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Deaf Culture Totally Had a Moment: 2015 Edition

When Deaf culture influences pop culture, everybody wins! Here are just a few of the most noteworthy Deaf moments of 2015. Please feel free to add to the discussion and leave your personal favorites in the comments!

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25. Sign Language Santas


Each year, we see more and more mall Santas who go the extra mile to connect with young people who are Deaf. This year several videos went viral which showed Santas around the world signing with overjoyed Deaf children. The smiles on their little faces are the real reason for the season.

24. Samsung “Deaf Neighborhood”


In one of the most moving marketing campaigns of the year, Samsung demonstrated what life would be like in a world with no communication barriers. As a Deaf man walks down the street, he is warmly greeted in sign language by neighbors, strangers, and store owners. It is an emotional advertisement that shows the true power of simple communication.

23. NY Deaf Theater Celebrates 35 Year Anniversary


New York City is an epicenter of contemporary culture, but for many years people who are Deaf were left out of the excitement. In 1980, NY Deaf Theater changed the game. For 35 years now, NY Deaf Theater has been crafting theater experiences for Deaf audiences, and offering complex roles to Deaf actors and actresses.

22. #DeafInPrison Raises Awareness

Throughout 2015, we celebrated a number of victories in the Deaf community, but Helping Educate to Advance the Rights of the Deaf (HEARD) used social media to remind us that there is still much work to be done. Following the release of the Al Jazeera documentary “Deaf In Prison,” the first ever #DeafInPrison twitter chat was held on March 28, 2015. The hashtag and Storify serve as a hub to explore the many ways that the rights of deaf people are oppressed within the justice system.

21. Signily Keyboard Launches

I think we can all agree that emojis are super important. The Signily app offers sign language users the option to communicate in ASL via text or email. Created by nonprofit group ASLized, the app was made by Deaf people for Deaf people. Finally, a tech company that gets it!

20. Successful Deaf Artist Does TED Talk


This year, Christine Sun Kim earned critical acclaim throughout the art world. As a person who is deaf, Kim uses the theme of sound in her art to challenge the assumption that deafness is silence. In August, she presented a poignant TED Talk at the TED Fellows Retreat 2015 titled “The Enchanting Music of Sign Language.

19. Deaf Interpreter Goes Viral


During the brutal winter storms that struck New York City last January, city residents watched the mayor’s press conferences captivated. Not by the news, of course, but by Certified Deaf Interpreter (CDI) Jonathan Lamberton. Fascination with Lamberton’s expressive signing style led to a productive and educational discourse across social media, blogs, and traditional media outlets about the role and importance of sign language interpreters who are Deaf.

18. NYPD Settles $750k Discrimination Suit


After a traumatic wrongful arrest in which she feared for her life, and 24 hour detention without any communication access, deaf NYC resident Diana Williams sued the NYPD for disregarding her civil rights and violating the Americans with Disabilities Act. As this case climbed up through the justice system, the NYPD opted to settle out of court. Williams was awarded $750,000 — the largest ever settlement for a discrimination suit of this kind.

17. The ASL App Launches


Want to learn ASL in a fun and easy way, no matter where you are? Well, lucky you, the ASL App is now available in the App Store, designed for learners from all backgrounds and walks of life. The app is free to download and comes with in-app purchase options so you can delve deeper into this beautiful visual language.

16. ASL Webseries, Short Films, Deaf-produced Media

Instead of waiting for the mainstream media to realize their talents, Deaf directors, actors, writers, and creatives took matters into their own hands. In 2015 we saw the premier of awesome videos and webseries such as "Don't Shoot the Messenger" “ASL Mythbusters,” “Fridays,” DeafNation’s “Deaf Culture Series,” plus the short films “The Kiss,” "Passengers" and many many more!

15. Deaf History Celebrations


Did you know: Deaf History Month begins March 13, marking the anniversary of the Deaf President Now protest at Gallaudet University in 1988, and ends April 15, marking the anniversary of the establishment of the American School for the Deaf in 1817. Deaf Women History Month was created in 2014 by Deaf Women United, and is now celebrated each March to honor the many important Deaf women who have paved the way to social change.

14. Amazon Agrees to Include Closed Captioning on ALL Video


In October of this year, major content provider Amazon came to a landmark agreement with the National Association of the Deaf in which Amazon agreed to caption both streaming movies, as well as their extensive catalogue of movies that consumers can rent or purchase outside of Prime.

