Deaf with a capital D
Thanks to mainstream successes of stories like CODA, best picture winner at the 2021 Academy Awards, many people in the hearing world are getting a more robust introduction to the Deaf community. And thanks to the first undergraduate Deaf studies course at UMass, the university community is taking a closer look at the vibrancy of Deaf culture. Taught online through the University Without Walls (UWW) program, the course provides insight into the richness of Deaf culture and history, the challenges the Deaf community has faced, and the many contributions it has made to society.
‘A thriving community’
No matter how much you yell, I will still be deaf.—Stephen Weiner
The inaugural Deaf studies class of nine students included people working in a variety of fields with different population groups, as well as a blind student and another student who is losing her hearing and wanted to learn more about the Deaf community that she will eventually join. Diannette Marrero ’23, who studies multicultural applied psychology and works for the Massachusetts Department of Transitional Assistance, says Sanders’s course has inspired her to begin learning ASL in order to better assist deaf clients. “This course has helped me be more aware of what it means to be someone who is deaf,” she explains. “I also learned about bilingualism within the Deaf community and the difficulties children face in classrooms, which impact how [they] interact with others and their mental health.”
Sanders hopes that the new course will create more interest in and awareness of the Deaf community at UMass and beyond, and in turn lead to more diversity and inclusion, with courses designed in a way that will help deaf students thrive.
‘Making magic happen’
Deaf or deaf?
While anyone who is unable to hear is deaf, not all deaf people are Deaf.
When capitalized, the word Deaf refers to a specific group of people who share a distinct culture with its own set of beliefs and practices, as well as its own language, American Sign Language (ASL).
There are many reasons why a person who is deaf may not identify as Deaf. For example, not everyone who is deaf learns or communicates primarily through ASL, and people who lose their hearing as a result of age or illness may lack a cultural connection to the Deaf community.