CSD Announces Initiative to Reduce 72.5% Deaf Unemployment Rate
Communication Service for the Deaf (CSD) is committed to creating 100 deaf-owned businesses and 1,000 deaf jobs by 2018. Their new initiative, CSD Works, is aimed at lowering the 72.5 percent unemployment rate in the deaf and hard of hearing community. The program will kick off early January 2016 in Austin, Texas. Austin has the second-highest population of deaf and hard of hearing people in the country.
Chris Soukup, CEO of CSD, released this holiday message for the community (video in ASL above):
The holidays are both a time to celebrate and to reflect upon the things that are most important to us.
Our deaf community has achieved a lot through the years. However, we’ve made limited progress regarding employment. Today, here in the U.S., the unemployment rate is 5 percent, but within the deaf and hard of hearing community, 72.5 percent are either without jobs or have jobs that do not generate enough income to support their families.
The issue is not with our community — or our ability to work. Our main barrier is getting employers to recognize value in our workforce. CSD is committed to addressing this issue of unemployment.
In January, CSD will introduce new programs focused on achieving economic empowerment through creating and sustaining employment opportunity within our community. Our goal is to see our community play a greater role in the U.S. economy. Deaf people deserve the same opportunity to buy houses, support family, give to charity and pursue our dreams.
We value your support as we begin this journey. Everyone should have the opportunity to share and contribute their talent.
On behalf of all of us at CSD, we wish you and your loved ones happy holidays.
For more information, visit csd.org/works.
Yesterday marked a significant opportunity for the National Deaf Domestic Violence Hotline to achieve our community’s and the #WhoWillAnswer coalition’s goal of becoming 24/7. By operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week, the Deaf Hotline will be able to serve deaf and hard of hearing individuals who have experienced violence any time, anywhere. It is the only national hotline that provides direct access to advocates who communicate in American Sign Language and have deep understanding of Deaf culture.
In November 2014, the #WhoWillAnswer coalition — representing 15 anti-violence organizations that directly serve deaf survivors — launched a yearlong campaign to spread awareness and raise funds for this critical issue. The campaign received amazing support from the community. (You can read more about the campaign in this insightful post by Nikki Soukup, CSD’s director of program operations.)
This fall, the Administration of Children and Families (ACF) is proposing to revise the regulations implementing the Family Violence Prevention Services Act (FVPSA), which provides funding for the National Domestic Violence Hotline (and the National Deaf Hotline).
The current language in the FVPSA contains a mandate to provide a plan to serve individuals with hearing loss — but it allows the agency or organization applying for funding to determine how much funding is allocated to support deaf or hard of hearing survivors in need of direct access to hotline support services. Thus far, this has resulted in an oversight, with the National Deaf Hotline operating only from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays. After hours and during weekends, deaf and hard of hearing survivors have only the option of calling for support through a third-party video relay interpreter — a limited and especially impersonal means of communication.
Together, the 15 members of the #WhoWillAnswer coalition are submitting comments to the proposed rule modifying the FVPSA. The #WhoWillAnswer coalition is recommending that it include “descriptions of a plan for facilitating direct, 24-hour access to the hotline for people with disabilities, including the deaf and hard of hearing.” This rule change to the FVPSA will ensure anytime access to hotline staff fluent in American Sign Language, who understand Deaf culture and are trained to provide the caller with support services that are appropriate and accessible.
Your support is instrumental in this effort. Can you help us sustain this momentum and continue to raise awareness for this important need? You can show your support by spreading the word on social media, using the hashtag #WhoWillAnswer. If you’d like to reach out directly, contact ACF on Twitter or through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Facebook page.
Your support can help save lives. Together, we can make progress towards a safer, healthier and more accessible world.
This coming holiday season has generated a number of social media posts by people sharing their gratitude for the many blessings bestowed upon them. We can all appreciate the spirit of the holidays. As I reflect over this past year, my thoughts center on Communication Service for the Deaf (CSD), a nonprofit organization that I am fortunate to serve as a team member. We celebrated our 40th anniversary on November 1. This significant milestone could not have been possible without the support of partners who share our mission and core values.
