The Great Equalizer

By Dragan Jaksic, CAC Director of Community Education and Enrichment

This is fresh off the presses: The Deaf are no longer the silent minority. Emphasis on silent.

Unbeknownst to the general public, the Deaf have infiltrated the very fabric of their collective every day lives and have left their footprints in every corner of their conscience. Slowly but surely, more and more of the patrons of the hearing world are being conditioned to the point of complete acquirement of American Sign Language and understanding of the Deaf Culture. There will surely come a day when every hearing individual is able to use their fingers and hands for something other than to punch in phone numbers on their cell phone. Yes, my dear Deaf friends, the Great Plan is still in effect.

It began innocently enough. First there were ASL instructional books sitting on the library and Barnes & Noble shelves, and then appeared the books on various deaf-related matters written by deaf individuals that are carving a niche in every book-order catalog. A deluge of directional ASL videos in VHS and PC formats filled the electronic goods stores. ASL and Deaf Culture classes popped up in every community college curriculum. Signing deaf persons are increasingly featured in movies, TV programs, and commercials. The 1988 Deaf President Now movement put the deaf community on the map.

More and more televisions with closed-captioned features are set up bars, restaurants, and in doctor’s offices. TTYs are now a common sight in every airport, library, federal building, and hospital. People in general working at fast food restaurant and hotel counters gradually know to hand over a paper and pencil when a signing deaf customer walks in. Hearing people are less apt to stare at a signing couple in a restaurant or have that “deer in the headlights” look when being approached by one. With the advent of Video Relay Service systems came less frustrating and more quick telecommunication transactions.

Among these advancements arrived the Internet, the Great Equalizer. E-mail features enabled us to send e-mails that did not reveal the fact that we are Deaf. Chat rooms are now being visited by the Deaf people, unknown to the rest of the populace. Deaf-related websites are springing up like weeds. Blog websites established by Deaf persons are peppering the Internet landscape. Movies completely spoken in ASL are now available for mass consumption ( www.aslfilms.com and www.mosdeux.com ). In a never-been-done move, www.d-pan.com is featuring music videos expressed in—what else?—ASL.

Not to be outdone, BabySign programs are the latest rage. Sign language programs are offered to hearing parents to teach signs to their hearing prelingual children to foster more efficient communication between parent and child and to encourage earlier linguistic development and fewer tantrums on the part of the child.

Like I said, the Great Plan is well on its way to fulfillment. There will come that glorious day when (with apologies to Dr. Martin Luther King) all of God's children, the Deaf and the hearing, the manualists and the recovering oralists, will be able to join hands and SIGN the words of the old Deaf spiritual, "Voice-free at last! Voice-free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are voice-free at last!"

All right, so I am being facetious. But you have to concede the fact that, with the invention of the Internet, awareness of ASL and Deaf Culture is on an all-time high. More so than it was twenty years ago. Back then, informal contact between hearing and deaf was mostly based on accident. There were infrequent portrayals of Deaf characters in movies and television. Books on Deaf-related issues did not fly off the shelves. Deaf people were perceived as being inferior. Oralist and Total Communication educational philosophies hindered the Deaf children’s ability to embrace their own identity and to prosper.

The Internet changed all that. As long as a Deaf person can read and write English, communication barriers are toppled. From these barriers’ ruins came empowerment. Deaf people everywhere are using their multi-media capabilities to create video messages (vlogs) and movies, proudly and in ASL, no less! They are likewise using the blog sites as forums to intellectually discuss any deaf-related matters. Websites that enthusiastically proclaim the wonderfully quirky aspects of Deaf culture are prevalent. In short, we are reaching out beyond our institutionalized walls. And hearing people are increasingly aware of these developments, by all intentions or by osmosis, and they are interested.

This is not to say that the Great Plan is underway. In fact, there is no Great Plan. There is a vision, though. The most tangible is Laurent, South Dakota. Other visions are Islay and Eyeth, or their variation thereof. There is a desire to live in a community where all forms of communication and cultural barriers are rendered nonexistent, sort of the second coming of Martha’s Vineyard. But there are challenges to be had: audism, ignorance, insensitivity, colonialism, paternalism, oppression, among others. It is going to be a long struggle.

As long as the fire burns in our bowels, we will overcome. And thanks to the Internet, we are gaining momentum.



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