R E A D ! !
Frontrunners is an International Deaf Youth Leadership Programme based in Denmark.
In this 15-week programme, 12 young people were selected from 10 different countries worldwide.
The programme was created to empower Deaf Youth on an international level, so they could go back to their own countries armed with information and leadership.
This programme has covered issues within the Deaf Community including Deaf Culture, History, Identity, Globalisation and Developing Countries. Many internationally acclaimed guest speakers were invited to share their knowledge and research. Frontrunners has given workshops to various groups and created a website as a tool to disseminate knowledge.
You can view the Frontrunners website at:
One of the hot topics in the course was Deaf Activism. Activism is an intentional action to bring about social or political change.
We had many questions including:
· Why are Deaf Clubs and Deaf schools closing worldwide?
· Why are only 2% of Deaf worldwide being educated in sign language?
· Why is there so little research into the ethics and implications of cochlear implantation?
· Does the medical profession have in-depth awareness of the Deaf community as a cultural and linguistic minority?
· Does the medical profession have an ongoing dialogue with their national Deaf associations?
· How does the medical profession promote the Deaf community and the cultural model in comparison to their views?
More and more Deaf children worldwide are being educated in the mainstream without access to education in sign language. More and more Deaf children do not know about the history, values and culture of the Deaf community.
In Denmark, the situation is dire.
AS OF TWO YEARS AGO 98% OF DEAF DANISH CHILDREN
HAVE RECEIVED A C-IMPLANT...
The majority of these children do not have access to sign language. Other countries in Europe have illustrated similar statistics.
To make it clear, Frontrunners are not against cochlear implants or the people that have them in general. What we were most concerned about is:
Why are doctors discouraging the use of sign language for Deaf children who have cochlear implants, except if the child has further disabilities?
Doctors say that they are not saying no to sign language. But they believe that if a deaf child gets a cochlear implant, it is best the child does not learn sign language as they have to get as much speech as possible. But it is a common misconception that if a deaf child gets a cochlear implant, they automatically become hearing. The deaf child is still a Deaf child with unique needs. If this child knows sign language, they can have access to their culture and heritage.
As a result of these questions, we decided to stage a non-violent protest in the audiology and cochlear implant unit at a local hospital on the 17th of November 2005.
According to the model of activism, there are two levels of activity. 1) Through lobbying and dialogue. 2) Through Direct action.
While many of us are involved in, and support lobbying at an organisational level, we felt that if we caught the doctors off guard through a non-violent protest, we would find out more about how the medical profession really views Deaf people.
We had the support of Tomato Lichy, a Deaf Activist from the United Kingdom, who has been involved in several protests towards the recognition of British Sign Language. Tomato also brought along his partner Paula, and their Deaf 10 month old baby Molly.
10.30AM: Tomato Lichy told us we were going to stage a non-violent protest
12.30PM: Preparation of Sign Language Banner and “Tegnsprog” / Sign Language flyers
1.15PM: 13 of us took a bus to the hospital faculty.
On the Bus: Creation of our Protest Song
2.15PM: Entry into the Doctor’s office.
AIM: TO GET IN THE HEAD DOCTOR'S OFFICE
AND STAY THERE FOR 2 HOURS
We had an aim: gain access to the hospitals senior doctor’s office and to stay in it for two hours.
We asked to see the head doctor, and were shown into her upstairs office straightaway.
We sat down peacefully in her office and put up flyers on the walls saying “Sign Language!!!” and “Tegnsprog!!!” (Danish for Sign Language). We had smiles on our faces and signed away among ourselves.
The doctor said she did not know sign language. There were no indications of any sign language or Deaf culture materials anywhere in the hospital. She looked bewildered and confused.
Some of us went downstairs and handed out the flyers to all the staff in the offices. Others put up the 5 metre sign language banner in the upstairs hallway.
A staff member who knew a little Danish Sign Language came into the room and tried to communicate with us. We asked for a qualified sign language interpreter.
WOULD AN INTERPRETER BE PROVIDED?
2.30PM: Our second aim was to see if an interpreter would be provided to facilitate communication.
While we knew that it might be seen as “unreasonable” to demand an interpreter on the spot, it was an attempt to make the doctors aware of sign language.
We were told that the interpreting service was closed. It was 2.30pm in the afternoon! We reminded them that interpreters should always be available for emergencies.
The head doctor got agitated and repeatedly told us she was late for an appointment. She then left the room. Two audiologists came in.
3PM: The staff realised they could use pen and paper to communicate with us. This was 45 minutes after we had entered the office.