I worked with CSD in 2001–2007 and was afforded the opportunity to return to this highly passionate, service-driven organization in 2012. Over my years at CSD, I cannot count the number of organizations we have collaboratively allied with to fulfill our mission. CSD recognizes that developing partnerships with others in the community strengthens our ability to achieve our goals. An excellent example of this is our collaboration with over 15 sister agencies in promoting the launch of Who Will Answer, a campaign dedicated to raising funds to make a 24/7 domestic violence hotline for the deaf and hard of hearing. We identified a need, and then together, we created nationwide awareness through social media and our shared networks.
CSD has recently evolved into a technology-centric organization. Until two years ago, we relied on external resources to define and create solutions to the challenges faced by our community. One of the opportunities we identified in moving towards technology is a turn-key solution that empowers deaf and hard of hearing individuals to choose their own sign language interpreter, Vineya. Vineya is the next generation solution to providing sign language interpreters for the deaf and hard of hearing community.
Our goal is to ensure that every deaf person has access to a sign language interpreter, no matter where they are located. We cannot do this alone.
As quoted by Helen Keller, “Alone, we can do so little; together we can do so much.”
CSD is leveraging partnerships with highly respected and reputable organizations throughout the U.S. and internationally who share our core values and believe in empowering deaf individuals to choose. One of the main lessons I have learned at CSD is that collaboration can solve broad challenges. This is made possible by leveraging each partner organization’s “core competencies” — that is, what it already does best. This includes intangible competencies like the credibility that comes with earned mutual trust and respect. CSD recognizes we cannot be present in every geographical location, but we can align with local organizations that have the existing expertise and resources needed to bring about positive change.
I believe it is in the best interest of organizations dedicated to social responsibility to promote a new paradigm and practice of collaboration. We can do more when we break down the traditional silos that divide governments, organizations and communities. We can and will continue to create innovative solutions by establishing alliances with entities that share a strong desire to positively impact the lives of deaf and hard of hearing people.
— AnnMarie Killian
Senior Account Executive
In my work with Communication Service for the Deaf (CSD), clients often ask me my recommendations on how companies can improve the overall experience for their deaf and hard of hearing employees and customers. These questions are fantastic, especially as it gives me the ability to educate decision makers on the entire breadth of services available and advise them to have an open and honest discussion with their employees to identify employee needs and their ability to choose how they want to access communication.
Who am I to make the decision on which services are best for any deaf and hard of hearing consumers, regardless of whether they are an employee, customer or patient? There are a number of extenuating factors to take into consideration (e.g., personal preferences, residual hearing, etc.).
I’ve also been asked countless times my thoughts on video remote interpreting (VRI).
It’s an excellent tool but not right for every situation.
It’s an important opportunity to reiterate the decision on whether to use on-site interpreters or VRI should not fall on the decision maker; it should be given to the consumer utilizing the services.
But why should we stop there?
Shouldn’t we make a concerted effort to ensure consumers have the ability to select their own interpreters, let alone whether they prefer to use an on-site interpreter or interpreter through VRI?
When my father was in and out of doctors’ offices and hospitals due to treatment for multiple myeloma, a cancer of the bone marrow, he was fortunate to have an oncologist who was quite receptive to his needs for communication and consistency, especially as he fully appreciated how difficult and time consuming it was to re-explain the condition and treatment plans to an interpreter. Unfortunately, these experiences were not the same for my father when he visited specialists or stayed in different hospitals for extended periods of time for treatment.
As a result, while my father was battling multiple myeloma, he also battled a system of oppression, one he referred to as being “broken.”
Much like our hearing counterparts can choose which cell phone provider they would like to use, deaf and hard of hearing individuals have the ability to choose which video relay service (VRS) provider they want to utilize for their phone calls. However, when it comes to accessing sign language interpreting services, consumers are often not given the decision-making ability to select which interpreter they would like to use, let alone the method of interpreting services utilized: on-site or VRI.
Unfortunately, many deaf and hard of hearing people have been forced to succumb to the choices of decision makers — decisions I have seen first-hand more often than not are either financially driven or a byproduct of misguided, anecdotal information being shared.
Surely, the perspectives of sign language interpreting agencies must be taken into consideration; there are cost controls and overhead to consider. More often than not, bids are won based on lowest price. As interpreter rates often correlate with certifications and/or licenses held by interpreters, this often leaves interpreting agencies with two options: 1) negotiate rates with interpreters to maximize margins or 2) the unfortunate circumstance in which an agency will send a lesser-credentialed interpreters who may or may not meet minimum standards and may also not be a good fit for the assignment(s) in question.
