A time to celebrate all that is D/deaf
Updated: Oct 4, 2021
September is Deaf Awareness Month, when the deaf community celebrates its uniqueness and brings awareness, understanding and support to people who are Deaf (those with complete hearing loss), hard of hearing, deaf-blind and late-deafened (those who lose hearing later in life). Each year DeafConnect celebrates Deaf Awareness Month with the Deaf Family Reunion (except when COVID or the weather interrupts our celebration).
There are more than 100,000 members of the D/deaf community in the Memphis area and more than 750,000 across Tennessee. Deafness is the third most common disability in the world, although members of the D/deaf community don’t see themselves as any less able than the hearing community. They experience life like the rest of us – with friends, families, challenges and successes. Deaf individuals may communicate differently, but they have the same hopes and dreams as anyone else.
American Sign Language
Many deaf people communicate using American Sign Language. ASL is a visual language of movements of the hands, face and body. Like spoken language, it’s different from sign languages in other countries. Some deaf people read lips, but even the best lip readers catch less than half of what’s being said. That’s why the hand signs and facial expressions of ASL are so important when you’re communicating with someone who is deaf.
Cool D/deaf accomplishments
Deaf people have made countless contributions to society. Ludwig van Beethoven created some of his greatest musical works after he was late-deafened. Thomas Alva Edison was deaf, as was Juliette Gordon Low, founder of the Girl Scouts. In 1995 Heather Whitestone became the first deaf Miss America. Actress Marlee Matlin is deaf, and Nyle Dimarco was the first deaf winner of both America’s Next Top Model and Dancing with the Stars.
A deaf person made another important contribution that’s particularly visible as football season gets underway. Until 1892, football players would talk to teammates on the field to decide strategies for the next play. That proved particularly troublesome for deaf football teams, because sign language was visible from all over the field. To keep competitors from knowing their strategy, Gallaudet University quarterback Paul Hubbard led his team to gather in a circle between plays so they could communicate in sign language without the opposing team knowing their plans. Thus the huddle was born.
The deaf community is increasingly visible nationally. Major companies – including LinkedIn, Amazon and Marriott – have TV commercials featuring deaf people. Movies like the Sound of Meta and CODA explore the joys and struggles we can experience. Google and FedEx have interpreters on staff. Prior to COVID, the D/deaf community in Memphis was becoming increasingly visible, too. DeafConnect’s Malco Movie Fourth Saturdays (with captioning), Hattiloo performances (with interpreting), ASL Summer Camp for kids and ASL classes for adults all saw significant attendance – and we can’t wait for the pandemic to end so we can regularly join together again. Rhodes College has an active ASL club. DeafConnect has 25 ASL interpreters who provided more than 12,000 hours of interpreting through DeafConnect alone in 2019. ASL is now accepted as a foreign language at the University of Memphis and offered as a minor.
The D/deaf community is proud to celebrate what makes it unique during Deaf Awareness Month – not to mention the 11 other months each year. We encourage everyone to join us in the celebration.