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
Over the last 40 years, CSD has worked hard to identify emerging industry leaders in the deaf and hard of hearing community, and partner with these providers in delivering essential services to our community!
As such, CSD is proud to announce an official partnership with CaptionAccess, a deaf-owned, full-service captioning agency based out of Chicago, Illinois. The founder and CEO of CaptionAccess, Bill Graham, has been a longtime provider of CART and hybrid (TypeWell/C-Print) captioning services to CSD staff, and we are happy to say that the outstanding services of his company are now available to all CSD customers and partners nationwide.
After becoming deaf at 25 years of age, Bill has dedicated his personal and professional life to bringing universal communication access to all hard of hearing and deaf individuals. In addition to founding CaptionAccess, Bill is the co-founder of Association for Late Deafened Adults (ALDA) and currently serves on the board of the Chicago Hearing Society.
As a deaf-owned and operated captioning agency, CaptionAccess is thrilled to partner with CSD, one of the premier deaf-owned and operated companies in the world. We have had a wonderful relationship with CSD from the time we started working together a few years ago. Our objectives are the same: to provide deaf people with the best possible services, in this case access to communication. We are just as pleased that CSD has expanded its efforts to serve deafened and hard of hearing people. Brian Jensen, CSD’s director of emerging markets, is a unique individual with the drive, creativity and insight to make CSD a leader in the captioning industry. CaptionAccess is proud to play a part in these efforts and contribute to CSD’s success.
— Bill Graham
To learn more about CSD’s captioning partners or to request a quote, please click here.
By David Bahar
A New York Daily News article  revealed continuing problems in the New York Police Department with respect to the accommodations it provides to the deaf and hard-of-hearing. As a public entity, the NYPD has obligations under the Americans with Disabilities Act to provide qualified individuals with a disability with effective communication. For deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals that use American Sign Language, the definition of effective communication can include a sign language interpreter.
However, for both Diana Williams and Robert Rapa, sign language interpreters were not provided during their initial encounters with the police, or during their time at the police station. Surprisingly, the officer arresting Diana went so far as to indicate on the arrest report that an interpreter was not needed, and that she did not have a disability.
Check out this case in the New York Times about police officers forced off the job due the City’s wayward anti-hearing aid policy. The story classically illustrates mainstream misunderstanding about hearing loss and the sort of blatant employment discrimination that can result:
Apparently, the NYPD inexplicably began enforcing a ban on hearing aids in 2009, insisting that requiring a hearing aid device somehow impairs a police officer from fully preforming his or her duties. The ill-found policy required recruits to pass standard hearing tests without hearing aids. Officers with hearing loss who couldn’t meet the standard without their hearing aids were off the force.
Since its inception in 1975, Communication Service for the Deaf (CSD) has provided sign language interpreting services. This has been a fundamental part of who we are as an organization throughout the span of our company’s history. CSD’s market presence for ASL interpreting has expanded dramatically over the years from a service that was locally focused in southeastern South Dakota to one that has a nationwide scale and reach today.
By Ryan Hutchison
Deaf advocates worked tirelessly to pass this bill for the past six years not because requiring certification fits into some abstract political agenda but because the number of unqualified interpreters taking work across Texas is increasing and it’s hurting Deaf Texans.
It is hard to gain an appreciation of why such a bill is needed if you’ve never used a sign language interpreter, but if you’ve ever spent time in a foreign country where you don’t understand the language, you’re getting close. Imagine you live in that country and your child has been diagnosed with a rare, life-threatening disease, and the doctor doesn’t speak any English.
DEAF, Inc. is our first partner in providing interpreting services through Vineya. We are very proud of this partnership because they are an organization that shares our values in deaf empowerment and providing quality interpreters.