September is when we celebrate the International Week of the Deaf: a time to recognize the culture, language and heritage of the deaf community. People would ask why would we celebrate a disability. Being deaf is much more than just a disability. It is an identity that we live on a daily basis. Some of us were born deaf; some of us became deaf at an early age, or later in life. For many of us, we have taken pride in being deaf – this is who we are.
When parents first learn that their newborn or child is deaf, they become fearful of the unknown. Medical doctors want to offer a solution for every deaf baby; they are trained to come up with a cure. Cochlear implants are placed on babies oftentimes without recognizing its effect on American Sign Language (ASL) acquisition. ASL is the backbone to our deaf community and most importantly, I believe a basic human right for every Deaf individual.
Prior to learning sign language, I was raised to speak and “hear” spoken English. Yes, I learned to speak well and lip-read for the most part. However, I wasn’t granted automatic access to the general society. Can you imagine growing up, not being able to understand or communicate with others? Many of us try to fit into society. We pretend to understand what other people are saying, but are unable to tell the difference between “P”, “B”, or “M”. Growing up with hearing peers and trying to fit in groups did not have a positive outcome. We don’t get invited to parties. No one wants to hang out with us because we are not “normal.” We will always be different, no matter how hard we try to be like everyone else.
Deaf people are capable of anything. There are deaf doctors, deaf lawyers, deaf school administrators, deaf government officials, deaf chefs, deaf dancers, and deaf musicians. The list can go on and on. The unfortunate thing is that many employers are reluctant to hire a deaf person because they lack understanding. They are missing out on some of the best talent in the market.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), enacted 25 years ago, requires hospitals and clinics to provide sign language interpreters for patient communication. Despite this, many hospitals still refuse to do so, even when a deaf person is in desperate need for full communication during an emergency. Can you imagine going through pain and being unable to communicate with the medical professionals? Or vice versa? We must reach those who are making such important policy decisions so
Sometimes, when strangers realize that we are deaf they apologize profusely. But this is unnecessary; I am not sorry that I am deaf. I am proud of who I am, and I would not trade it for anything. I am only sorry that other people don’t get to experience the rich experiences we go through as a deaf person. This is how G-d created us. Join us in embracing our beautiful sign language and celebrate our deaf culture in September.
 Gale, Elaine. J. Deaf Stud. Deaf Educ. (2011)16 (1): 121-139. doi: 10.1093/deafed/enq044
 Frequently Asked Questions about Community and Culture, National Association of the Deaf. Accessed August 26, 2015, http://nad.org/issues/american-sign-language/community-and-culture-faq
Chris Wagner, National Association of the Deaf (NAD) President since 2012, is currently the vice president of marketing for The Z™. Prior to assuming his current role, Chris served as a consultant and as executive director of non-profit agencies in Florida. He has served on numerous boards, including the Florida Association of the Deaf, Inc. (FAD) and the Governor’s Americans with Disabilities Act Working Group (ADAWG). Currently he serves on the Board of the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind and the NTID Foundation Board.
Chris earned a bachelor’s degree from Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) in Rochester, NY is a recipient of several awards for his outstanding leadership and advocacy on both state and national levels. He is involved with the NAD because he believes that in order to achieve our goals as a community, we must contribute our skills and knowledge as a volunteer. The NAD has given Chris the opportunity to give back to the community. In the little free time he has, he enjoys traveling and spending quiet time with his family and close friends, and escaping to his summer retreat in North Carolina.
The National Association for the Deaf was established in 1880 by deaf leaders who believed in the right of the American deaf community to use sign language; to congregate on issues important to them; and to have its interests represented at the national level. As a nonprofit federation, the mission of the NAD is to preserve, protect, and promote the civil, human, and linguistic rights of deaf and hard of hearing people in the United States. The advocacy scope of the NAD is broad, covering the breadth of a lifetime and impacting future generations in the areas of early intervention, education, employment, health care, technology, telecommunications, youth leadership, and more.