Academic journal article American Annals of the Deaf

Meeting Global Deaf Peers, Visiting Ideal Deaf Places: Deaf Ways of Education Leading to Empowerment, an Exploratory Case Study

Academic journal article American Annals of the Deaf

Meeting Global Deaf Peers, Visiting Ideal Deaf Places: Deaf Ways of Education Leading to Empowerment, an Exploratory Case Study

Article excerpt

IN A FLEMISH CASE STUDY, deaf role models revealed a moment of awakening, indicated by the Flemish sign WAKE-UP. Contact with deaf cultural rhetoric made them wake up, and deconstruct and reconstruct their lives, a process represented by a circle of deaf empowerment. Flemish deaf leaders mentioned acquiring this rhetoric during visits to deaf dream worlds (in Flemish Sign Language, WORLD DREAM): places with ideal conditions for deaf people. Such global deaf encounters (Breivik, Haualand, & Solvang, 2002) lead to the "insurrection of sub- jugated [deaf] knowledges" (Pease, 2002, p. 33). Whereas deaf educa- tion had never provided them with deaf cultural rhetoric and was depositing upon them oppressive societal conventions (Jankowski, 1997), a common sign language (Mottez, 1993) and global deaf experi- ence (Breivik et al., 2002; Murray, in press) in barrier-free environ- ments (Jankowski, 1997) provided deaf ways of deaf education (Erting, 1996; Reilly 1995).

In the last 30 years, a new rhetoric has emerged: Deaf people are perceiving themselves as an ethnolinguistic minority group with their own culture (deaf culture) and their own language (sign language).1 Deaf people with this worldview reject the medical model of deafness, which views deaf people as having a physical problem that needs to be cured (Jankowski, 1997; Lane, 1993)· Adopting a cultural perspective on deafhood liberates deaf people from oppression and empowers them: They turn their negative perceptions of themselves into a positive deaf identity of which they are proud, a deaf identity that can challenge the negative attitudes of the majority society and redistribute power between deaf and hearing people (Jankowski, 1997; Ladd, 2003; Widell, 2000).

Studies of deaf people worldwide (e.g., Breivik, 2005; Monaghan, Schmaling, Nakamura, & Turner, 2003) suggest that increased international contact with politically empowered deaf people and the rapidly changing consciousness in deaf communities is largely responsible for the empowerment of deaf people. For her diachronic study on the rhetoric of the deaf social movement in the United States, Jankowski (1997) analyzed published documents and events, highlighting crucial movements of change such as Deaf President Now. Widell (2000) explored the emergence of deaf empowerment in Denmark by examining "the dynamics between the education system, the labor market, and deaf culture" (p. 26). For my research project, I examined deaf empowerment in Flanders, the northern half of Belgium, through the collection of life stories of Flemish deaf leaders. This case study is being linked with an exploratory case study (Stebbins, 2001; Yin, 1994) at Gallaudet University of deaf empowerment as exemplified in the lives of international deaf role models.

Research on deaf life stories reveals turning points in deaf people's lives when they learned about deaf cultural rhetoric - mostly highlighting transformations when these people moved from an oral environment to a signing and deaf cultural environment. Amparo Minguet Soto (2003), for example, uses the metaphor of "Deaf awakening" in her life story to give meaning to the turning point in her life after coming into contact with sign language, deaf culture, and (international) deaf leaders. She connects this experience with the metaphorical transition from darkness to light that is often used to describe deaf people's entering the deaf community and learning sign language (Padden & Humphries, 1988). Soto does not reveal whether this experience is expressed by a sign that refers to a shared deaf experience in her community like the WAKE-UP sign in my research (see below, "Waking Up and the Circle of Deaf Empowerment").

Although changes in deaf people who grew up in a deaf cultural environment have been sporadically examined (Breivik, 2005; Ladd, 2003; List, 2003; Taylor & Darby 2003), the phenomenon of deaf empowerment and its rhetoric have never been examined through ethnographic lifestory research in a group of people who have assumed leadership roles in a local deaf community. …

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