The staff members wanted to make an appointment to talk with us at a later date. They showed us a diary, and pointed repeatedly to a page in the diary. This is fair enough.
However imagine this.
1) Talk later, at a scheduled meeting. Exchange information and theories about deaf people and Deaf Culture. Try and understand each other. After the meetings, each group goes back to do their own business.
2) Demonstrate normal conversation and interaction in a non violent protest. Plant seeds of awareness in the doctors’ heads. By them seeing us and being unable to communicate, they can realise how we really feel.
98% of Danish Deaf children are being implanted with little access to sign language and we do not have time to wait. Doctors have to change their attitudes towards the people they are working on.
DID THE STAFF HAVE A GENERAL AWARENESS OF DEAF PEOPLE?
Our aim was to see if the doctors and the staff had good awareness of Deaf culture and Deaf people.
Did the staff really understand the people they were working for?
We introduced our Deaf baby to the staff members and told them that the 10 month old knew a total of 20 signs.
Some staff members came into the room and took down the signs we had put up. We put the signs back up.
The staff members at the hospital had stopped doing all their work. They stood around in the hall outside the office watching us. Funnily enough, some of them were laughing and pointing at us!
The staff threatened to call the police if we did not leave the office. As our first aim was to stay in the office for two hours, we declined. It was important to stay long enough, so we gave the doctors something to think about.
3.15PM: We signed our Protest Song to the staff. Our faces were full of smiles and our hands full of passion. We signed with energy and force, showing the poetic beauty of our language.
The staff reacted strongly to us signing the song. Their faces became more agitated and their movements more frantic. This was strange, because we were just sitting peacefully in the office, and trying to make conversation with the doctors.
3.45PM: The police arrived.
The police were confused as to which country we came from. At first, they thought we were from the United States of America because one of us had a Gallaudet University sweatshirt on. They later realised that we were from different countries.
One of us had a video camera. The police took this person away for questioning. The police then formatted (erased) all the video footage on the camera.
We ran out of chairs so one of us sat down on the head doctor’s chair. A hard of hearing staff member came into the room and ordered this person off the chair. Just because the person had sat down on the doctor’s chair, the person was taken away for questioning by the police.
Because emotions were high, a staff member declared that we had “no brains.” If the staff knew enough sign language, we would have told them that several of us have university degrees.
By now, the staff knew what our intentions were, and our attitudes towards sign language. All of a sudden, the hard of hearing woman asked the mother of the Deaf baby if she had hearing friends. The answer was “of course!” The woman then asked “Do your hearing friends sign?” The reply was “of course!” So the woman said “Ok, if you and your baby get a Cochlear Implant, you can ‘hear’ them! You can hear cars coming!” The differing perspectives are clear here.
One by one, the police took the rest of us away. They took down our names and where we came from. They searched us and erased all the photos we had taken. A police officer searched the messages on a mobile phone belonging to one of us.
5.15PM: We were finally allowed to leave. When we walked outside, two women were walking in. We found out that these two women were interpreters. They had come three hours after we had arrived.
AFTER THE PROTEST...
The doctors told the police that we had:
· Taken pictures of private files and journals
· Stopped a doctor leaving to do a cochlear implant operation on a deaf person
We had not done any of this! All the way through the protest, we had not acted out violently, or destroyed property.
It was agreed by all that the protest was one of the best experiences we’ve ever had.
“My identity, who I am as a Deaf person came into clear focus at that moment. At that moment, my life had meaning.”
“Deaf people have been oppressed throughout history. Eugenics… the sterilization campaign…forced oralism in education…the prohibition of Deaf-Deaf marriages…and now the race to eliminate the Deaf gene. Society simply does not want to see and accept us as a culture and a linguistic minority. This protest is an attempt to make doctors look at us as a people of the eye, rather than as a medical problem.”
The hospital has agreed not to take any action against us. However, it was said that the doctors were deeply traumatized by the experience. They had asked if Deaf people really felt like this.
The aim of this press release is to share with the world what a bit of action can do.
A couple of weeks later in one of the leading Danish newspapers Poltikien, the Head of the Audio Pedagogy Unit at the Copenhagen Region Hospital of Gentofte talked about doctors views towards discouraging the use of sign language. While they have respect of Sign Language, they believe that it will not assist children with cochlear implants.
Sadly, we do not have any video footage or photos to show what really happened in the office.
However, it is hoped that this action will assist in raising awareness about this complicated issue. It is evident that the medical profession needs to find ways to work in partnership with the Deaf community.
The aim of the Frontrunners programme was to provide us with the means to change the world.
Let’s hope that we can start.
For all the Deaf people…in history and in the future.
© FRONTRUNNERS 2005