CSD Neighborhood

  • CSD Neighborhood

    PAHWork at #CSDWorks

    - by CSD


    PAHWork was founded in 2015 by Bryce Chapman who recognized the need for a central place for employers and Deaf, DeafBlind, and Hard of Hearing job seekers to connect over potential job opportunities. PAHWork provides a listing of job openings from companies who are committed to making their workplace and hiring practices Deaf-friendly. Chapman, who has been employed with Communication Service for the Deaf, Inc. (CSD) since 2014, developed and managed PAHWork as a personal project he was passionate about.

    Recently, CSD launched CSD Works and the CSD Works Career Center. Through a series of videos narrated in American Sign Language and other online materials, CSD Works supports Deaf job seekers in finding or maintaining employment, as well as prepares them for potential advancement. Connected to CSD Works, the Career Center invites Deaf job seekers to identify current job openings they are interested in applying for. If a skill or qualification is required that the Deaf job seeker does not yet have, they can connect to CSD Works get more information on how to develop that skill or qualification. CSD Works also focuses on providing support to companies who are committed to hiring Deaf job seekers because they recognize the value and contributions that Deaf employees bring to their workforce.

    Chapman realized that there was some redundancy between the Career Center and PAHWork, and decided to close PAHWork to encourage PAHWork job seekers and employers to use the Career Center instead. “In addition to providing information on current job openings through the Career Center, CSD Works offers so many resources to improve the hire-ability of Deaf job seekers. CSD Works is also a valuable resource for employers to learn more about how they can make their working relationship with Deaf employees a successful experience for all involved.”

    Ryan Hutchison, Vice President of CSD Neighborhood, the department responsible for implementing CSD Works and the Career Center, said he learned a lot about what makes a job board effective from talking with Chapman about his experience with PAHWork. “CSD looks forward to welcoming the job seekers and employers from PAHWork and thanks Bryce for his early leadership in recognizing a need in our community and for providing a model framework for a job board specifically created for Deaf job seekers.”

    Visit CSD Works to get signed up today.

    For any inquiries, please email

  • CSD Neighborhood
    Woman Standing in St Petersburg Russia

    Russia Through Deaf Eyes

    - by Bobby Siebert

    By Bobby Siebert The Russian-American Project for Children’s Literacy (RAP4CL) exchange project requires communication across four languages: American Sign Language, Russian Sign Language, English, and Russian. It is little wonder that the most commonly asked question about this project is something like ‘how does communication work?’ A fair question, especially when considering the complexity of our project’s topic content. It’s difficult enough to discuss the cognitive benefits of bilingual education and the backing research with someone fluent in your native language, let alone in a roundtable consisting of individuals natively fluent in four different languages. There is no doubt that we have faced communication challenges throughout the project. But, we would probably have had a far more difficult time if not for the incredible Deaf friends we’ve made throughout this project, especially Vera Shamaeva in St. Petersburg, and Genady Tikhenko of Moscow. Both bright and driven individuals, Vera and Gena have the extraordinary ability to pick up a new language effortlessly, as if their brains were sponges sopping up excess water. Attaining conversational language competency would take most people months, or even years, but Vera and Gena reached it in days. Their ability to switch from RSL to International Sign to ASL were instrumental in facilitating effective communication between our parties.

    The historic theater inside the VOG St. Petersburg chapter.

    The historic theater inside the VOG St. Petersburg chapter.

    Beyond translation, Vera and Gena also took on the roles of proud ambassadors of their homeland. They shared their thoughts on the best and most challenging aspects of their country from the eyes of native Deaf Russians. As a Deaf American who has greatly benefitted from the Americans with Disabilities Act and access to interpreters and communication, it jarred me to the core to learn about the dearth of RSL interpreters in Russia. There used to be 5,000 RSL interpreters in Russia thirty years ago, Gena said; there are only an estimated 1,000 today. Despite lacking access to interpreters throughout their academic careers, both Vera and Gena received advanced degrees. I was amazed; they simply shrugged. They found ways to absorb educational content, relying heavily on reading materials and notetaking. If they were asked a question in class, a hearing student would write down the question for them to read. And then they would write their responses for the hearing student to relay it back to the professor and the rest of the class. Through persistence and determination, both remarkable individuals succeeded.

    Ryan Hutchison discusses art with Dimitry Zhevhikov and Kira Salenko inside the VOG headquarters office in Moscow.

    Ryan Hutchison discusses art with Dimitry Zhevhikov and Kira Salenko inside the VOG headquarters office in Moscow.

