Symposium Recap of “Deaf Culture & History”
Best Practices and Lessons Learned for Libraries and Educators

iStudent Blog
Symposium Recap of “Deaf Culture & History”

Published: July 10, 2023 by Eori Tokunaga

As part of the national celebration of National Deaf History Month, the San José State University iSchool hosted a free online symposium on April 13, 2023, titled “Deaf Culture and History: Best Practices and Lessons Learned for Libraries and Educators.” The symposium began with a brief introduction by Dr. Anthony Chow, followed by a special thanks to Dr. Mary Bolin and the Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Accessibility (IDEA) Committee who were the organizers of the event. The key. note speaker, Dr. Rhonda Jennings-Arey, was introduced alongside the ASL interpreters from Partners in Communication: Sheila Breger-Hall and Sharon Newman-Solo. 

Throughout her keynote address, Dr. Rhonda L. Jennings-Arey talked about her educational journey, work experiences and journey as a deaf person up to her current position as an assistant professor at the University of Virginia.

Dr. Rhonda Jennings-Avery

“Deaf people such as myself have a different way of receiving and maintaining information and expressing information. We need communication, and when we have access to communication, we can have thorough communication. We need visual aids. We’re visual learners. We learn by seeing the things around us and such…I want you to hold that information related to visual access, signing videos, the library system that’s accessible, hiring more deaf people, and incorporating more diversity. These are things I would like for you to remember.”

Following the keynote address, SJSU iSchool Lecturer Beth Wrenn-Estes began facilitating the panel presentations by Dr. Bobbie S. Long, Joan Naturale, Danica Rice, and Harriet Wintermute.

Dr. Bobbie S. Long talked about her research on early literacy in Deaf and Hard of Hearing Children, as well as how libraries can make their services more accommodating for Deaf and Hard of Hearing people, stating four stages of service: seeing differences not disabilities, employing diverse staff, making accommodations and changing the attitudes of librarians.

Dr.  Bobbie Sartin Long

“Your attitude is free, it’s contagious, and it impacts everything.” -Dr. Bobbie S. Long

Joan Naturale talked about her experiences with the National Institute of the Deaf and the work that she has been doing with the National Endowment for the Arts Big Read, a partnership with Arts Midwest that shows the power of the reading experience, by creating library programs that are tailored to Deaf and Hard of Hearing community members.

Danica Rice and Harriet Wintermute wrapped up the symposium by talking about their personal experiences and additional practices that librarians can implement in their libraries.

Danica Rice

“It’s very difficult to find librarian jobs for Deaf people today. I’m living proof of that…So, now, if you are hiring or making hiring decisions, give Deaf people credit. Consider how you can change your library and make the world a better place.” -Danica Rice, Head Librarian, Luce J. LeBlanc Memorial Library

Harriet Wintermute

“Don’t assume somebody can read lips. Don’t say please lip read. Ask the preference of the person…Everybody has different ways of communicating. Accommodate a person’s needs, too. There’s a wide variety of accommodations that people might need, so just keep the communication open.” -Harriet Wintermute, Chair of Acquisitions, Cataloging, Metadata, and E-Resources at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Best Practices Provided by the Symposium Speakers

  • Don’t ask or expect someone to read lips and speak. Not all Deaf people will want to talk. Writing back and forth or using gestures can be helpful, but just know that not all Deaf people are comfortable with English. 
  • Deafness is communication, not a disability. 
  • Knowing even the tiniest bit of sign language can go a long way.
  • If you don’t know sign language, ask the person’s communication preferences. 
  • Be careful about incorporating ASL into storytime, especially if you’re not deeply involved in the community or do not have deep knowledge of the language. If you start modeling the wrong signs, it can do more harm than good. 

To watch the full symposium, click here.

Deaf Culture Symposium

To view the transcript via DOCX, click here.

To view the transcript via pdf, click here.


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