Sunday, January 24, 2010

28: American Deaf and Haiti (Updated with Video)

As a Deaf man and a concerned American, it's probably normal for me to feel concern for those Deaf, Deaf-blind and hard-of-hearing Haitians who survived the earthquake. While the Deaf community has its tightness and connectivity to support it in times of stress, often we lose out during emergencies due to lack of communication about supplies and services. Examples where Deaf people received limited information due to a lack of captioned emergency broadcasts are everywhere in the U.S., for example.

So it was with trepidation and excitement that I spoke with my senior class about beginning a project with which we could somehow do our part, or at least a little, to help this particular disadvantaged group. I began watching aggregators such as Deafvillage and Deafread and other places on the internet. I wanted to identify links and organizations established to help such groups. I also began to watch major Deaf organizations on the internet, such as the NAD and the WFD.

In general, there hasn't been a lot of blogging on this issue. The best has come from Deaf Anthology (videos provided) and Deaf Haitians - more on the latter later.

The World Federation for the Deaf (WFD) and American National Assiociation of the Deaf (NAD) both have issued letters of sympathy to the country in question. The WFD claims to be investigating connections and avenues. The NAD has said it does not have the resources to set up its own specific fund, but that leaves open the avenue of it connecting with international agencies and providing links, as well as other, future forms of aid. So it seems a lot of our national and international agencies are wondering what to do and who, specifically, to help.

Gallaudet University, however, has already organized fundraisers and activities (including, most notably, a Spin-4-Haiti event on February 5th and 6th) designed to raise money specifically for the Instituit Montfort, a school for the Deaf and Deaf-blind in Haiti which currently boasts some 600+ students. Montfort, which has sent many students to American Deaf colleges, reports that it has lost a school building in Port-au-Prince, and that students and faculty at the residential institution are currently unsheltered. Gallaudet departments and faculty members are also engaged in action and instruction targeted towards aiding the survivors of the earthquake, and specifically the Deaf community. They've partnered with organizations such as Global Reach Out, Inc. which works to enable Deaf youth to create change internationally. The Rochester National Technical Institute of the Deaf, another major Deaf institution in America, has yet to report on actions being taken in its college. Given, however, that it has many successful students and graduates from Haiti, such action is probably already underway. Colleges, of course, have the benefit of unlimited resources of energy: the passion of young adults.

Nationally and internationally, Deaf organizations such as Deaf Welcome are mobilizing to provide various resources. Deaf Welcome, for example, is providing laptops and sign language interpreters so that local survivors can use international relay services to contact family members and loved ones worldwide. It's as well to recall they're also drumming up business; such larger organizations have financial resources to make these products directly available to survivors. Personally, given that Haiti is a third world country, I'm not sure how beneficial providing videophone services is going to be right now, but they're also providing solar cells and (it seems) wireless devices, so it's possible this could be very beneficial for the people of Haiti.

But what about the rest of us? Who do we donate to, we who do not have either unlimited energy or resources? I discussed this with my students. How do we know that aid organizations will not waste our money, or spend it the wrong way? More importantly, knowing what we do about Deaf history, what concerns do we need to address before we can start giving? After a decade of stories and shocking revelations about abuses of Deaf children at schools, one might be concerned about donating directly to schools in Haiti - although as far as anyone has been able to tell, the two most hurt by the quakes (St. Vincent's and Instituit Montfort) have operated in an aboveboard manner, with respect both for the education of their students and their self-image. Evidence of this is how many successful graduates have gone on to higher education and are now returning to their schools in times of need. But questions like these, and the existence of a variety of local organizations in the country, make taking that extra step of choosing who is trustworthy almost a harder job than helping itself can be. This tangled web is examined by the website Deaf Haitians, where Deaf students who come from the shaken country are working to gather support for survivors. Deaf Haitians points out, for example, that CAPPA Haiti is the only secular (non-religious) organization serving the Deaf/HOH/Deaf-blind population in Haiti. Local perceptions like this are important to informed, sensitive giving. I look forward to reading more blogs from this site.

(Recently added)
Faithful Readers are getting in touch. Two sent in a link to the PAZAPA video embedded below. PAZAPA is a Haitian agency serving the disabled population, including the deaf and hard of hearing population. The video below shows some of their services.

Right now I'm with Gallaudet, and either of the institutes in question - and many of the agencies - look like great places to begin if you want to make sure your money is directed at helping deaf, hard of hearing, and deaf-blind survivors. What's your school or organization doing to help survivors? Can you provide links to places I've missed? Only one thing is sure: our best comes out when we help each other.


Peg Pros said...

Excellent Article. pitch a story to the media.

Der Sankt said...

i agree with peg..this entry is awesome. love it.

Anonymous said...


I looked for an email but could not find one so apologies in advance for semi-spamming your blog. I am looking for advice on how to best approach the Deaf community in the US (I'm in Portugal and not Deaf). I realise you cannot speak for everyone but I'd still be grateful for the help. My contact is regah98 AT gmail DOT com. Thank you in advance.