Today marks the second-to-last day of Deaf History Month. Deaf History Month in the United States honors and recognizes the contributions and achievements of deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals throughout history. This month is an opportunity to raise awareness of the Deaf community’s culture and history and to celebrate their resilience and accomplishments. It also provides an opportunity for hearing individuals to learn about the unique challenges faced by the Deaf and hard-of-hearing community, and to promote inclusivity and understanding.
As someone who is personally hard-of-hearing, this is an important month for me to feel like I’m represented and my unique experiences at work and in life can be celebrated. However, I’ll admit that even I wasn’t that familiar with some of the background surrounding this month– so this has been an opportunity for me to also learn more about myself and my community!
Unlike some other heritage months that run throughout a given month and that month alone, Deaf History Month runs mid-month from March 13th to April 15th each year. The reason for this is so that this heritage month can include the birthdays of two influential figures in deaf history: Laurent Clerc and Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet.
Gallaudet was a minister who became interested in education for deaf people after meeting his neighbor Alice Cogswell (Mason Cogswell’s daughter), who was deaf. This prompted Gallaudet to travel to Europe to study different methods for teaching deaf students, which ultimately led to his meeting Clerc. Laurent Clerc is sometimes referred to as “The Apostle of the Deaf in America”. Clerc, who was deaf, was a highly regarded and well-reknowned teacher in France, and Gallaudet recruited him to join him in America to start a school. These two men, along with Mason Cogswell, co-founded what is now known as The American School for the Deaf (ASD), which is the oldest permanent school for the deaf in the United States (founded in 1817). Gallaudet went on to help develop American Sign Language (ASL), and his son founded the first college for the deaf, which is now known as Gallaudet University.
Deaf History Month is a time to recognize the contributions and achievements of the Deaf and hard-of-hearing community, to celebrate our unique culture, and to promote understanding. Beyond recognition and appreciation, here are four tangible ways you can support the Deaf and hard-of-hearing community beyond this heritage month, at work:
- Ensure that your virtual meeting platform (Zoom, Teams, etc.) has closed captions, CART captioning, and/or live captioning available, enabled, and working.
- Provide sign language interpreters for meetings.
- Be aware of your environment and address any potential barriers that might make it difficult for a Deaf or hard-of-hearing person to communicate and engage (for example, background noise, poor lighting, and lack of visual cues). For example, provide agendas in advance and follow-up from meetings with a written overview of points covered and next steps needed.
- Ask Deaf and hard-of-hearing people what they need.