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Deaf Way II

Also see:  Deaf Culture

Katharine Ford
November 12, 2002

Deaf Way II

"Deaf Way II was a remarkable phenomenon. It was a week-long educational conference and arts festival held at the Washington Convention Center and attended by 10,000 Deaf and hard-of-hearing persons from more than 100 countries," says Gina A. Oliva, a professor in the Department of Physical Education and Recreation at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. (Oliva, 2002).

The first Deaf Way plans began with Carol Erting, a cultural anthropologist and a Gallaudet University professor, in 1987. During the 1980s, she wrote, "I met countless Deaf people who—often against great odds—had created political, educational, social and artistic programs to respond to the needs of their own communities. I also met linguists, psychologists, sociologists, and other scholars who were working with Deaf people to learn more about their languages and ways of life. My wish was that Deaf students and colleagues at Gallaudet could all share these enlightening international experiences (Gallaudet History, 2002) ." From that, ideas were exchanged and the planning began. The first Deaf Way International Conference and Festival took place at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. the week of July 9-14, 1989(Gallaudet History, 2002).

Just months before, 1,000-plus undergraduates led a protest, Deaf President Now, that resulted in the appointment of I. King Jordan as the university's first Deaf president. Jordan was elected the first deaf president of Gallaudet University. Gallaudet University, the only university in the world with programs and services specifically designed to meet the needs of Deaf and hard of hearing students, is the host of Deaf Way II (Gallaudet History, 2002).

The name "Deaf Way" is both an American and English way to sign ‘deaf way of Life'. In the beginning, planning was arranged for 500 guests, soon grew to over 5,000. Deaf Way 1989 was an amazing event, bringing people together from many different locations, reinforcing how important sign language is in the lives of the Deaf people. Their pride began to spread as they were acknowledged for their individuality and amazing talents, rather than a disability. They were brought together in song, dance, storytelling, and performance for all members of the family. They learned the beauty of sign, the possibilities in technology, and the role of accessibility . Once the wonderful event of Deaf Way took place, the importance of connecting with their deaf community around the world, was brought to everyone's attention (Gallaudet History, 2002).

Now over a decade later, Deaf Way II took place July 13-15, 2002. It was one of largest events in the history of Gallaudet University. The attendance almost doubled the last conference, nine thousand five hundred fifty two had registered. Of that number, forty-two point twenty-four percent were Deaf, twenty point zero three percent were hearing, two point ninety-two percent were hard of hearing, and zero point sixty-two late deafened. One hundred twenty countries were represented, from Canada to Zimbabwe. There were even several Deaf blind people that attended (Gallaudet Statistics, 2002). Sergei Chachelev, a main Cirque du Soleil performer, presented a phenomenal exhibition with a collection of 400 deaf artists and performers. "Where is my deaf culture at Cirque? I need that balance in my life. . . Both my parents were deaf; I grew up signing. The hearing world is where I struggle. The hearing world is where I feel separate," said Chachelev (Washington, 2002). There were many other talented stars that appeared at the event.
Deaf organizations from around the world endorsed the festival. The National Association of the Deaf (NAD) and The World Federation of the Deaf (WFD), a non-profit organization that works for human rights for deaf people everywhere (Gallaudet Endorsers, 2002).

Will there be another Deaf Way Conference and Festival? That is questionable but, with the response and interest of both the hearing and the Deaf world, this seems like an experience that should continue to touch people. "Deaf Way II is a testament to the invincibility and talents of an international community that too often lacks visibility in the world of the hearing. It was a testament to the perseverance of a people who have managed to flourish amidst historical and contemporary misunderstanding," beautifully said by Oliva (Oliva, 2002).


Gallaudet University. (2002) Deaf Way II 2002

Oliva, Gina A. (2002). Deaf Way II: signs of the future: the international conference and festival in Washington was a celebration of the talents and experiences of deaf people. Insight on the News, August 2002 pp. 40-41.

Washington, Teresa Wiltz. (2002). An Artful Alternative To the Heard Mentality; At Gallaudet's Deaf Way II, Fun for The Whole Family. The Washington Post, July 2002 pp. 15-20.

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