Jaclyn Tyrcha was among Veditz Center board members who led a cultural competency training at JVA recently. (Photo by Kori Moinat/ Courtesy of the Veditz Center)
By Sandy Wiegand, Copyeditor and Writer at Joining Vision and Action
Members of the Veditz Center, a Denver organization serving the deaf/American Sign Language (ASL) community, recently led a training session at JVA on inclusiveness and cultural competency with regard to deaf individuals, and I was fortunate enough to be able to attend.
The hour-and-a-half session was just long enough to help me begin to recognize how seldom I had paused to contemplate what life might be like for deaf individuals in a world geared toward the hearing.
The experience was new enough that, throughout the training, I found myself reflexively swiveling to look at the interpreters each time they began speaking to translate ASL to English. Even though I knew that the board members were the ones sharing their thoughts and opinions, I am habituated to verbal communication. This was revealing, and somewhat embarrassing, for me.
A plan for placemaking
The Veditz Center hopes to create a “third place” for the deaf community, a space where people can meet knowing that, for a change, underlying assumptions about communication and interaction are geared toward them. A place where they can reasonably expect that the person at the checkout counter, in the classroom or on the treadmill next to them also communicates using ASL. A place where they can hope to develop the kind of meaningful friendships that come from extended, in-depth conversations. A place where being deaf is likely to help someone land a job rather than cause them to be summarily passed over.
Although the board is open to sharing with and teaching the hearing community, they’d love to one day have a space designed by deaf people for deaf people—with attributes like those described in the video How Architecture Changes for the Deaf.
The attributes are things that might never cross the minds of hearing individuals (well, my mind, anyway) but that make perfect sense. For example, wide walkways allow people who communicate using ASL to walk alongside each other and maintain conversation. Use of ramps means people don’t have to pause their conversation to look at the stairs to avoid tripping. Opaque doors provide a visual notification when someone is waiting outside an office. Color, lighting, mirrors and furniture arrangement can all have an impact.
Questions of identity
Veditz Center board members envision a space where being deaf is perceived not as a deficit but perhaps simply as a characteristic—or even as a “gain,” as described in the video, in terms of offering a unique perspective on the world. Some who are deaf feel that their identity has been inappropriately medicalized and are skeptical of the trend toward cochlear implants or programs that teach deaf children to speak orally but do not teach ASL.
Not everyone who is deaf agrees. But those questions of definition and identity, says a board member, are for the community to debate internally. And that, he says, is yet another reason its members need a space of their own.
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