International (MNN) — Over the last week, we’ve been sharing stories on the needs of the Deaf community leading up to this week, the International Week of the Deaf. This week of raising awareness for the Deaf community runs from September 19-25.
The International Week of the Deaf was started by the World Federation of the Deaf and its national and global affiliates.
JR Bucklew with the Deaf Bible Society explains why: “A lot of these organizations like the World Federation of the Deaf and organizations here in the U.S. like the National Association of the Deaf are trying to pass new laws and are trying to really pave the way for Deaf rights and education and access, and it was becoming challenging. There were a lot of barriers in their way. Those barriers were a lack of awareness and understanding of the Deaf community among our greater majority of the population: the hearing community.”
In collaborating to see how the global community could raise awareness for the needs of the Deaf and their unique triumphs and challenges, the International Week of the Deaf was started.
“They started this as an opportunity to accomplish several objectives like to gain greater understanding of the Deaf and hard-of-hearing community and its culture and heritage…. To learn about sign language as an essential human right and how it’s growing in popularity here in the U.S. and around the world,” says Bucklew.
“It’s a specific week in the year that Deaf organizations can unite for the sake of building awareness and education among the hearing community.”
In the U.S., American Sign Language (ASL) is the fourth most-used language. Yet, the Deaf are one of the most unreached, unengaged people groups in the world. And Bucklew says there are even times when ASL is not respected as a legitimate or desirable means of communication in society.
“Language is a human right. No one would say someone shouldn’t have language. I mean, that’s ridiculous. Sadly oftentimes, especially here in the U.S., that happens, where the medical field will…actually encourage hearing parents of Deaf children not to pursue American Sign Language or Deaf community involvement, because you want to try to get your child to speak, and that’s speech therapy. Once we’ve seen the statistics, more often than not, it’s not successful.”
Awareness is like what Bucklew calls the ‘blue car effect’:
“You’ve never seen a blue car until you buy a blue car, and all of a sudden it’s like you’re seeing blue cars everywhere. And that can apply to any kind of vehicle you get or something that you see or you’ve become aware of. Most people are not really thinking about the Deaf community, and once they’re made aware and it’s on their mind, it’s like they start to see people signing everywhere they go, or they hear a conversation about sign language everywhere they go.”
The Deaf Bible Society works to champion the needs of Deaf individuals, and more importantly, to get them access to God’s Word and engaged in discipleship and spiritual growth with other believers.
Bucklew shares four main pillars in Deaf Bible Society’s ministry:
- Deaf Awareness – “We work and try to develop multiple strategies through social media campaigns, emails, to really just shout from the rooftops, to build greater understanding and awareness, and to help connect the hearing Church with global sign language projects and with organizations like the Deaf Bible Society where they can partner to now take the Gospel to every Deaf person around the world.”
- Education – “We want to educate [people] on the needs of the Deaf, because we know the greatest barriers to accomplishing taking the Gospel to every Deaf people group is having the laborers.”
- Access – “We need [the Deaf] to have access to language, because then as people have access to language, what does that mean? They have access for us to deliver the Gospel to them.”
- Funding – “…And then of course having the funding to follow through with that. It’s really hard to bring the hearing Church on board in funding solutions to problems they aren’t aware exist.”
Once you’re aware of the Deaf community and their needs, what can you do about it? Bucklew says it starts with prayer and engagement for Christ’s witness.
“Pray for the Deaf, pray for organizations like ours trying to take the Gospel to the Deaf, and take action, engage your church. Whatever it was that clicked for you, obtain resources that you can then share with those around you so we can see more and more people made aware of the Deaf community, so they can then be educated on the challenges and be ready and passionate about the solutions in taking the Gospel to them.”
Second, you can physically go to Deaf communities and churches, or even start to take steps to make your own church accessible for Deaf individuals.
To that end, the Deaf Bible Society is coming out with a new tool sometime later this year called ‘Deaf Church Where’.
“It’s a mapping system that can show you everywhere in the U.S. where there is a Deaf church or a church with a sign language interpreter, their service times. It’s a directory of ministries working with the Deaf, and that is going to be a huge tool for people looking to serve among the Deaf community or for Deaf people looking for a local church to get plugged into.”
You can also financially support other ministries engaging in ministry to and with the Deaf community.
Bucklew shares, “Maybe God has laid on your heart not to be one of those that goes down into the ‘well’, but to be one of those that helps hold the ropes and lowers us down into the well — to financially support the ministry, financially support the work so others who are ready to go can go.”
Finally, promote Deaf awareness on social media! Deaf Bible Society is on Facebook and Twitter, and will keep you updated on Deaf ministry and needs. Go follow their pages, and you can then share these with your friends!
“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few,” Bucklew reminds us, “and that applies to Deaf ministry as well.”