More than 200 participants from Japan took part in a recent online academic forum organized by Dr. Kota Takayama, G-’09, from Gallaudet University’s social work program. Held on October 7, “Japan Deaf Studies Seminar – Future?” provided a platform for the group to discuss opportunities for shaping the trajectory of Deaf Studies in Japan.

“Japan has a rich history and culture in deaf communities, yet there has been a relative lack of dedicated academic attention,” Takayama says. To help change that, he set up and taught an “Introduction to Deaf Studies” class at Japan College of Social Work in Tokyo, Japan for five years. In March, he led an online forum focused on the current state of Deaf Studies in Japan which attracted hundreds of participants. Now, there is momentum behind taking action. “This event signifies a crucial step in bridging the gap and elevating the importance of Deaf Studies in Japan,” he adds.

Dr. H-Dirksen Bauman delivering a presentation.

To provide a broader perspective, Dr. H-Dirksen Bauman delivered a presentation titled “Deaf Studies: Origins, Evolutions, and Futures.” He shared insights gleaned from his personal and academic journey since joining the Deaf Studies program at Gallaudet in 1999. Bauman also expounded on the three foundational concepts of Deaf Studies — critique, create, and advocate — and proposed an approach to shaping an academic curriculum for Deaf Studies in Japan.

That was followed by an engaging discussion featuring Bauman and Ai Minakawa, G-’21, a graduate of the master’s degree program in Deaf Studies. Their extensive experience and reputations as leading scholars drew a substantial audience, adds Takayama, who notes that there is a growing interest in issues related to Deaf communities in Japan.

A major factor hindering the development of the field in Japan is a lack of academic infrastructure and funding, which is why more programs, more deaf scholars, and more resources are essential, Takayama says. It is also critical to develop effective teaching methods and curriculums for Deaf Studies that can promote a quality education and new opportunities for deaf and hard of hearing people. Plus, he adds, there is an ongoing need for legal frameworks and awareness campaigns to advocate for the rights and inclusion of deaf individuals in all aspects of society, including employment, health care, and legal access.

Sign language interpreters Megumi Kawakami, G-’13, and Ikumi Kawamata, G-’16 — who are proficient in both Nihon-Syuwa (Japanese Sign Language) and ASL (American Sign Language) — ensured accessibility for all participants.

The event was made possible through the support of the Grants-in-Aid for Scientific Research: Kakenhi, which is funded by the Japan Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology. Takayama is principal investigator on this grant, which is focusing on the development and evaluation of a social work education curriculum and training modules designed for professionals working with deaf and hard of hearing populations in Japan.

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