13. $4 Million for Deaf STEM Education


The National Science Foundation (NSF) made a large investment in the future of Sciences, Technology, Engineering, and Math when it awarded $4 Million to the Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf (RIT/NTID) DeafTEC program. By supporting and encouraging Deaf students in these fields, the NSF has created an opportunity for more Deaf people to pursue STEM careers that are lucrative, challenging, and could potentially change lives.

12. Starbucks ASL Drivethru Gains National Attention

When Rebecca King pulled into the drive through at her local Starbucks and was able to order from the barista on a video screen using ASL, she was so pleasantly surprised that she had to come back the next day and get it on video. The clip quickly went viral as the Deaf community applauded Starbucks for their accessibility efforts. Other corporations to take note!

11. Wells Fargo Ad Features Same Sex Couple Learning ASL

The commercial shows a same-sex couple preparing to adopt a deaf daughter by diligently practicing their ASL so when they finally meet her, they are able to communicate freely. If you can watch this sweet advertisement without tearing up, you might not even be a human.

10. Deaf Women Fight Back


Deaf women are being asked to communicate with doctors through an interpreter on a video screen while giving birth, or sometimes not being granted communication access at all. In 2015, Deaf mothers around the world fought back. They took hospitals to court for refusing reasonable accommodations, and shared their stories publicly.

9. #DeafTalent goes viral


Sick of actors who are hearing being cast for deaf roles, members of the Deaf community began the #DeafTalent campaign to raise awareness about this issue, and to help bring talented Deaf entertainers into the spotlight. Hollywood better think twice before they overlook the #DeafTalent roster again.

8. Deaf Protest in Washington, DC


Marginalized and generally silenced within mainstream society, members of the Deaf community stood together at the Deaf Protest in Washington, DC during Labor Day Weekend. More than 1500 people turned out for the protest to raise awareness about the discrimination, high rates of unemployment, civil rights violations, and lack of communication access that deaf people endure on a daily basis. Using the power of social media, the Deaf community is organizing to fight back against oppression and create a world of opportunity.

7. Haben Girma Proves There are No Limits


When people truly set their hearts and minds to accomplishing something, there are no barriers that can hold them back. This year, Haben Girma became the first Deaf-Blind woman to graduate from Harvard Law School, and helped to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the ADA by introducing the President at the White House. Girma is currently a lawyer at Disability Rights Advocates, and a campaigner for accessible technology.

6. AT&T "Feel the Music"


This year AT&T collaborated with the Deaf community, including director Jules Dameron, to launch an innovative social project to help expand musical access to the Deaf/ HoH community. “Feel the Music” features ASL music videos for Walk the Moon’s “Different Colors” which show deaf individuals each enjoying music in their own way. The joy on their faces say it all: Music is for EVERYONE!

5. Deaf White House Receptionist


Imagine walking into the White House for a meeting with the President and you are greeted by a Deaf receptionist who uses American Sign Language. This year, former White House intern Leah Katz-Hernandez made headlines when she became the first Deaf receptionist at the White House, appointed by Obama himself. Congratulations to Katz-Hernandez for breaking down barriers and showing government officials that Deaf people can do anything!

4. Nyle DiMarco Becomes America's Next Top Model


Melting hearts, staying humble, and spreading cultural awareness, on ANTM, Nyle DiMarco proved to America that people who are deaf can be winners. He also offered a glimpse into how charming, funny, sensitive, and utterly normal deaf people can be. Let’s see more of that in primetime, please!

3. Deaf Friendly Super Bowl


Performing the National Anthem at the Super Bowl is kind of a big deal, especially if you happen to be deaf. In 2015, actress Treshelle Edmond became the third Deaf performer to sign the National Anthem during the Super Bowl broadcast, an effort sponsored by PepsiCo as part of an ongoing partnership with NAD to advance awareness of ASL and promote inclusivity in pop culture. The event is also fully captioned, including the much-discussed commercials!

2. Deaf Awakening


Making its Broadway debut, Deaf West Theater’s ASL production of Spring Awakening has had critics raving since opening weekend. Challenging common assumptions about the experience of deafness and the relationship between Deaf people and music, this version of Spring Awakening adds a complex new layer to an already revolutionary musical.

1. ADA25

Passed on July 26, 1991, the Americans with Disabilities Act has been helping people who are Deaf preserve their civil rights for 25 years. Although the fight for equality continues, the ADA provides a framework that secures access to public spaces, businesses, and employment opportunities. Hooray for ADA!

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