By Ryan Hutchison
In 1806 the Dowager Empress Maria Fedoronova (Wife of Tsar Alexander III) was walking in Pavlosk Park outside St. Petersburg, Russia. A young boy, Aleksandre Moeller, and his escort passed her without word. The Empress stopped the escort and inquired why the boy did not greet her; she was told he was Deaf and unable to communicate. After a restless night considering the boy and his inability to communicate and learn, the Empress began inquiring about deafness and education, and how the Russian empire could ensure that Deaf students like Aleksandre learn and succeed. She sent missives across Europe seeking the best educators of the Deaf, and soon received Jean-Baptiste Jauffret from the then-named Institut Royal des Sourds-Muets de Paris. With Empress Maria’s funding and Monsieur Jauffret’s knowledge, the first Russian school for the Deaf opened on December 2nd, 1806.
On the 25th of May, 1814, Thomas Gallaudet first met the daughter of a neighbor, Alice Cogswell. He asked her father, Dr. Mason Cogswell, why she wasn’t playing with the other children and learned she was Deaf and unable to communicate. His interest was piqued, and he sat beside her drawing and writing the names of objects with a stick in the dirt – and she understood. It was a eureka moment for Alice’s father, who promptly sent Thomas to Europe to find better ways to educate Deaf children in the United States. Thomas came upon the director of the very same school for the Deaf (Institut Royal des Sourds-Muets) and brought Laurent Clerc, a successful graduate of the school, back with him to America. Together they established the American School for the Deaf in 1817.
Incredible, right? I knew the story about Thomas Gallaudet and the founding of the American School for the Deaf, but had no idea of the similarities of the founding of both schools. It’s quite amazing to recognize the thought of providing sign language to Deaf children was a revolutionary concept, and a single school in Paris was a catalyst for what was to become a golden age for Deaf education in both Russia and America. That both Empress Maria & Dr. Cogswell recognized the need for new ideas & fresh approaches for Deaf education and sponsored cultural exchange to spark those ideas is similar to the opportunity that brought CSD to Russia. The US-Russia Social Expertise Exchange project recognizes the need for invigoration within the Persons With Disabilities (PWD) community and is linking our countries together to focus on abilities, foster inclusion, and spark positive change.
The need for innovation and cultural exchange of new ideas for the education of Deaf children today is as great as it was 200 years ago. Despite the clear benefits Deaf children receive from sign language use and bilingual education, a growing focus on oralism and “fixing” Deaf children have dropped a new generation of children into the world without deep foundations of any language in either Russia or the United States. Outcomes for our Deaf children continue to decline, and more and more students are falling behind. We must create a new wave of innovation and invigoration of bilingual education – and do it with technology and through leadership.
Two hundred and ten years after the first Russian Deaf school was founded in St. Petersburg, a group of four and five-year old Deaf children gathered in a classroom to experience our bilingual storybook app, created through a collaboration with our American colleagues and Russian partners at Ya Tebya Slyshu. I’m so excited to continue to share this storybook app. We’re already receiving great feedback on how we can make it even better.
I’m even more excited to exchange knowledge and create a network of partners & friends who believe like we do that bilingual education provides transformative impact on students. The power of collaboration is real – we at CSD have seen it through our Who Will Answer campaign and it is at the heart of our Unites program. I look forward to continuing to create relationships and coalitions through this project in both Russia and the US so we can march unified towards a better future for our children, linked arm to arm.
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
By Ryan Hutchison
After an exhausting and exhilarating trip it sure is good to be back home in America. I sorely missed my family, but was surprised how much I missed Mexican food. Maudies Tex-Mex, seems you’ve become an integral part of my daily digestive life and need to be promoted to my holiday card list! We worked hard during our trip with little time to see China as tourists. But as hometown boy, I HAD to make time to catch two Seattle Seahawks playoff games. I’ll always remember waking at 3:45 am to watch our Seahawks successfully battle against the Packers at Shanghai’s Camel Bar alongside a rowdy, 30-strong Shanghai “12th Man” contingent.
By Ryan Hutchison
Today, America’s Deaf community stands on the shoulders of leaders like Laurent Clerc, I King Jordan, Ben Soukup, and countless others who fought tirelessly to advocate for and demand the civil rights we benefit from as Deaf Americans. While we’ve come a long way, tremendous challenges remain that all Deaf Americans must overcome to fully realize their dreams.
By Ryan Hutchison
It’s hard for me to believe that the enormously crowded city of Shanghai is only the sixth largest urban area in the world. It seems clusters of skyscrapers erupt everywhere! As foreigners in Shanghai, Ruan and I don’t stick out as much as we would have in this city a decade ago, but still attract quite a few curious stares as we talk to each other in ASL on the streets and in the subway. We aren’t approached (and perhaps are avoided) by hearing locals in our travels around the city, but have enjoyed several experiences of engaging with random Deaf Chinese who are thrilled to see and engage with signing foreigners.
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Articles by: Ryan Hutchison