As a result of the latter, two groups of stakeholders suffer: 1) the deaf and hard of hearing consumers and 2) the companies.
While deaf and hard of hearing consumers may object to the interpreters selected or method of interpreting for the particular assignment for whatever reasons, their objections may fall on deaf ears — no pun intended — for various reasons mentioned previously.
On the flip side, companies’ concerns for cost control while also ensuring they are ADA complaint must be taken into consideration. However, companies may actually pay more money due to interpreters not being qualified or having the required skillset to handle assignments. This, in turn, leads to inefficient communication and, then, the need for more interpretation services. In this particular instance, while consumers and companies lose out on time and money, the agencies may benefit financially.
Prior to joining CSD, I often asked myself, “What if there was a solution that disrupted this status quo while raising standards and improving the experience for all involved?”
But as the saying goes, people don’t know what they don’t know.
At the time, I had no idea I would be looking back after two and a half years with CSD saying I’m blessed to work for a phenomenal organization that just recently celebrated its 40th anniversary and is committed to “reimagining communication” for deaf and hard of hearing people.
During the time my father was battling cancer, CSD was working on Vineya, the first online marketplace that exclusively features certified interpreters. A month after I joined the CSD team, Vineya was launched to the public.
Since launching, Vineya has grown tremendously with new features to meet the various needs of consumers, interpreters and companies, as well as agencies who have partnered with CSD to make Vineya accessible to their consumers. I look forward to working with existing agencies through partnerships. Vineya cannot replace the artistry involved in complicated scheduling situations – it can only enhance the process.
When thinking back to my father’s frustrating experiences in securing interpreting services during his ordeal with cancer, it’s a reminder of why I am passionate about the work I do every day. My father would have loved Vineya, the ability to choose which interpreters he would have liked to use, as well as whether he would have liked to use an on-site interpreter or interpreter through VRI.
There were situations where he asked me to stay late at the hospital during extended stays to ensure communication occurred smoothly due to not having an interpreter. He would often say, “I wish I had an interpreter through VRI for 15 minutes so you could go home and get some rest.” But at the same time, there were situations where he vehemently renounced a hospital’s decision to only offer VRI to him, especially preceding medical procedures, etc.
The answer: consumer choice.
It is time to question the status quo, is it effective, accessible communication? Is it empowering deaf and hard of hearing people to make the choices they want?
Disruptive innovations like Vineya can be scary, but like Uber, NetFlix and Airbnb disrupted their respective industries, Vineya is challenging the status quo by enabling choice for sign language interpreting services.
At the forefront of developing technological innovations, CSD was the first to introduce this disruptive technology. While first to go to market, CSD will not be the last. Technology is the wave of the future, and the time is ripe for the community at large to give deaf and hard of hearing individuals the ability to choose how they access communication.
Wayne Dyer, a best-selling author and motivational speaker, said it best, “If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” When it all comes down to it, we all have choices to make. I hope you make the choice to join me in empowering others to be able to fully appreciate the value of choice when it comes to sign language interpreting services.
— Corey Axelrod
Senior Account Executive
Often, when we attend a class, court, or conference, there is some effort to accommodate people with disabilities. Some deaf people are like me and rely on sign language interpreters, while others use Communication Real-Time Translation (CART). It is commonly known that people who ask for accommodations generally get one type of accommodation for effective communication. People do not realize they are able to request as many accommodations as they see fit. The main goal of accommodations is to provide equal access to the information.
For most, asking for two different accommodations is practically unheard of — and often challenged. Usually, financial burdens are the excuse. Sign language interpreters and CART services are two different fee-based services that provide effective communication for all.
When someone asks for both CART and an interpreter, event or program organizers often comply with only one request not two. They decide that the request for both is unreasonable. This is a barrier to effective communication.
What most people may not realize is this: each accommodation provides different outcomes. For example, sign language interpreters provide two-way communication. They often translate the messages on the fly. People who use sign language primarily benefit from using sign language interpreters. On the other hand, CART offers one-way communication for people who cannot hear. It becomes problematic when deaf audience members (who are not oral) want to ask questions or make comments during the program. This is a barrier to effective communication.