    Through Vera and Gena, we were introduced to the All-Russia Society for the Deaf (VOG, as spelled in the Russian language), the equivalent to the United States’ National Association of the Deaf. Vera shared the history of the St. Petersburg VOG chapter, housed in a beautiful historic building facing the English Embankment that was once the residence of the brother of Nikolay II, the final tsar of the Romanovs, the famous lineage that concluded in 1918. Officially, the St. Petersburg VOG chapter has over 3,400 members. The most striking room in the building was the 150-seat theatre, a scene lifted out of the early 20th century, adorned with pillars and sculptures. The theater is still in use; only a few days before our visit, VOG had hosted a stage play and workshops. The national VOG office, overseeing 82 affiliations across Russia, is in the heart of Moscow. Their programs oversee a wide range of issues impacting the Deaf community: telecommunications, education, employment, as well as archive and media departments. Gennady introduced us to Dimitry Zhevzhikov, an artist of extraordinary talent sculpting stone and marble who also is an active leader of the Association of Deaf Russian Artists, a group of diversely-talented artists across different artistic disciplines from all corners of Russia. We also met Viktor Palenniy, a historian and documenter who leads VOG’s archive department. In the archive room, we observed a large bookshelf stocked with books, published by VOG, on the history of the Russian Deaf community—with some of the content even summarized and translated into English (which was immensely useful in gaining a better understanding of the Russian Deaf community’s history and for writing our blog articles). The value the Russian Deaf community places on the arts, culture, and history echoes that of the U.S. Deaf community. I participated and attended stage plays at my Deaf school and the local Deaf club. Growing up, I learned about the history of my Deaf community, from the story of how Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet and Laurent Clerc gave birth to Deaf education in America to the famous Deaf President Now protest at Gallaudet University. Chuck Baird and other artists of the Deaf View/Image Art (De’VIA) movement remain heroes and visionaries from my childhood. Art, culture, and history are critical components of any strong, proud, and flourishing community, and the Deaf community is no different. Though this exchange grew out of a common interest in bilingual education, I come away having learned so much more. There is an opportunity to transcend this exchange between our communities—one through which we share the best of our communities, in how we express our culture through art and storytelling, build stronger social cohesion through cultural events such as stage plays, and better preserve our communities’ storied histories. Together with our Russian friends, we can build a stronger community and culture for the global Deaf community.

  • CSD Neighborhood
    Roundtable discussion on bilingual education in Russia

    Roundtable Discussion on Bilingual Education

    - by Bobby Siebert

    By Bobby Siebert

    Early Intervention Institute in St. Petersburg

    In a cozy building a few blocks from Nevsky Prospekt in snowy St. Petersburg, CSD and its Russian partner Ya Tebya Slyshu hosted a roundtable discussion on the topic of bilingual education for Deaf children. Gathered around the table were various professionals, including a speech therapist, a teacher specializing in special education, and a specialist working with people with disabilities. Several people at the table were parents of Deaf children themselves, all with deep, steadfast opinions on how to raise and educate a Deaf child.


    At the heart of our discussion was the hotly contested debate between the oral approach and education in sign language. We’ve seen this debate in the United States; it was fascinating and heart-wrenching to see the same arguments mirrored in spoken Russian, by parents and professionals grappling with the same issues and struggles halfway around the world. Cochlear implantation is the norm in Russia; the oral method is the dominant approach in Deaf education and acquiring fluent speaking skills is the overarching goal for Deaf children. “So much time and money is invested in the cochlear implantation process,” one parent said. “Learning sign language is counterproductive to the child learning to speak.”

    It is easy to think that this educational pathway for Deaf children is the only one, and it’s why I was grateful to be here sharing my experience. Views are meant to be challenged and invigorated by new data and knowledge, it’s why cultural and knowledge exchanges like this are so important. As a Deaf man born to Deaf parents who was taught American Sign Language from birth, I am evidence that there can be more than one successful method of raising and educating a Deaf child.


