We Can, She Can, Deaf Can!

Posted on June 01, 2022

Deaf Women Can painted rock

“Deaf people can do anything hearing people can do except hear” is a famous quote by I. King Jordan, first Deafa president of Gallaudet University (the only liberal arts university for the deaf in the world) after the successful Deaf President Now protest of 1988.  The quote is often colloquially stated, “Deaf can!” and is used to encapsulate the notion that deaf people can achieve anything and have in fact accomplished and contributed much throughout history. Unfortunately, people for whom this quote means the most, i.e., children/youth who are deaf/hard of hearing (DHH), are frequently among those who have never seen it and therefore do not benefit from its power. More than 80% of DHH students are educated within the public-school system today, having little or no access to Deaf culture, Deaf history, or Deaf role models. Further, Deaf culture and history parallels the larger society’s repression of women and their contributions.

In light of this history and to change the future, the Interpreting, Deaf Education, and Advocacy Services (IDEAS) faculty and students, supported by a grant from UNCG’s We Can, She Can initiative, presented DEAF WOMEN CAN!b on April 7th, an all day, two-event celebration showcasing the achievements of D/deaf and hard of hearing women, past and present.

During the day, approximately 58 K-12 D/deaf and hard of hearing (DHH) students from Guilford, Forsyth, Rockingham, and Randolph counties, as well as their teachers and staff, came to UNCG’s campus to learn about famous Deaf women (past and present). After an official welcome and introduction to the day by event co-coordinator and IDEAS faculty member, Frank Griffin, the attendees were split into smaller groups, led by Deaf community volunteers from Communication Services for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.  Freshmen and sophomore UNCG students in IDEAS’s Deaf Education concentration designed and presented seven interactive poster boards (made in the SOE SELF Design Studio) that included games and puzzles as well as a greenscreen performance(!) for the K-12 participants to do as they learned about accomplished D/deaf women from the fields of art, poetry, drama, linguistics, law, technology, and business. Each poster also provided a clue to a code the children/youth cracked in exchange for a DEAF WOMEN CAN! t-shirt, designed by a Deaf female artist Sheena Stuart-Milburn. Throughout, students from the Interpreting concentration interpreted for the K-12 children/youth as well as any non-signing attendees. UNCG students from all three IDEAS concentrations (Interpreting, Deaf Education, and Advocacy Services) assisted with logistics including leading games for the children before the official start of the activities, directing participants, and setting up/breaking down the event, as well as leading tours to OARS, the library, and to Rock!

In the evening, more than 200 students, faculty, and members of the UNCG and D/deaf communities at large attended a panel discussion made up of diverse, successful Deaf women who discussed their lives, challenges and accomplishments as women, as Deaf/deaf or Deaf-Blind, and the intersectionality of those identities. Among the many highlights of the event was the facilitator of the panel, Renca Dunn, renowned Deaf artist, influencer, and internet celebrity. 

Renca Dunn and some Panelist

Echoing the mission of the SOE, the DEAF WOMEN CAN! events “advance(d) access to life’s opportunities by providing transformative learning” “engag(ed) communities, and promot(ed) equity and diversity” among and between cultures (Deaf/hearing), genders, and communities (school, university and area). IDEA students Abby Layell and Craig Blevins reflected on the event saying respectively, “DEAF WOMEN CAN! truly helped introduce us as future educators to what we want to do. … actually being face to face with [DHH children/youth] was life changing” and “It was just phenomenal!”

aDeaf with a capital “d” denotes an identity to a distinct cultural and linguistic group with their own language, traditions, behaviors, and history, while deaf with a lowercase “d” refers to the general audiological level of hearing.

bCapital letters here denote a reference to phrase being expressed in American Sign Language.