Opinion

Join the Deaf community by waving hands in celebration of CODA’s Oscar win — and so much more

April 6, 2022 3:33 am

Troy Kotsur, winner of the Actor in a Supporting Role award for “CODA,” is seen backstage March 27, 2022, during the 94th Annual Academy Awards at Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, California. (Al Seib/A.M.P.A.S. via Getty Images)

Kansas Reflector welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of widening the conversation about how public policies affect the day-to-day lives of people throughout our state. Chris Haulmark is a Deaf board member of the Kansas Association of the Deaf and chairman of its social justice committee, where he advocates for the Deaf Kansans.

 

The Deaf people just got their next big due when Troy Kotsur won as best supporting actor in the film “CODA” at the 2022 Academy Awards.

A few centuries ago, the Deaf people envisioned that they would continue to prosper alongside non-Deaf people. Before the 18th century, there were many Deaf working as lawyers, politicians, dentists, doctors, authors, teachers and numerous others proficient in highly regarded visual and written languages.

They were seen as truly equal to everyone else in the global society.

These same Deaf people did not anticipate the apocalyptic turn of events that would appear a few hundreds of years later.

It was in 1853 that the need to treat the Deaf as people with a disease began. Powerful anti-Deaf movements and organizations appeared in the next few decades to spread this new destructive philosophy throughout the world. It continued throughout the first half of the 20th century. Those who were not Deaf were told to forget about Deaf people, and this still is the case today.

Starting in 1880, sign languages were banned in many educational institutions around the world for several decades. Deaf teachers were forbidden to teach Deaf children. This caused a massive crisis of language deprivation, which still affects every single Deaf person.

As the moonlight streamed through the windows of the dorm rooms of Deaf institutions across the country from the 1910s until approximately the 1960s, students secretly used sign language in the dorm rooms at night. This violated the rules of their schools, which banned sign language in its entirety. 

It was only in 1964 that American Sign Language was officially recognized as a thriving and complex language, thanks to Dorothy Casterline, Carl Croneberg and William Stokoe. Unfortunately, anti-Deaf movements and organizations continue to push back.

During the 1982 Kansas Legislature, the Kansas Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing was created as a state agency. Through this organization, state agencies and organizations are able to make sure that services for Deaf and hard-of-hearing citizens, as well as communication access and resources, are available.

“CODA” co-star Marlee Matlin won both the Golden Globe Award for best actress in a drama and an Oscar for best actress at the 1987 Academy Awards. Her performance in the film “Children of a Lesser God” gave the world a glimpse into the intriguing Deaf community.

When a non-Deaf candidate was chosen for the position of president at Gallaudet University, the only higher education institution with instruction geared toward the Deaf, students barricaded the campus in 1988 as a protest.

In 2001, the first independently operated museum of its kind in the nation opened its doors to promote the Deaf community. After the board of directors became 100% composed of Deaf members in 2016, this museum was renamed Museum of Deaf History, Arts, and Culture. In this country, it remains the only museum that does not receive any public funding, relying entirely on donations for its continued operation.

In the Kansas legislative session of 2022, two significant bills were passed that will bolster the Deaf community. One replaces improper terminology with appropriate terminology, and another clarifies and strengthens the role of the Kansas Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.

– Chris Haulmark

In the 2008 Super Bowl XLII, Pepsi broke a historic first by using American Sign Language in one of its commercials. While the ad was silent for 60 seconds, the largest anti-Deaf organization in America took issue, perpetuating the colonization of the Deaf community and dissuading the display of sign language.

The Kansas legislature extended support for the Deaf community in 2016 by passing its version of Language Equality and Acquisition for Deaf Kids (LEAD-K), making our state the second in the nation to do so.

Nyle DiMarco, winner of American’s Next Top Model and Dancing with the Stars in 2015 and 2016, brought the power of being Deaf to the world. As the new spokesman for LEAD-K, he brought to the world’s attention the atrocious epidemic of language deprivation afflicting millions of Deaf children.

In the Kansas legislative session of 2022, two significant bills were passed that will bolster the Deaf community. One replaces improper terminology with appropriate terminology, and another clarifies and strengthens the role of the Kansas Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. These bills are expected to be signed by Gov. Laura Kelly on the same walnut ceremonial desk that was gifted by the Kansas School for the Deaf to former Gov. Alfred Landon in 1935, after the desk was crafted by the Deaf students.

Because of milestones such as those listed above, shedding light on Deaf culture and linguistics, the arc is beginning to bend back toward its original shape. This was at least a century ago. Several decades will pass before the regressive aspects of the Deaf community can no longer hinder the progressive aspects.

Among the diverse members of the Deaf community are Deaf women, Black Deaf, Indigenous Deaf, Deaf People of Color, DeafBlind, DeafDisabled, DeafPlus, Late-Deafened, LGBTQ Deaf, and other marginalized members.

It is imperative that Deaf communities look inward to eliminate their own prejudices and bigotries. This is done while embracing and encouraging the diversity of their members to achieve a more equitable future.

As a result of the Deaf community’s diverse ways of accessing and using any living, breathing visual language with the world, each member has a unique yet similar journey. There are those who learn sign language, while others do not. There are members who do not hear, and there are others who hear but are self-identifying as either Deaf or Hard of Hearing. Those who journey through life with such diverse identities and experiences converge into our community. Collective culture is intuitively understood as the heart and soul of the Deaf community and is directly linked to the wellbeing and health of its members.

Ultimately, we need to effectively counter anti-Deaf movements and organizations with existing and future allies. Matlin, for example, had threatened to leave the “CODA” project if more Deaf were not recruited.

Along with Kotsur and Matlin, Daniel Durant presented a speculative representation of the community by portraying the authentic Deaf brother of the main character. The success of “CODA” illustrates global society’s thundering acceptance of Deaf people as a culturally and linguistically diverse group.

Join the Deaf community by waving your hands in celebration.

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Chris Haulmark
Chris Haulmark

Chris Haulmark is a Deaf board member of the Kansas Association of the Deaf and chairperson of its social justice committee, where he advocates for the Deaf Kansans. He also volunteers at the Museum of Deaf History, Arts, and Culture.

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