    Back in September, during Ya Tebya Slyshu’s visit to Austin, we learned a great deal from Dr. Melissa Herzig and Melissa Malzkuhn, esteemed professionals in Deaf education from the Visual Language and Visual Learning Center in Washington, D.C. We learned that the brain processes spoken and signed languages the same way—(renowned neuroscientist Dr. Laura Ann Pettito: “The brain doesn’t discriminate, people do.” The brain learns language by recognizing lingusitic patterns, whether visual or auditory. By age five, a child’s brain is 85-90% developed. That brief span of five years is critical for a child to acquire the foundations of language. Yesterday, we heard the familiar refrain “we must try spoken language first, and if it doesn’t succeed, the Deaf child can always learn to sign later”. Through deep learning research, we now recognize this way of thinking poses a risk— by the time it’s evident the oral method has failed a Deaf child, it’s already too late. The child, now entering the first year of school, having grown up without language or communication will be forced to play catch up, frantically stuffing language input into a rapidly closing window.

    I attended a conference on bilingual education legislation recently, and heard a wonderful story from a hearing father of a Deaf daughter. When he and his wife found out their daughter was Deaf, they were dazed. Professionals and specialists piled on information and options on how to raise and educate their daughter. The sheer amount of information was overwhelming. One day the man and his wife were at a restaurant. The waiter came up and asked ‘Do you want soup or salad?’ The man sat and thought about it, and then said ‘yes.’ The waiter was confused. ‘I’m sorry,’ he said. ‘Do you want soup or salad?’ The man said ‘yes’ again.

    And then it hit him—he and his wife didn’t have to pick just one option for their daughter. They would give their daughter everything and ensure she had all the resources and support to succeed.

    When emerging research indicates that learning sign language does not interfere with—and potentially helps—learning speech, why would we not want to give every Deaf child both sign language and speech education? We should say ‘yes’ or ‘da’ to both!


    At the roundtable, we shared our views that sign language is a viable education option and can coexist with speech education. Advances in technology have only supported this claim. We brought out iPads and showed them ‘The Giant Turnip,’ our visual storybook presented in Russian Sign Language (RSL) and written & spoken Russian. Their faces lit up as they saw a familiar traditional Russian fairy tale told in an all-new way, bridging both languages via signed videos and accompanying text. They swiped pages, played the videos of Vera signing in RSL, and clicked on words to see them signed and fingerspelled.

    It was a beautiful feeling to share this innovative resource, the product of months of work and collaboration between CSD, Ya Tebya Slyshu, and Melissa Malzkuhn and Dr. Melissa Herzig, with our Russian friends.

    And an even better feeling emerged, to have participated in this exchange of knowledge and culture, to broaden views on both sides, and to share in our mutual passion of creating better futures for Deaf children in the U.S., Russia, and everywhere in the world. It was a brief three-hour discussion, but the impact may be felt for a long time afterwards.

    Perhaps the next time we find ourselves in a restaurant, we’ll decide to order both the soup and salad, and give our Deaf children everything.

  • CSD Neighborhood
    2 women playing Ping Pong

    Russia Team visits CSD: Day 4 (Friday September 30)

    - by Bobby Siebert

    By Bobby Siebert

    Our final full day went by in a blur as we worked with our Russian partners Alla and Zoya of Ya Tebya Slyshu and the Russian signer Vera to film the glossary words in the story ‘The Giant Turnip.’ With over seventy words to film, we were in the studio quite a while, capturing every word in the method established by the VL2 storybooks: signing the word and then fingerspelling it, and signing it once more. Eventually, we wrapped up filming and thanked Vera for her hard work and patience in the studio, signing every scene and most of the words multiple times to make sure we got the best take.

    Two Video Editors editing and reviewing videos.

    CSD videographers Toj Mora and Bradley Gantt review footage of Vera Shamaeva signing ‘The Giant Turnip’ in Russian Sign Language.

    With filming wrapped up, we bid farewell. We thanked Alla, Zoya, and Vera for making the long trip and participating wholeheartedly and enthusiastically in our various exchange activities. For their part, Alla and Zoya were thankful for the experience, especially for the research-based information they learned from the VL2 presentation on the cognitive benefits of bilingual education. They hope to bring what they’ve learned over to their communities in Saint Petersburg and Russia.

    Next, we look forward to our CSD team’s trip to Russia from November 5 to 14. We’ll visit Saint Petersburg and Moscow and participate in another round of exchange activities, including a roundtable discussion on bilingual education involving educational and medical professionals working with deaf and hard of hearing children in Saint Petersburg, a presentation on the early intervention system in Russia, and filming of the RSL/Russian versions of two current VL2 storybooks, ‘Baobab’ and ‘Blue Lobster.’

    We’ll be posting more during our Russia visit—be sure to check back for more updates!

