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Dec 9, 2022
Center for Democracy in Dea...
Deaf America | Problem and Solution
Hall Memorial Building S400
Deaf America refers to the unique spaces in the United States of America in which approximately one million deaf people from all races, ethnicities, religions, socioeconomic classes, and political persuasions use American Sign Language (ASL) as the primary language of communication. Deaf America comprises over one hundred K-12 schools and programs and countless voluntary organizations and associations, bound together by the common experience of being deaf and using sign language to communicate. This is Deaf America.
At the same time, deaf people are among the most marginalized Americans whose ways of life are constantly under threat. Enrollment at deaf institutions and membership of deaf organizations are rapidly declining. The future of the Deaf community – Deaf America – is often said to be at a “crossroads.” Why? As commonly portrayed, deaf people are deprived from access to civic spaces. And that they are insular, divided, powerless, uninformed, and apathetic. Yet, what is unsaid is that these are not so much unique developments that threaten the well-being of deaf people and the future of “Deaf America” as worrisome trends in the country affecting the quality of life for all Americans and the health of American democracy.
As Alexis de Tocqueville observed in “Democracy in America” in 1840:
”The health of a democratic society may be measured by the quality of functions performed by private citizens.”
More than 175 years later today, the evidence is clear that American democracy is decaying. The worrisome trends include:
American democracy is in crisis and deaf people are paying the price. The problem is not that deaf people do not hear and speak, but that they do not have the opportunity to listen, talk, learn, and engage across differences in a divided and fragmented country.
Research indicates practical ways to improve the health of American democracy. In fact, Deaf America is uniquely positioned to make American democracy work.
If democracy relies on relationship-building, truth-finding, and power-sharing, Deaf America’s racial, linguistic, cultural, political diversity is an untapped resource. Communities and democracies that do not foster disagreement, debate, and civic engagement are more vulnerable to bigotry, orthodoxy, and autocratic leadership, and less likely to produce minority achievement, bridge differences, bring out better arguments, better ideas, and better policies to combat complex problems.
It is fundamental that deaf Americans have the resources and opportunities to disagree, debate, and engage with people who look, think, feel, and talk differently from them. This not only advances their personal well-being and the health of Deaf America, but that of fellow citizens and American democracy.
Center for Democracy in Deaf America (CDDA)
Gallaudet University, chartered in 1864, is a private university for deaf and hard of hearing students.
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