Often, I find that using both accommodations benefits me. I use a sign language interpreter to get information through my native language and CART to make sure I understand the context in English. With both, I am able to understand all of the information being presented equally. With an interpreter, when I ask a question or make a comment, the interpreter can voice my answer, while CART cannot. To CART’s advantage, we often find the general audience benefits from this service for a number of reasons. For example, if something is missed, an audience member can review the CART captioning to catch up.
Should we continue to keep this unspoken rule of limiting accommodations? Does this ensure effective communication for people with disabilities? Or is it high time for us to break down the barriers of restrictive communication regardless of cost and logistics?
For me, I would rather have both. I can be a much more productive and active member of society with both an interpreter and CART services. I believe you should be able to ask for all the accommodations you need to participate.
— Sean Gerlis
Through partnerships, sharing resources and creating awareness,
we continue to build a social movement.
We recognize a need, and together, we work towards a solution
that brings about change within our communities …
Not only am I a lifelong advocate, I am a survivor.
Having witnessed firsthand the lasting impact that violence has on individuals, I became innately aware of the need to create awareness that violent behavior or abuse is not acceptable.
This need led to my volunteer participation on boards of organizations that serve deaf and hard of hearing survivors of violence. I also participated in a nationwide training effort to establish deaf-focused programs, with the goal of replicating a proven national model established by Abused Deaf Women’s Advocacy Services (ADWAS) for my local community. Currently, through my work at Communication Service for the Deaf, Inc. (CSD), I oversee and provide support to statewide domestic violence and sexual assault (DVSA) programs.
As part of my training at ADWAS, I experienced what it was like “In Her Shoes.” I was given grim, realistic perspective as to the many challenges that survivors may encounter when attempting to leave an abusive relationship: be it from finding a safe place, child care, navigating the legal system or choosing to return home (which typically meant more abuse or even death). The cycle was heartbreaking. It was when I “died” that I realized how much of a critical need there was for direct access to resources through communication and cultural understanding. With fully accessible services, the survivor is better positioned to leave and begin a new life without abuse.
The 1998 ADWAS National Replication Project funded by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) established 15 deaf-led, deaf-focused domestic violence/sexual assault (DVSA) advocacy programs or organizations throughout the nation. Yet, a significant part of our community, especially those in rural areas, still aren’t able to access direct services. This is where the Deaf National Domestic Violence Hotline (DNDVH) comes in. The hotline provides necessary resources, along with a lighted pathway for those needing support.
To have the right for equal access to support.
To live free of violence and abuse.
To teach others by example.
Together, let’s make this vision a reality.
The Beginning of the DVSA Movement within the Deaf Community
Around the same time the national DV movement began throughout the U.S., the deaf DVSA movement was ignited by the 1981 murder of a deaf woman in Seattle. Her abusive, deaf husband had axed her to death as she tried to leave him. Members of the deaf community were deeply affected by this incomprehensible act. Upon realization that she wasn’t able to access any shelters or services that would meet her communication and cultural needs — which may have saved her life — the community began to mobilize. It was at this time that Marilyn J. Smith, founder and former longtime executive director of ADWAS, organized a group of deaf and hearing women and parents of deaf children to discuss a pertinent need: fully accessible support services for deaf survivors. One year later, in 1986, ADWAS was formed in the basement of Marilyn’s home with a $4,000 grant.
A survivor herself, Marilyn, along with the support of other key advocates, began expanding programming throughout the Seattle area, including the establishment the nation’s first transitional shelter specially designed for Deaf survivors. ADWAS was also asked by the DOJ to do another national training initiative in 2008 and 2009. By this time, the training would connect with over 30 locations throughout the nation in an effort to establish deaf-specific support services, organizations that understood cultural nuances and the need for direct service support in American Sign Language (ASL).
ASL is a unique language with its own grammatical rules and syntax. When ASL is translated into English, key information may be lost or misunderstood. We promote the use of either direct support through deaf domestic violence advocates or trained sign language interpreters. Other national organizations such as the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence also emphasize the use of trained sign language interpreters. When an interpreter is involved in communication facilitation, it is necessary that this interpreter be certified, trained and experienced in interpreting for domestic violence and/or specific situations.
