Archive for September, 2015

  • CSD
    3 young boys sign to each other on the street

    Full Equality Demands Language Rights

    - by Ryan Hutchison

    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

  • CSD
    a girl and a boy in a classroom

    Citizenship And Constitution Day

    - by Aaron Gutzke

    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

  • Public Policy

    Telecommunications for the Deaf Updates

    - by David Bahar

    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.