  • CSD Creative
    Russian team visits CSD office in Austin

    Russia Team Visits CSD: Days Two and Three (Sept. 28 – 29, 2016)

    - by Bobby Siebert

    By Bobby Siebert

    We began day two with a video call to Alexei Svetlov, the Russian-born deaf artist responsible for creating original artwork for our storybook, ‘The Giant Turnip,’ based on original Russian folklore. Alexei remembers reading ‘The Giant Turnip’ as a child, and it holds a special place in his heart. He is an accomplished artist, and we are honored to have him contributing his art to our project.

    Next, we wrapped up the workshops and presentations by our VL2 partners, Dr. Melissa Herzig and Melissa Malzkuhn. Yesterday, the VL2 Storybook Creator looked daunting—a wall of code can do that to you. Fortunately, we had the talented and steady hand of Melissa Malzkuhn to guide us through, and the program proved to be much simpler than it looks. The majority of the Storybook app is ‘pre-coded,’ with most of the essential structure of the app—the framework—already built, leaving us to fill in preset gaps with new text and files of our videos and images. In a way, the Creator program is essentially a more modern, technological version of ‘paint-by-numbers.’ Before we knew it, we were adding new pages, putting in our own text, inserting sentence videos and glossary word videos.

    Russian Actress practicing her lines in front of Camera

    Russian signer Vera Shamaeva practices her lines for ‘The Giant Turnip’ as videographer Toj Mora looks on

    We bid our VL2 partners farewell after lunch, and then dove into the actual filming of the storybook! For the last half of day two and most of day three, we worked in the studio, filming the RSL/Russian version of the original Russian folklore story, ‘The Giant Turnip.’ Considering that we were working off a Russian/English script and conversing in a mish-mash of Russian Sign Language, American Sign Language, and International Sign, the effectiveness of our communication was remarkable. In one and a half days, we completed filming the Watch and Read modes of the storybook, all 18 pages of it.

    Tomorrow, we’ll work on the ‘Learn’ mode of the storybook—we have over 75 Russian vocabulary words to film. We can’t wait to share the storybooks with you!

  • CSD Neighborhood
    A group of people meet in a conference room

    Russia Team Visits CSD: Day One (Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2016)

    - by Bobby Siebert

    By Bobby Siebert

    The RAP4CL team looks on as Dr. Herzig presents on the cognitive benefits of bilingual education.

    For the first day of our Russian partners’ U.S. visit, we took a tour of the CSD headquarters where they got the chance to meet our majority-deaf admin staff, and then settled in the Benjamin J. Soukup conference room to begin a workshop by our Visual Language and Visual Learning Center (VL2) partners from Gallaudet University, Dr. Melissa Herzig and Melissa Malzkuhn. With the support of enthusiastic interpreters, we proceeded for a full day of information and knowledge exchange via four languages—American Sign Language (ASL), Russian Sign Language (RSL), English, and Russian.

    The RAP4CL team engages in a discussion during the tour of CSD office.

    The RAP4CL team engages in a discussion during the tour of CSD office.

    Citing research from Dr. Laura Ann Petitto, neuroscientist and scientific director of VL2, Dr. Herzig explained that visual phonology (ASL) and sound phonology (spoken English) activate the identical brain tissue, meaning that the brain acquires language through patterns, which can be found in both signed and spoken languages.

    For deaf and hearing children alike, early language exposure plays a crucial role in language development, leading to better eye gaze and joint attention, stronger vocabulary, and literacy development. Milestones for a child to acquire language, marking the appropriate age for children to begin babbling and express certain amounts of words, were found to be the same for ASL and spoken English. Contrary to popular belief, early bilingual exposure does not hinder the development of speech, and Dr. Herzig emphasized the importance of exposure to sign language at an early age. In one study, deaf signers who acquired ASL early were able to read complex English sentences more quickly and respond to associated questions more accurately than those who acquired ASL later in life.

    Dr. Herzig also presented various approaches in using sign language to improve literacy skills and bridging both languages, ASL and English. Studies show fingerspelling skills positively correlate with stronger reading skills. Fingerspelling, reading, and writing are interrelated, and early exposure to fingerspelling helps children become better readers. To help build the connections between signed words and fingerspelled words, one can point at an object, a person and printed words and then fingerspelling its name. This will support a child’s literacy development.

    Dr. Herzig leading her presentation on bilingual education. In the foreground, interpreter Inna Giterman translates into RSL.

    Dr. Herzig leading her presentation on bilingual education. In the foreground, interpreter Inna Giterman translates into RSL.