Even more so, information exchanges become increasingly difficult when a person has experienced trauma, is in crisis or if the information conveyed is complex— all of which apply to deaf survivors. Deaf survivors, too, have the right to effective communication and equal access to services.
Critical Need: Addressing Higher Prevalence of Abuse within Deaf Community
Another national organization, the Vera Institute of Justice, is committed to enhancing victim services and justice responses to better meet the needs of all crime victims, especially those from marginalized communities. Vera was introduced to the deaf community in 2005 after launching a new project to improve access to services for crime victims with disabilities. In 2001, a Centers for Research on Women with Disabilities (CROWD) study showed that only six percent of DVSA shelters throughout the U.S. were able to support those with disabilities. Since the statewide charter projects were implemented through Vera’s partnership with the DOJ, positive progress has been made through the work of statewide disability, deaf, and DVSA coalitions, agencies and organizations, along with their communities. However, much work still remains.
Research from Vera shows that not only do deaf women experience higher rates of sexual and domestic violence than hearing women, but they are often shut out from victim services and support services that would allow them to leave safely, heal from trauma and seek justice after they have been abused.
- Twenty-five percent of deaf individuals experience emotional abuse. In addition to domestic violence, emotional abuse can be very damaging to those in the deaf and hard of hearing community. It leaves survivors at an emotional risk and can impair their future relationships.
- Deaf and hard of hearing individuals are 150 percent more likely to be victims of assault, abuse and bullying in their lifetime.
- Domestic violence impacts one out of every two deaf women and one out of every six deaf men.
- Deaf women in the U.S. experience rates of domestic and/or sexual violence equal to or higher than their hearing counterparts, with emerging research pointing to rates twice that of hearing women.
The Value of the Hotline
In 2003, ADWAS was awarded a contract to manage a National Abused Deaf Hotline (what it was called at that time). With this contract, the first national domestic violence toll-free hotline supporting the needs of deaf survivors was established. The DNDVH provides for a vital connection for those who reach out, particularly those who may not have immediate access to direct support. Current funding allows the DNDVH to operate on a national scale from 9 a.m to 5 p.m, Pacific Time, during weekdays. Additionally, because of local funding, ADWAS does offer 24/7 hotline services to the Seattle community. They’ve not yet the ability to offer this same support nationwide, because of the limited funds received.
As Tiffany Williams, executive director of ADWAS, shares, the hotline is not only a key resource for survivors; it also provides a variety of support services for individuals who experienced situations of violence. Seventy-five percent of their calls serve survivors, but 25 percent serve other purposes: families, friends, professionals, schools and vocational rehabilitation counselors.
“Other” examples may include:
- A teenager witnesses his friend being bullied. He isn’t comfortable about discussing this with people at his school or his family.
- A college student has a friend who she thinks is in a harmful relationship but doesn’t know what to do.
- Mainstream “hearing” DVSA agencies and shelters may be unsure of how to work with deaf survivors and are not sure who to contact.
Community Accountability, Social Responsibility and … #WhoWillAnswer
While the hotline is a valuable national resource for deaf survivors, it is also underfunded. Since recognition of this need, we’ve organized efforts to establish a funding stream to ensure that 24/7 services were provided at any time, anywhere. In early 2014, CSD discovered prospective funding to expand the hotline’s direct support services to 24/7 through the DOJ Vision 21 grants. By means of collaboration with ADWAS and several deaf-specific DVSA organizations throughout our nation, we would be able to provide: outreach programming for each DVSA organization, a web-based video platform for ease of connecting with the hotline, and a resource center where deaf-specific DVSA organizations may freely share information with another. This resource center would host a library of trainings, toolkits, policy recommendations and resources for individuals in states who have yet to establish direct services for deaf survivors.
In spite of the fact that our grant proposals weren’t approved, our team at CSD believed that the hotline was an essential resource for our community. We desired to bring awareness to an apparent need: centralized, ASL-accessible resources for the deaf survivors and shared resources and information among our deaf-specific DVSA organizations. Barriers to communication would not exist, allowing us our right to functional equality and autonomy.
