Desktop version

Home arrow Language & Literature

  • Increase font
  • Decrease font

<<   CONTENTS   >>

Deaf movement

The international dimension of the Deaf movement is reflected in the similarity of sociolinguistic changes that have affected deaf communities in several countries (Monaghan et al. 2003), with individual differences originating from local circumstances. It must be noted in this context, however, that the sociolinguistic circumstances in some countries are such that international developments may have little impact on the local situation. Particularly in the developing countries socio-cultural and economic circumstances (widespread poverty, lack of universal primary education, negative beliefs about deafness) work against the building of deaf communities (Kiyaga & Moores 2003).

Turning to the impact of the Deaf movement in the Western world, we will sketch some of the main developments in Sweden, the USA, Spain and South Africa for illustration of similarities and differences across countries.

Sweden. In Sweden, where the provision of home-language teaching to minority and immigrant students was stipulated by the 1977 “home language reform” (Bagga-Gupta & Domfors 2003), Swedish Sign Language (SSL) was recognised in 1981 as the first and natural language of deaf individuals. The work of Swedish Sign Language researchers inspired by Stokoe’s research into ASL, deaf community members, and NGOs brought about the change at the level of language policy that would soon be reflected in the compulsory use of sign language as the language of instruction at schools with deaf students. Crucially, through these changes at the educational level, Sweden pioneered a turn in the history of deaf education that had been marked by the ban of sign language from educational institutions as of the late 19th century (cf. Plaza-Pust 2016).

USA. In the USA, the Deaf President Now movement organised by Gallaudet University students in March 1988, leading to the appointment of the first deaf president of that university not only raised the awareness of the deaf community in the hearing society of that country, it was also “(...) above all a reaffirmation of Deaf culture, and it brought about the first worldwide celebration of that culture, a congress called The Deaf Way, held in Washington, DC, the following year” (Lane et al. 1996: 130). Thousands of deaf individuals from all over the world participated in the event, the first of this size to celebrate deaf culture, sign language and history (Bagga-Gupta 2004: 277). These two events gave impetus to the Deaf movement that has influenced political activism of deaf communities in many countries worldwide. As pointed out by Bagga-Gupta (20 04: 276) the Deaf President Now movement put deaf education on the agenda of the deaf community in the USA in a way that was similar to the Civil Rights movement (Jankowski 1997: 130), leading to “a new sense of self-worth, internal participation and community building and the urgency for the right to participate in general society.”

Spain. In Spain, political activism of deaf groups throughout the country began in the 1990s, influenced by the worldwide Deaf movement (Gras 2008; Morales-Lopez et al. 2002) and the socio-political changes concerning the linguistic rights granted to regional language minorities after the restoration of democracy in the late 1970s (Morales-Lopez 2008). The developments in Spain are interesting because they reflect the discrepancy in the language planning measures adopted towards territorial minority language groups vs. other linguistic minority language groups, including the deaf community, at the educational and other society levels. Finally, in 2007, after some intensive years of political activism on the side of the deaf federation and related interest groups, Spanish sign languages were officially recognised (BOE 2007).

South Africa. A similar relationship between political reforms and the activities of local deaf communities is reported by Aarons & Reynolds (2003) for South Africa, where the recognition of South African Sign Language (SAL) was put on the political agenda after the end of the apartheid regime, with the effect that the 1996 constitution protects the rights of deaf people, including the use of SAL.

Nicaragua. The developments in Nicaragua are an example of “foreign cultural influences” (Senghas 2003: 276) at the level of exchanges between deaf communities in two countries. The Swedish Deaf community provided assistance to the Nicaraguan deaf community in the process of its formation and organisation, for example, through exchanges between members of the Nicaraguan and the Swedish deaf communities in Nicaragua and Sweden (the Swedish Deaf community also funded the centre for deaf activities in Managua).

<<   CONTENTS   >>

Related topics