Hesperian Health Guides
Chapter 11: Working together to help children who are deaf
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There are many ways that people in communities can work together to make a difference for their deaf children. They can make the community a better place for children who are deaf by raising awareness about the needs and capabilities of people who are deaf or cannot hear well. Communities can support families with children who cannot hear well and they can make it possible for deaf children to get an education.
The main community that most people consider their own is their neighborhood, or the area where they live. But there are many other kinds of community. Many groups can provide support for deaf children and their families since families with deaf children often belong to many different communities at the same time.
Children who learn and play together form a community
Children are a natural community for each other. But children need encouragement to include others who are different from them — whether they are deaf or have some other difference. Adults
and older children can help children learn to respect others and to develop qualities like patience, fairness, and caring. For more information about how to encourage children with different hearing abilities to relate to each other, see Chapter 10 on developing social skills.
Deaf people form a community
Sometimes, people who are deaf may feel there is no community that cares about their welfare. In many communities, people who are deaf or cannot hear well are made to feel unwelcome by their families, relatives, neighbors and others who do not know how to communicate with them. Sometimes other people laugh at them and tease them. And it can be especially hard for parents of a deaf child to see their child getting teased by other people. Wherever they are, people who are deaf or cannot hear well often face similar problems. Many deaf people still have few opportunities to take their place within society.
Deaf people often feel a close bond with each other because they face similar problems and share a similar way of communicating, like sign language. Whether they live nearby or must travel to visit each other, deaf people play a very important part in each other's lives.
People who are deaf can be a source of comfort and guidance to each other. When they can meet together they usually form very strong communities. Communities may form around deaf schools, as deaf children learn and grow up together. Or deaf people may gather in deaf clubs, work cooperatives or religious organizations.
Deaf adults can also be a great help to families that are raising deaf children, because they understand the needs and challenges these families often face.
Hearing people who welcome deaf people can help bring communities together
Many hearing people realize the value of friendship with deaf people. They may have deaf friends, work with a deaf person, or they may have family members who cannot hear well. Hearing people who are comfortable communicating with deaf people can build bridges between the hearing and deaf communities. When hearing people learn sign language, they can help deaf and hearing people understand each other and help deaf children thrive.
Joseph and the deaf choirJoseph, a young man from Haiti who can hear, learned sign language at a class in his neighborhood. Joseph made friends with some of the deaf people in his city.
As he got more involved, he began teaching young deaf people at the church to sign (and sing out loud) some of the songs that were used in the prayer service. Soon a whole choir of young deaf people was singing and signing with him.
Now Joseph and the deaf choir drive far into the rural mountains of Haiti where they sing at other churches. Many people approach Joseph to ask him about the choir, and tell him about the deaf children in their own families.
Joseph uses the opportunity to tell people about a program for young deaf children in one of the towns, and about the residential school for older deaf children in his city.
By bringing young deaf people to rural churches, Joseph has been able to bring the hearing community and the deaf community closer together.