The fire was still alive and our team at CSD couldn’t allow those flames to fade away. Then came the idea: Why not fund the 24/7 hotline through a crowdfunding platform? We then developed our own platform and social media channels, built a coalition with our sister organizations, worked with community members, and asked survivors to share their stories and of why there was a need for 24/7 access to direct support services. The #WhoWillAnswer campaign was officially launched on November 3, 2014, nearly one year ago today.
Over the course of the year, we’ve received answers from diverse individuals and groups all over the world who have participated in this movement, through feedback and support, media interviews, hosting fundraising and awareness events, such as the #wwaderby and #wwawhitegala, donating proceeds of funds from their products, sharing their stories and more … Engaging our community was a key success of the #WhoWillAnswer campaign. Each individual effort made a difference towards creating nationwide awareness and raised over $25,000 for the establishment of a 24/7 hotline for deaf and hard of hearing survivors and their communities.
Though public awareness of the deaf communities has increased, many times I am the first deaf person that a person has ever met. The continued lack of mainstream knowledge and awareness again reinforces a great need to create opportunity for deaf survivors to communicate or receive support from those who understand the nuances of one’s culture or language. It was vital for our communities to come together throughout this campaign and work towards the establishment of the 24/7 hotline – for this is a significant investment that WILL make a difference.
The Significance of Public Policy
In the past — and unfortunately, still in some smaller communities today — violence among members was considered the norm and/or taboo to discuss, even more so within tight knit, smaller communities such as deaf communities. Before policy was formed, persons who experienced violence often did not have a designated place for support of those who specifically shared similar experiences. This would change, however, with the enactment of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).
Beginning in 1989, Congress officially recognized Domestic Violence Awareness Month (DVAM) in the month of October. In honor of this year’s DVAM, President Barack Obama proclaimed “VAWA significantly transformed our nation – it enhanced the criminal justice response to violence against women and expanded survivors’ access to immediate assistance and long-term resources to rebuild their lives. The Family Violence and Prevention Services Act is another important piece of legislation that improved our public health response to domestic violence and increased the availability of critical services for victims.”
VAWA is administered through the DOJ. Additionally, the Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) — one of seven components of the DOJ— administers the Crime Victims Fund, which was developed by the 1984 Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) to help victims and victim service providers with program funding. VOCA has proven to be a key pipeline to create and expand programs to end violence in our communities today.
Currently, the National Domestic Violence Hotline (NDVH) is funded through the Family Violence Prevention Services Act (FVPSA), of which the Family and Youth Services Bureau (FYSB) administers and operates through the Family Violence and Services Program. In the FVPSA rules, there is a current mandate to provide for a plan to serve individuals with hearing loss. However, the current language as it is allows for interpretation of the agency or organization to determine how much funding is allocated to support deaf survivors who are in need of direct access to hotline support services. The good news as of recent is that the government is recommending new rules for FVPSA and requesting public input. All public comments are expected by December 14, 2015. Policy change is necessary to create sustainable funding for the hotline.
Believing in the Future …
Looking back, it has been an incredible year, with people appearing out of various communities, offering their thoughts, ideas, and support. For this, we are truly grateful and we also recognize that this is a meaningful, valuable issue for our community. This is an issue of equality… If hearing citizens throughout the U.S. are able to access direct support services at any time, anywhere, why can’t we?
We invite the community to continue to take action. Sign the petition at change.org, send in public comments, and share with your colleagues and networks. With your support, we will come closer to having equal access to direct support services whenever we are in need. With national 24/7 direct advocacy and support services, lives will be saved.
Though we’ve come a long way in 30 years,we still have a ways to go. Join us in continuing to make a difference!
— Nikki Soukup
Director of Program Operations
As a child of Deaf parents, I grew up in the beautifully diverse Deaf community. It’s a sad but true fact, that the Deaf community is affected by violence at an even greater rate than the current dismal national figures. This community crisis is compounded when Deaf victims seek help, as public systems meant to provide safety and justice are often inaccessible to deaf survivors. Amazing programs like Abused Deaf Women’s Advocacy Service (ADWAS) led the way to for other community heroes to establish culturally competent, American Sign Language (ASL) based victim services in several deaf and hard of hearing communities. However, the consistent availability and meaningful accessibility of such deaf-specific resources remains sadly disparate across America.
