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April is Deaf History Month

Deaf History Month celebrates the diversity and richness of deaf culture.

Deaf History Month

You might not be familiar with the name Lottie Mae Crook, who broke barriers by being the first Black woman to attend a white school for the deaf. Or Colin Denny, whose performance of “America the Beautiful” during the 2023 Super Bowl pregame show introduced millions of Americans to indigenous sign language. While less commonly known, their stories and others like theirs showcase the richness and diversity within the deaf and hard of hearing community.

 

As we head into April, a month dedicated to celebrating Deaf History, let’s look at the significance of this observance and how we can honor the heritage of deaf culture, with a focus on the experiences of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) deaf individuals.

Understanding deafness and hearing loss

Deafness and hearing loss refer to a spectrum of conditions that affect an individual’s ability to hear. While some individuals may be completely deaf, others may experience varying degrees of hearing loss. Communication methods within the deaf community are equally diverse, ranging from sign language, lip-reading, and written communication to assistive technologies like hearing aids and cochlear implants. This diversity underscores the importance of recognizing the unique experiences and challenges faced by individuals within the deaf community.

 

 For BIPOC individuals, these challenges often intersect with systemic barriers and disparities rooted in racism, colonialism, and ableism. Understanding the intersectionality of deafness and race is crucial in acknowledging the unique experiences and struggles faced by BIPOC deaf individuals within the broader deaf community, and fostering inclusivity and accessibility for all.

Intersectionality explores how different parts of an individual’s identity (like race, gender, and social class) all intersect and can affect how they experience discrimination or privilege in society. (Source: Mobile Deaf)

History and Significance of Deaf History Month

Deaf History Month, observed during April of each year, is a time to celebrate the contributions and achievements of deaf individuals throughout history. The observance dates back to 1997, when the National Association of the Deaf sought to raise awareness and recognition of deaf history and heritage.

 

Beyond honoring prominent figures in the deaf community, Deaf History Month serves to highlight the often-overlooked stories and experiences of BIPOC deaf individuals. From the resilience of Black deaf students who developed their own form of sign language in the segregated South, to the tireless activism of Indigenous deaf leaders working to preserve indigenous sign languages, BIPOC deaf history is rich and diverse, yet frequently marginalized in mainstream narratives.

5 ways to participate in Deaf History Month

1. Attend a sign language workshop

With over 300 sign languages worldwide, deaf individuals often have preferences for particular sign languages based on their geographical or cultural background. Sign language workshops offer a fun and interactive way to encourage learning and appreciation of these different forms of sign language. 

 

Local community colleges are a great place to find workshops catering to various sign languages including American Sign Language (ASL), International Sign (IS), and others specific to certain regions and countries. These workshops not only foster communication skills but also promote cultural understanding and inclusivity of deaf individuals in your community. 

2. Make your workplace more accessible

April is a good time to check that your physical and digital spaces are accessible to deaf individuals. This can be as simple as updating signage at your place of business, turning on captioning and providing transcripts for Zoom meetings, and utilizing visual aids in presentations. This checklist will help you make your workplace more accessible.

3. Offer disability sensitivity training

Disability sensitivity training equips participants with knowledge about various disabilities, their impacts on individuals’ lives, and strategies for effective communication and interaction. Investing in disability sensitivity training for employees can foster a more inclusive and supportive environment for individuals with disabilities, including those who are deaf or hard of hearing. A good resource is the National Disability Institute’s Disability Sensitivity Guide.

4. Support deaf-owned businesses

Whether you purchase a painting from a deaf artist or seek services from a deaf-owned company, your support helps empower the deaf community. The Communication Service for the Deaf has compiled a directory of deaf-owned businesses to get you started.

5. Attend cultural events

This month, seek out cultural events and gatherings organized by a variety of deaf communities. From film screenings to performances showcasing deaf talent, these events provide opportunities to learn, connect, and celebrate diversity. To locate events near you, check with local deaf organizations, colleges, and community centers, or visit Alldeaf’s online event director.

Download the free Disability Events Calendar

As we commemorate Deaf History Month, let’s commit to building inclusive communities where the voices and intersectional experiences of all deaf individuals are uplifted and celebrated. Together, we can create a more equitable and accessible future for all! For more ideas, download the free disability events calendar. 

Free Resource: 2024 Disability Events Calendar
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