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March 28, 2011 | by  | in Features | [ssba]

Victoria University’s Deaf Community: Far From Silent

The Deaf community is lively, chatty, vibrant, and—for the majority of society—invisible. Yes, that was “Deaf” with a capital ‘D’.

One of the most striking things hearing people discover when they first learn about the Deaf world is the close sense of community and belonging that Deaf people have with other Deaf people.

If this is surprising to you, consider what is the meaning of a “community”? A group of people who share the same language? The same life experiences? The same interests, attitudes, behaviours and power status? The Deaf as a community are the natural result of a shared language and experience in a majority-hearing world. The capitalisation of Deaf acknowledges the personal identity Deaf people have to their “Deaf world”, just as someone might identify as English, Maori, Christian, Muslim, Chinese, Eskimo, etc. Deaf have their own community and culture complete with their own norms, traditions, folktales and pride. They are a minority community living a majority hearing world. Note that “hearing” is not considered a community as it is not a cultural identity. Likewise, someone may be considered medically deaf yet not necessarily identify as Deaf.

Victoria University has a strong presence of Deaf culture, supported by the opportunity for students to take Deaf Studies. Deaf Studies offers the opportunity for students to learn New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL), yet it also has a strong cultural focus, teaching the history of Deaf culture in New Zealand as well as norms for interacting in the Deaf world. Elliot Yates, a Deaf student who attended Victoria University in 2009 and 2010, says Deaf Studies is a “worthy subject”, and expresses the wish that more people would learn it, saying NZSL tends to be “neglected”. To support students learning Deaf Studies, Deaf students and those taking Deaf Studies meet up once a week for coffee at the Hunter Lounge to chat, practice signing, and celebrate Deaf culture at Victoria. Yates says he loved the atmosphere of Deaf Coffee: “It was a place where I could let rip.”

Mark Berry, a current Deaf student at the University, says that sometimes cultural ignorance can be life’s biggest barrier. “People patronise me, think I’m stupid. I don’t need that.” Deaf Studies has helped to foster a stronger cultural awareness at Victoria, which can then permeate into wider society through educating friends and family.

Outside of Victoria, the Wellington Deaf community is strong and alive at the local Wellington Deaf Club (or the Wellington Deaf Society), founded in 1938. Deaf people and learners of sign language meet at the club every Friday night. Part lounge, part bar, part dance club, the Deaf Club is a place for Deaf people to chat in their native language, share the week’s gossip, arrange events such as sporting competitions, and relax in an environment custom-made for them. Yates loved the “cool retro vibe” of the Club, the “engaging” people, and the cheap drinks! There are eleven regional Deaf Clubs nationwide, each with the same aim of fostering the Deaf Community. Deaf Clubs link to Deaf Aotearoa New Zealand (formerly the New Zealand Association of the Deaf), which is a national organisation with the goal to “raise awareness, access and advancement” of Deaf people. It also organises NZSL week (2-8 May 2011). NZSL Week aims to “promote awareness of NZSL and the Deaf community, including the barriers which stop its members from taking part in society”.

Deafness is considered grounds for discrimination under the Human Rights Act 1993, and in the past the Deaf community has faced severe oppression (see Hear This Now over the page). Yet most Deaf people do not consider themselves as disabled. For example, the Deaf community does not participate in the Paralympics, preferring to hold its own Deaflympics instead (the next Deaflympics will be held in Greece in 2013). The New Zealand Disability Strategy (2001) defines disability as “the process which happens when one group of people create barriers by designing a world only for their way of living”. In this way, people are only disabled to the extent that other people make them disabled. Victoria University’s Disability Services is founded on a philosophy of inclusion, and as such Deaf students at Victoria University are entitled to interpreters and note-takers in lectures. However, there is a shortage of interpreters across the country, so electronic note-takers are used when interpreters are not available. Berry says he prefers interpreters whenever possible because “it’s really hard to understand the jargon in a language that I’m not accustomed to “. Yates agrees, adding that he likes to see NZSL at a more advanced level as it helps improve his own signing.

The doors of the Accommodation Services are also open to help Deaf students wanting to live in a Hall of Residence. Accommodation Services Manager Nick Merrett says that “Weir House has a bedroom with a flashing alarm, and other Halls utilise other systems for evacuation”, adding the needs of each student are “determined on a case-by-case basis with the individual”. Merrett adds that Deaf residents “make a positive contribution to the life of the halls, and in one hall, a student has established an NZSL club for residents”.


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  1. Abdul Hafeez A.B says:

    I am Hearing impairment and Disability Person.I Had completed bachelor degree B.Tech(Information Technology) with percentage 70% for Anna University,Trichy,Tamilnadu,India.I needed any IT company for freshers good jobs disability person only.
    Thank you&Best regards

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