As Vice President of National Programs for Communication Service for the Deaf, I’ve had the opportunity to see the positive impact our own ASL based domestic violence advocacy services have on the safety and well being of the communities we serve. It also became apparent that there are real gaps in the accessibility and availability of such resources. There is a great need for a consistent, accessible resource to support deaf survivors and help them navigate their pathway to safety. ADWAS provides such a resource through the National Deaf Hotline Center, but due to limited funding provided generously by the National Domestic Violence Hotline, this ASL based hotline advocacy service is only available weekdays, from 9 am to 5 pm. This is not when most abuse and violence happens.
Without language, one cannot talk to people and understand them; one cannot share their hopes and aspirations, grasp their history, appreciate their poetry, or savor their songs.
– Nelson Mandela
A champion of human dignity, Nelson Mandela was a once-in-a-generation world leader who peacefully obliterated an institutional system of class and racial segregation in South Africa. Mandela also promoted a radical change in government policy on deafness and education by recognizing sign language as an official South African language and promoting sign language over oralism in the education of deaf learners. Unfortunately, such compassionate leadership and broad recognition of the human rights needs of deaf people worldwide simply does not exist today.
There are over 278 million deaf people across the globe. Eighty percent of this population—over 200 million—live in low and middle-income countries. According to the World Federation of the Deaf, a staggering 90 percent of deaf people in these developing countries receive NO formal education. Of the select few with access to formal education, only 1–2 percent receive it in sign language. Ninety percent of deaf children are born to non-signing, hearing parents and struggle to acquire ANY language at all. Lacking education and access to language, hundreds of millions of deaf adults struggle throughout their lifetime to find hope, employment and social fulfillment.
Deaf children are born with an equal capacity to be successful in education, employment and society alongside their hearing peers. Sign language is the single most important factor deaf children need to fulfill their innate capacity for achievement.
Through CSD’s Deaf Adult Basic Education (ABE) program in Minnesota, we have gained an invaluable perspective on the global struggle for language acquisition experienced by many deaf people. Seventy percent of our ABE students are deaf immigrants from developing countries, and most come to us without ANY language. Our program supports adult students like Ahmed, who came recently to America from war-torn Somalia. Before joining our program, Ahmed had never been to school and struggled at home to communicate with his family through gestures and “home signs.” Through our program, he finally has language (American Sign Language), a vocabulary and the joy of inclusion. LANGUAGE has given Ahmed access to the world and will provide him the empowering ability to make choices for himself and become self-sufficient.
CSD’s Minnesota ABE program will continue making a difference in the lives of adult students like Ahmed, but more must be done on a global scale to afford children LANGUAGE to learn, participate and thrive. That’s why I’m incredibly proud of our support of the World Federation of the Deaf, which is positively impacting change for deaf people worldwide and focusing international attention on what matters most in developing the innate capacities of our community through awareness campaigns like the 2015 International Week of the Deaf theme: “With Sign Language Rights, Our Children Can!”
The “With Sign Language Rights, Our Children Can” campaign will draw international focus on the basic human right afforded to children through language, while raising needed funds for WFD to sustain it’s efforts. WFD played a key role in ensuring that the human rights needs of the global deaf community were recognized in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (UNCRPD)— including Article 2, which recognizes sign language as a valid linguistic means of conveying thoughts, ideas and emotions. Funds raised through this campaign will help support WFD’s advocacy and coordinating role between the over one hundred UNCRPD signatory countries and their national deaf associations to guide the implementation of language rights laws that reflect their country’s UNCRPD commitment, including Article 24, Section 3B, which obligates governments to facilitate the learning of sign language and the promotion of the linguistic identity of the deaf community.
For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.
– Nelson Mandela
Like Mandela, we should strive to ensure true and full equality of ALL people. Without access to language and education, deaf people cannot communicate, learn or achieve on equal footing with the rest of society. We must recognize this as a form of apartheid and strive to support organizations working to erase it on a global scale. Please join me in supporting the WFD and it’s 2015 International Week of the Deaf theme by donating today!
— Ryan Hutchison
Vice President, CSD National Programs
We are a nation of immigrants. In Minnesota, this couldn’t be truer. We host some of the United States’ largest immigrant communities: Hmong and Somali. After the Vietnam War and under the guidance of the U.S. Department of State, Minnesota became a hotbed for resettlement of displaced refugees from the mountainous region of Laos. At the turn of the century, we began to host refugees from Somalia, which had been in the middle of a civil war for many years.
