrew Foster, the first Black man to graduate from Gallaudet University, founded 13 Deaf Schools in Africa in the 1900s. Although many of these countries were former British and French colonies, Foster used ASL in his instruction and implementation of Deaf Education. This is viewed as negative by some and may also be viewed as language genocide. However, there are so many factors that need to be considered before declaring it to be genocide. First, these African countries did have their own indigenous sign languages but they were not documented and many hearing educators were not involved in the Deaf Community so they did not know sign language. Foster taught a “crash-course” in ASL vocabulary to many hearing teachers, perhaps because it was convenient and because the native sign languages had not yet been documented. Today, there is a resurgence in the research and protection of many native sign languages in Africa. Before Foster arrived, these African countries may have been using French or British sign languages- should that also be considered genocide? The exactly same thing happened to ASL in the 1800s. ASL was “born” as a creole of Clerc’s sign language from France (which followed the spoken grammar), indigenous sign languages that was already present in America and home signs that had developed. Contact languages that are passed down across generations undergo structural expansion called creolizing. This is a natural process of language development where vocabulary and grammar are borrowed from different languages to form its own. This has happened in many places with both spoken and sign languages, as well as sign languages other than ASL. New Zealand and Australia use a form of British Sign Language. Many European sign languages have borrowed from French Sign Language because L’Epee, a French priest, founded many Deaf schools across Europe in the 1700-1800s.
Of course, it is different nowadays- if someone goes to a different country and forces ASL upon the Deaf Community, that should be considered as genocide. But there are also other factors to consider in today‘s society. The world has become “smaller” through technology (especially the internet) and the English language (particularly American English) has spread rapidly throughout the world. Through globalization, English has become the “language of the world” and many corporations and agencies know that in order to succeed in the business/marketing world, they need to know English. It is natural for the sign language most associated with American English to become the “international sign language” of the world, which happens to be ASL. People associate ASL with English because it is used in the USA, and because of the numerous attempts throughout history to combine the two languages through manual English, SEE, etc. Should we call this the genocide of the Deaf Community? Should we blame English as genocide in the general world of languages? Because as long as English dominates the world, so will ASL in the Deaf Community.
NOTE: It is unfortunate that so many native sign languages have not been recognized and protected. Here, I am not dismissing this occurrence or its disastrous results. Rather, I am focusing on the concept "language genocide" as associated with ASL usage throughout the world.

