Awareness needed to defeat deaf discrimination

Published 4:34 pm Monday, September 23, 2019


The Advocate-Messenger

September is Deaf Awareness Month, and this week is the International Week of the Deaf.

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The “IWDeaf,” as it is called, has been celebrated annually since 1958. It falls in the last full week of September commemorate when the first World Congress of the World Federation of the Deaf was held.

Deaf people have not always received the respect and dignity they deserve; for too long, the general population looked down on them as “less than.” Even today, deaf people still face discrimination. And there are many obstacles to their success put in their way — not due to their deafness but due to how society treats people who are deaf.

But countless deaf people have persevered and achieved great things despite those obstacles. Some of the most influential people in history were deaf or had hearing loss, including Ludwig Beethoven, Alexander Graham Bell, Helen Keller, Francisco de Goya and Thomas Edison.

People who are deaf are also successful musicians, business owners, educators, professional athletes, authors — the list goes on and on. Deaf people may have different abilities, but really, we all have different abilities and different obstacles to our success. Being deaf isn’t a reason to think less of someone anymore than the color of their eyes.

Awareness of that seemingly obvious statement is needed because it’s unfortunately not something a lot of people realize. That’s why celebrating Deaf Awareness Month and IWDeaf is important.

This year is a special year for IWDeaf, because yesterday was also the first ever International Day of Sign Languages. The day was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly and will be celebrated on Sept. 23 every year, beginning this year.

In concert with the U.N., the World Federation of the Deaf has also given a theme to this year’s IWDeaf of “With Sign Language, Everyone is Included.”

Each day of this week has been given its own special focus:

• Monday, Sept. 23 — sign language rights for all;

• Tuesday, Sept. 24 — sign language rights for all children;

• Wednesday, Sept. 25 — sign language rights for deaf senior citizens;

• Thursday, Sept. 26 — sign language rights for deafblind people;

• Friday, Sept. 27 — sign language rights for deaf women;

• Saturday, Sept. 28 — sign language rights for deaf LGBTIQA+; and

• Sunday, Sept. 29 — sign language rights for deaf refugees.

What can you do during IWDeaf? Ashley Derrington, a soccer player for the USA Women’s National Deaf Team, has some ideas she recently published through Hearing Like Me:

• teach or learn sign language;

• reach out to companies and governments to encourage them to fulfill their legal obligations to the deaf population;

• encourage, advocate and promote deaf people as one-of-a-kind;

• support deaf businesses; and

• emphasize the importance of sign language as a key part of human rights for deaf people.