What was life like for the Deaf community in America 50+ years ago? People didn’t have cell phones at the time, we weren’t able to chat to our friends using video, ADA law wasn’t in effect, and educational opportunities were drastically different. Think about what life was like and what the shared experiences were. How did it feel to be Deaf in America? What were the experiences? Things were drastically different compared to the accessibility and opportunities a Deaf person has in our society now, yet, in order to keep moving forward we must not forget the past.
The idea of creating a documentary to preserve these important cultural stories came from a discussion I had with two of my friends who come from a Deaf family and are Deaf themselves. She had mentioned some of the home signs used in the older generation of her family and had taught me some. I was fortunate enough to have an opportunity to meet her Grandma and was given another sign lesson of the signs that they used in the rural community they grew up in decades ago. While taking this all in I was struck by how little I know about the older generation of Deaf people, about their stories, about their lives. I began to wonder what life was like for my Grandma who had fought hard for equal rights for the Deaf community? What were the experiences and stories that my parents may not have shared with me? As these questions began developing in my mind I begin to solidify the realization that this is a project that needs to come to light.
The question is how can we make this project manageable? Should we just create a Facebook page where people can post their stories from people across America? Should we start to pull something together only in NC to start out and have a ‘crew’ that works on this project on weekends? Start a blog that pulls together and posts videos?
Knowing these stories is key to the preservation and sustenance of culture, in particular Deaf culture in America. There are so many Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing people across the U.S. who had such varied experiences over the years. Each generation is of value as their experiences add to the threads of a giant tapestry of a culture. Shared values and norms are passed down through storytelling and the richness of a tradition or shared understanding has new meaning once passed on to the next generation. We find our identity in our culture and in particular with the Deaf culture since culture is typically not passed down from parent to child but shared laterally from members of the Deaf community to others within the cultural group. As each generation of Deaf children grow up going to mainstreamed schools, who are exposed to little or no sign language at home, who know absolutely no one who is like them we taking away the opportunity for that child to know their cultural identity. It is the responsibility of all of us to keep Deaf culture alive and strong in the communities that we live in, so it can reach out to all people and last for years to come.
**Update-we have created a web site for this idea and now are working on fundraising so we can work on the interviews, videotaping, video transcriptions, web site design, etc. http://deafaslstories.wordpress.com/