While it may seem a bit strange in terms of weather and climate, many refugees settle in Minnesota because of the many services that are available to assist new members of our society acclimate to their new home. Since the initial waves of immigrants arrived, these two rich and cultural communities have become an integral part of Minnesota’s way of life. A good number of these immigrants happen to be deaf due to the lack of medical services in refugee camps and exploding shells that damage the ear’s capacity to hear, just to name two common causes.
At CSD of Minnesota’s Deaf Adult Basic Education (ABE) Program, we have been able to give these new residents a chance to learn about their freshly adopted country. While deaf-specific citizenship classes are offered—thanks to the generous support of the Minnesota Department of Education—we have been able to serve at least 100 adult learners, and they have since become citizens of our great country. In at least half of these cases, attending Deaf ABE is the first time they’ve set foot in a classroom; such is the case with current student, Ahmed. Ahmed (shown above) is a 55-year-old learner from Somalia who is working hard to learn language, how to sign, read and write. This is his first school ever.
It is people like Ahmed who drive our work, because we know—as long as they work hard—everyone has a right to education and the American Dream, no matter their age or skillset. From all of us at Deaf ABE in Minnesota, we wish you a Happy Citizenship and Constitution Day!
— Aaron Gutzke
State Director, CSD of Minnesota
The biennial conference of Telecommunications for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Inc. (TDI) took place August 19–22.
Fortunately, unlike the 2013 conference, this year’s did not take place during a government shutdown, enabling a large Federal Communications Commission (FCC) presence that translated into multiple workshops detailing disability access rule-making currently underway at the FCC.
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler gave the keynote address on the first day of the conference, revealing that the FCC has created a new name for the staid-sounding Video Access Technology Reference Platform: Accessible Communications for Everyone (ACE). ACE, for the uninitiated, is essentially an open source video endpoint that works on Mac, Windows, Android and iOS. Along with the name change, a significant announcement was made through playback of a video of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio stating the City of New York’s intention to implement ACE. While light on details, the announcement was welcome; widespread adoption of ACE should have positive far-reaching benefits for deaf and hard of hearing communities across the U.S.
I was able to attend a workshop that focused on the headway being made in captioning quality on television, as well as one where representatives of all six video relay service (VRS) providers gave updates on their progress in achieving functional equivalency. Separately from the workshops, there were two FCC-led town hall sessions: one with a panel of FCC staff discussing the development of their various rulemaking processes implementing Title I of the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA), and one with a smaller FCC panel discussing their progress on implementing Title II of the CVAA.
Finally, Eve Hill of the Department of Justice (DOJ) gave a presentation outlining the progress the DOJ has made with respect to disability access in the 25 years since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Significant progress has been made, and most were touched upon during Ms. Hill’s presentation. However, I noted a glaring omission in the list of issues Ms. Hill touched upon: access to 911 services. This is an area that has—very unfortunately—seen serious regression since 1990.
Indeed, in 1990 when the ADA was passed, public safety answering points (PSAPs) were required to directly receive TTY calls without relying on relay services. In fact, Title II of the ADA prohibits PSAPs from relying on relay services, but with the decline in TTY usage and the proliferation of newer forms of relay service (such as VRS and IP relay), TTYs have, in large part, gone out of vogue. This has left a large swath of deaf and hard of hearing people with only one way to access 911 that clashes with the ADA mandate: indirectly, through relay services.
The Emergency Access Advisory Committee (EAAC), the formation of which was required by Congress in the CVAA, ultimately stated that ideal communications with 911 eliminates third parties sitting between 911 callers and PSAPs, by providing direct connection of callers to PSAPs. For those who are Deaf and are fluent in ASL, EAAC found that the ideal connection was through a direct video and text link to an ASL-fluent dispatcher.
The conference was very educational, and it is gratifying to see so much progress being made in raising the bar with accessibility. But, I would have liked to hear more about what is being done today to address the 911 problem. This needs to be a priority, but unfortunately at present the DOJ is taking a position – more or less – of “no comment”, despite the requirements of the ADA and the recommendations of the EAAC. Until headway can be made with the DOJ, CSD will publicly advocate for direct video access to PSAPs, in line with the recommendations made by the EAAC.
Archive for 2015