Most people who are hard or hearing or deaf do well in conversation with one or two people in a quiet room. They wear hearing aids to amplify sound waves coming into the ear; or they use cochlear implants, which bring sound directly into the hearing center in the brain. At celebrations, where there are more people, music, shuffling chairs and clinking tableware, much of the conversation is lost. By the time they locate the sound, turn their head to read the lips or otherwise catch what one person said, a person with hearing loss misses what the second or third individual has said. While communication is fine in the first setting, the communication breakdown in the second setting can be confusing. Family members and the person with hearing loss themselves may not realize what is happening or know how to restore the social bond.
Oral deafness may be the most misunderstood of disabilities even though, according to the Hearing Loss Association of America, one in ten people in our country fit this description: that is, they have some degree of hearing loss and do not speak sign language. Almost everyone knows someone who is oral deaf.
Yet, when I say that I am an Open Captioner to people who are deaf or hard of hearing, once the word “deaf” is uttered, most people imagine or mimic a person talking with their hands via American Sign Language (ASL). This familiar image of a deaf person is one of many barriers that prevent a large population of deaf people from gaining access to communication that hearing people take for granted.
It was everywhere. Madrid, Paris, New York, Moscow - everyone was watching. I’m talking about the FIFA World Cup, of course. According to statistics, a full 1/9 of the planet watches the proceedings of this tournament. We’re talking here about hundreds of millions of people. From distant corners of the globe, people watch the same ball bouncing on the screen and cheer for their favorite teams.
Well, there's another global event coming up, though not on the scale of the World Cup. Next month, boys are flying in from Israel, from Russia, from Germany and from all over the United States to New York City. What for, you ask? To participate in a Jewish camp. For many of them, it will be their very first time living and experiencing Judaism among their peers.
I am proud to be behind the planning of this unique program for Jewish deaf boys between 8-16 years old.
Editor's Note: Alexis Kasher, the current president of the Jewish Deaf Resource Center, recently shared her personal experiences and perspectives on inclusion for people who are deaf in the Jewish community at the Foundation for Jewish Camping conference. New Normal editor Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer interviewed Kashar about the conference.
NN: What is your experience of inclusion for people who are deaf in the Jewish community?
AK: I spent many years practicing civil rights and special education law. My practice focused on the civil and education rights of people who are deaf and hard of hearing or with disabilities. Laws are in place to protect their rights; however, enforcement is still an issue. It has been many years since the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and various federal special education laws was passed but we still have a ways to go before we are at 100 percent compliance. The truth is, once we are at 100 percent compliance, we will have achieved universal design that will benefit everyone. For instance, imagine how strollers would get around without curb cuts and how we could watch the Super Bowl in a noisy public place without closed captioning. However, for the most part religious organizations are exempt from compliance with the ADA.