Deafhood Foundation Event Helps CSD Professionals Learn to be Deaf Allies and Support Deaf Culture

by Anne Adams

In September 2022, members of the Memphis Deaf community organized an event to advocate for themselves with support from several organizations including BridgesWEST, Memphis Center for Independent living, and Family Voices of Tennessee. The presenter, Marvin T. Miller, co-founder of the Deafhood Foundation, offered a presentation in ASL on how CSD professionals can be allies of the Deaf community. The Deafhood Foundation’s mission is “Humanizing Deaf people’s experience by reframing deafness.” Deafness has historically been conceptualized as an illness or deficiency that needs to be fixed. The medical model for treating deafness has often emphasized forcing Deaf people to learn to hear and speak as if they were not deaf. The foundation affirms that Deaf identities and Deaf cultural values have equal worth to hearing values. Miller wants CSD professionals “to see Deaf and hard of hearing people as whole, complete and fully human beings — and as a real contribution to the world through Deaf Gain, Deafhood and an essential part of human biodiversity.” Continued learning about the complex history, concerns, and hopes of the Deaf community is essential to this process. (https://www.deafhood.org/paddys-corner

Marvin T. Miller

The use of ASL and other signed languages for communication is central to Deaf cultural identity. Miller explained, “I want all audiologists and speech language pathologists to recognize that Deaf and hard of hearing children deserve: a Natural birthright to natural signed languages (ASL, Black ASL, and more); to grow up with successful, bilingual or multilingual Deaf role models in their lives; to have healthy families with healthy relationships and strong connection to their Deaf and signing communities.”

Leah Williamson, who helped coordinate the event, works with both the Memphis Center for Independent living and Family Voices of Tennessee, agencies that strive to “provide as much outreach as possible to the Deaf Community.” The event was an especially exciting opportunity to encourage self-empowerment for Deaf individuals because, “there are not many large-scale events in our area that are Deaf-Lead,” Williamson shared. 

The event included opportunities for Deaf attendees to share their experiences. Bobby Jo Jackson II, a Deaf man and student at the University of Memphis shared what he most wanted hearing people and CSD professionals to change. “It's the stigma that the deaf community experiences from audiologists and SLPs regarding their view of the spoken language… it's just that people, in general, cannot view American Sign Language as a natural, independent language.” This opportunity to share was meaningful for Karissa Terry, a first-year Audiology student and member of the Deaf community. “Being someone who is deaf, I’ve always felt like an outsider and to hear the stories of others feeling the same, was really hard to hear because I empathize with them.”

The event was both sobering and inspiring for the future CSD professionals who attended. Joyce McCormick, a first year SLP student, shared, “This presentation left me more determined than ever to support Deaf culture and ASL use when I am an SLP, and to be an ally to my Deaf/HoH clients.” The context and direction offered by the Deafhood Foundation encouraged CSD professionals to recognize their responsibility to be thoughtful, committed allies of the Deaf community. Karissa Terry added, “As clinicians, no matter who we are, we have to reinforce the Deaf community’s values and respect those values that our patients are going to have. We cannot take away someone's values and experiences by trying to change them. We have a responsibility to respect our patients and provide the support that they want.”