Social Responsibility of Deaf Academics

The burgeoning numbers of deaf academics around the world is exciting to witness.  I’ve attended two presentations done by deaf scientists who are working in European and American universities. We deaf come along ways from being a sad ragtag group living on the margins of society.  Yet the fight is not over.  This afternoon I heard stories about having to fight for funding to get interpreters, of being rejected by a potential supervisor who later admitted that he didn’t want a deaf grad student, of having to partially cover the costs of an interpreter out of one’s own pocket, of having to contract an interpreter who had to travel several hours a day to interpret for deaf students because he was the only one skilled enough to interpret at the doctoral level.  I was the only PhD student in the entire group that didn’t have an interpreter for my PhD courses, so I had nothing to share. But many deaf academics at the Deaf Academic Conference were also familiar with the Saskatchewan situation which is now worsened by Brad Wall’s legacy.  Today, Cynthia Benoit provided the background to my own sharing this afternoon.  She nailed it.

Another sobering round of stories focused on the the lack of peer support from hearing PhD faculty because of the communication issues.  Deaf Phds are not privy to insider information about writing grants, for instance, or how to navigate administrative requirements or have access to the extensive networks enjoyed by their hearing colleagues.  Deaf academics cited the importance of their network with other deaf academics, “pulling each other up” as one climbs the bare rock face alone.  

So it goes back to power.  We are still looking for ways to obtain the power needed to enjoy the same privileges that hearing people have.  But we were reminded that we have many privileges already, including possessing a full sign and written language and that many others do not.  So in our applications for funding to serve the deaf populations,  we need to represent deaf people who may not have the privileges we have had but who certainly have gifts, talents and abilities that need to be developed with dignity and support.  In sharing our hopes and dreams for the future, we envisioned (again) a world in 50 years from now in which all deaf children would have access to sign language.

Despite our privilege, our intergenerational responsibility (Kusters, 2017) to deaf children and our desires of the heart never change.

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