Sunday, September 18, 2005


Last week, we learned about a 13-year project between the Deaf Communities of Denmark and Uganda. Deaf Ugandans learned about how to fight for equality, assessing their sign language, establishing a strong Deaf Association and so on. In 13 years, much was accomplished. For example, their sign language has been recognized by the government and a sign language book will be published next year. They also opened an interpreting training program and have interpreted news on two national television channels. It is clear that this kind of long-term project between a developed country and a developing/third-world country can be very successful. We discussed about having more projects such as this one and the timeframe (we agreed 13 years was too long because of dependency, etc). We also discussed the experiences of our own countries and if our Deaf Association has projects with developing countries. Many participants in Frontrunners are interested in helping their own communities and achieving more equality but we feel it is important to work with third-world/developing countries as well.
My personal viewpoint…
As a traveler who has worked in third-world/developing countries, I find myself belonging to a minority. Many Americans, both deaf and hearing, are simply not interested in working overseas or helping those less fortunate. Often, people ask me why I travel so much- why I don’t just stay home and work there. They wonder why I don’t own a house, a car or have a steady job (for more than a few years at least). Many Americans have the view that even though they live in the richest nation in the world, they do not need to help people in other countries- or that sending money overseas is sufficient. Don’t take me wrong, there are many, many Americans who help other countries and communities through organizations and churches. But again, we are a minority. Why is this?
To understand the perspective of Americans, we must take a look at our history and see how that affects us today. Since people from England immigrated to America and established colonies, we have had the mindset of possessing property and gaining wealth, as well as independence. We focused on gaining wealth through land ownership and becoming successful living in America to prove England that we could. You must remember that America was new to the western world (white people) and to establish something from scratch so recently was quite an accomplishment. Ever since, we’ve been stuck in the mentality that we must own things or land to be successful. This is why many Americans feel that they must own more than one car, a huge house, different “toys” such as boats, snowmobiles, riding lawn mower, outdoor bar, and so on. Americans also live in a very individualistic society. We are not raised as a community like the African people are- we do not focus on the equality and social good of everyone like the Scandinavians do. We need to become successful, and in order to do so, we focus on the self and “climbing the ladder” with the minimal support of family and friends. Naturally, this conflicts with the nature of helping others, especially in developing countries.
Another issue is the “two Americas” that we have in the USA. There are a huge number of people who belong to the lower-class; so many people are homeless and poor in America. How can they contribute to helping other developing countries? Should this obligation be reserved for the upper-class Americans? What about members in the middle-class who work very hard to have a comfortable life?
Now, with the Deaf community, it gets more complicated. We as a minority or as an oppressed culture have “problems” of our own that we need to focus on. Many of us are barely surviving the daily life and can’t meet our basic needs. How can we help other Deaf communities that are struggling to achieve equality in their societies? However, the USA and Scandinavian countries in general have achieved so much and their citizens enjoy a relatively “normal” life with various services, employment opportunities and adequate education. (of course, we can argue that but that’s for another time!) Shouldn’t these Deaf citizens help the Deaf in third-world or developing countries? Do they have an obligation to these less fortunate and to share their knowledge and experiences with them? Naturally, there are different views and opinions about this issue. Many would say that it is never enough- we have not achieved equality in our society and that we need to focus on improving conditions within our own communities before helping others. But I ask- will we ever achieve complete equality? Will we ever reach the kind of world where we are completely equal, able to get any job we want, have FULL communication access (which means everyone is able to sign very well, everything is printed out for us and so on), enjoy acceptance by everyone… Is that possible for ANY minority or oppressed group? I am not trying to be a pessimistic- but I AM realistic. The goal of equality is a very good one that is worth reaching for- but also very difficult. That’s why I believe that while we are fighting for more equality in our own community, we can still help others in developing countries achieve the most basic rights that we (in developed or first-world countries) take for granted everyday.


The first two weeks I’ve been here in Castberggaard and participating in Frontrunners has flown by so quickly! So much information has been shared and consumed by myself and everyone in the program. We are constantly learning about one another and the Deaf Communities where we come from. We like to compare the different services and what is provided in each country- not to see who’s “better” but because we want to know- awareness is the key to improving and changing things! Here, we discuss and ponder many different issues- culture, identity, Deaf Associations, world organizations, etc. We also question about who belongs in the Deaf World, and if we belong to a culture or are part of a minority.
Discussing culture and how we should “label” ourselves, I learned about two perspectives that I hadn’t heard about before: Diaspora and Deafhood. They are both correct definitions of Deaf people that applies to us in different ways. As a Diaspora, Deaf people do not have our own territory and are often integrated in the capitalistic system. We are “scattered” all over and experience oppression in school, work and social life, thus creating a group identity where we develop our own cultural norms and activities. As a Deafhood, we focus on being part of the Deaf community and accepting Deafness as our identity. This is a much more positive perspective that focuses on us accepting our Deafness as a culture and identity and the desire to belong in the Deaf Community.
Last week, we had several guest speakers who had so much information to share with us. I learned about the World Federation of the Deaf and their Youth Section. They offer camps for international Deaf youth in specific age groups every year in different countries. I also learned about different international organizations (World Bank, International Monetary Fund, United Nations), what they specifically focus on and the services they provide all over the world. One speaker described a project that the Danish Deaf Association has been involved in for the past 13 years in Uganda. See DEVELOPING COUNTRIES (next entry) for more information and my thoughts.
Also, the first week we were here, we focused on developing our Frontrunners blog website ( That in itself was a great experience- we made a website from scratch! We divided responsibilities according to everyone’s skills or expertise- photographing, web making, interviews, writing reports, etc. We will also learn from one another so we don’t have to keep the same responsibilities while maintaining the website.
Although my brain sometimes feels that it’s running on overload, it has been an amazing experience participating in Frontrunners and working with Deaf leaders from other countries! I am enjoying the experience tremendously and look forward to all I will learn and experience the next three months!