    The VL2 Storybook App was built on this wealth of research knowledge. It has three modes: Watch, Read, and Learn. In the Watch mode, the entire story is presented via ASL. In Read mode children can watch ASL videos and read English, for a self-directed reading experience supplemented by visuals—if a child does not know a certain word, they can touch that word and a video in a box pops up, signing and fingerspelling that word. And then in the Learn mode, children build up their vocabulary through a glossary of words that are presented via chaining method, in which the word is signed, fingerspelled, and then signed again.

    To wrap up the day, we began learning how to use VL2’s Creator program, which provides a convenient platform to create new bilingual and visual storybooks. VL2’s Storybook library currently includes Norwegian and Japanese books in addition to ASL books, and we can’t wait to add Russian books to their virtual shelf. The Creator program looked complicated with its lines of code, but Melissa Malzkuhn showed us how we could alter it to create a customized book of our own.

    “Combining visual stories and the touch screen tablet—a revolutionary learning tool— we can make magic,” Malzkuhn said.

    With day one wrapped up, we look forward to learning more about the Creator app and start filming our Russian signer in the studio in day two!

    Melissa Malzkuhn explains the VL2 Storybook Apps.

    Melissa Malzkuhn explains the VL2 Storybook Apps.

  • CSD Neighborhood
    VL2 Storybook Apps

    CSD Proudly Announces the Russian-American Project for Children’s Literacy

    - by Alex Karamanova

    By Alex Karamanova

    Communication Service for the Deaf is pleased to announce our newest international partnership initiative, the Russian-American Partnership for Children’s Literacy (RAP4CL). A CSD Neighborhood Project, RAP4CL will highlight the importance of language acquisition for deaf and hard of hearing children in the United States and Russia through the collaborative development and deployment of innovative educational resources in both countries. We’re excited to welcome our Russian partners, Ya Tebya Slyshu, a St. Petersburg-based non-profit organization that provide resources, support and advocacy for deaf and hard of hearing children and their families to kick-off the partnership this week. We’re also proud to partner with Melissa Malzkuhn and Dr. Melissa Herzig of the Visual Language and Visual Learning Center (VL2), an NSF-funded Science of Learning center on this initiative.

    Phase one of RAP4CL will focus on the development of four visual storybooks created with VL2’s Storybook Creator program (learn more about these storybooks at The project will create an all new original storybook after a popular Russian children’s story ‘The Giant Turnip,’ with two versions planned: Russian Sign Language (RSL)/written Russian and American Sign Language (ASL)/written English. Deaf Russian artist Alexei Svetlov is creating original artwork for the Giant Turnip storybook. The remaining two storybooks will be RSL/written Russian translations of existing VL2 Storybooks ‘Baobab’ and ‘Blue Lobster.’

    During Ya Tebya Slyshu’s visit to Austin, they will participate in presentations and workshops conducted by Ms. Malzkuhn and Dr. Herzig on early language exposure and its impact on the development of brain, language and cognitive development, and training on the use of the VL2 Storybook Creator program to develop visual storybooks. Together, our team will shoot film for the first storybook, the RSL/Russian version of The Giant Turnip. This November, our U.S. team will travel to St. Petersburg and Moscow for a second site visit to participate in presentations and roundtable discussions on the state of bilingual education in the United States and Russia. At the Russian team’s headquarters in St. Petersburg, a videographer from CSD’s Creative team will lead a hands-on training that will establish a Russian-based creative studio focused on the continued development of bilingual education resources to encourage language acquisition for deaf and hard of hearing children throughout Russia. Our long term vision for this initiative is to empower the broad development of high quality bilingual education resources and spark interest and recognition of the critical importance of early language acquisition for deaf and hard of hearing children in both the U.S. and Russia.

    You can follow RAP4CL project activities on CSD’s social media and on our RAP4CL blog.

    This project is funded by the US-Russian Social Expertise Exchange program under the Eurasia Foundation.


  • CSD
    Deaf sexual Assault survivors are victimized twice,once by a rapist and once by the system.

    #WhoWillAnswer Coalition Calls for Federal Action on 24/7 Deaf Hotline

    - by CSD

    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.

  • CSD
    5 hands signing with purple bracelets on

    The Road To Equality: Answering The Call

    - by Nikki Soukup

    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.

    What’s more:

    • 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, 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

  • CSD
    Deaf individuals are 150% more likely to be victims of assault, abuse and bullying in their lifetime

    Sticking To Your Issues

    - by Ryan Hutchison

    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.