International Week of Deaf People, or IWDP, formerly known as International Week of the Deaf, promotes awareness, equality and inclusivity for the Deaf community. IWDP takes place every year during the last week of September, which is also Deaf Awareness Month.
“The purpose of it was to raise awareness on a global level of Deaf people, and of our language, and of our community, and of our culture,” Cheryl Prusinski, a full-time deaf faculty member at Ohio University, said in American Sign Language, or ASL.
According to the founders of the World Federation for the Deaf, or IWDP, an international, non-profit organization consisting of deaf associations from around the world, IWDP was founded in 1958 with the intention of promoting equal rights for the Deaf community.
However, many hearing people are not aware of the depth of Deaf culture and the Deaf community. This includes knowledge of terms, as according to the National Association of the Deaf, “deaf” is lowercase when discussing the audiological condition of not hearing and should be capitalized when referring to the group of deaf people who share a culture and a language, ASL.
“Deaf culture is the actual parts of the culture you have to be immersed into, like language,” Lori Woods, another full-time deaf faculty member at Ohio University and co-advisor of the ASL club, said in ASL. “Whereas, the community is something that we welcome people to be part of if they want to learn more about norms in Deaf culture.”
Prusinski said Deaf culture is the mannerisms, attitude and traditions that have been handed down since the culture started to emerge in the 1700s.
“Over the years there are just traditions and certain things that have been passed down, for example, like art, ASL stories and ASL literature,” Prusinski said.
Both Prusinski and Woods emphasize the importance of ASL as a huge part of their culture. However, people have seen it as an oppressive tactic when it is really the heart of Deaf culture and something people who are deaf are extremely proud of.
“People have tried to get rid of or strip sign language,” Prusinski said. “That's the reason why we want to set up more deaf awareness to let people know that no, no, no, our most valued asset is ASL.”
Education and inclusivity are important in order to bridge the gap between the deaf and hearing communities. While OU has offices to prioritize accessibility, neither OU or Athens are doing anything for IWDP. But, students at OU took the initiative to raise awareness on their own.
“The students are actually completely the ones who are the drivers of that,” Woods said. “They surprise me with how much they know and how excited they are. So I'm happy to be in an observation capacity.”
Two student organizations on campus are teaming up to educate and advocate for the Deaf community: the ASL Club, an organization that aims to decrease the gap between the deaf and hearing communities, and the National Student Speech Language Hearing Association, or NSSLHA, an organization that prepares communication science and disorders, or CSD, students for their field.
On Sept. 26 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., the ASL Club and NSSLHA will be handing out Deaf Awareness Month flyers in Grover Center.
“I think that it's important that we have an event like this because nobody else really does it,” Emily Hill, a senior studying CSD and vice president of NSSLHA, said.
Another way to bridge the gap between the Deaf and hearing communities is through ASL, according to Alli Kisker, an ASL interpreter.
“Learn sign language,” Kisker said. “Also, just always keep accessibility in mind.”
Woods said OU recently hired a full-time ASL interpreter, an accommodation that has been requested for five years. This initiative will continue to help with accessibility for faculty and students who are Deaf.
Sept. 30 is also International Interpreters and Translators Day, another day in September celebrating a part of the deaf community.
But, Deaf culture and the Deaf community should be celebrated and acknowledged every month, not just in September.
“We love being able just to connect with (the Deaf community) and be able to converse with them on a deeper level,” Miranda Kress, a junior studying CSD and president of the ASL Club, said. “And to stress the importance of that this month specifically, but every month.”
Continuing to learn about Deaf culture and understanding the pride people who are Deaf feel about their community is essential for inclusivity and equality, and the reason why IWDP was founded.
“I'm confident that I have that culture, and I'm proud of that,” Woods said. “I think it does feel quite unique.”
For more information about IWDP, visit the World Federation of the Deaf at wfdeaf.org.
Cheryl Prusinski was translated by Alli Kisker.
Lori Woods was translated by Natalie Kraft.