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Deaf Culture Totally Had A Moment: 2016 Edition

When Deaf culture influences pop culture, everybody wins! Here are just a few of the many noteworthy Deaf moments that happened in 2016. Please feel free to add to the discussion and leave your personal favorites in the comments!

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15. Workers learn ASL to connect with Deaf customers

Happy ASL Day. I need your help coming up with an ASL sign for the WHOPPER. Share it at #WHOPPERsign

Service industry employees across the nation have been going the extra mile to offer deaf customers the same experience as everyone else. Starbucks added videos of basic coffee-related signs to their website, and several Starbucks employees gained notoriety after deaf customers posted online about their positive experiences communicating with hearing baristas. A deaf customer also had a similar experience at a Chick-Fil-A location. At Disneyland, a young deaf girl had her day brightened when her favorite Disney princesses used sign language to chat with her. And BurgerKing created a successful inclusive marketing campaign to establish a sign for “Whopper" on National ASL Day (April 15).

14. Volleyball Player who is deaf Competes in Summer Olympics


This summer, deaf volleyball player David Smith helped the United States men’s volleyball team secure a Bronze medal at the Rio Olympics. Born with 80-90% hearing loss, Smith has now competed twice in the Olympic games, proving once again that there are NO limits to what deaf athletes can do.

13. Marlee Matlin signs National Anthem at Super Bowl


Renowned deaf actress and activist Marlee Matlin was chosen to sign the lyrics to the National Anthem during Super Bowl 50, making it her third time performing this honor. Awesome!

Except… Matlin and her signing were hardly shown on air during the broadcast. This major oversight prompted immediate national backlash from deaf and hearing viewers, who took to social media to express their disappointment. In the end, the highly unfortunate incident did help raise public awareness by providing an embarrassing example of how deaf viewers are denied access when an ASL interpreter is not properly placed and always visible.

12. Lip Reading video goes Viral


Hearing people often assume that lip reading is some magical skill deaf people are blessed with. In reality, lip reading is a difficult and mentally exhausting task that offers partial communication access, at best. “Can You Read My Lips” is a powerful short film created by Stanford graduate and TedX speaker Rachel Kolb that gives hearing viewers a meaningful glimpse into an everyday deaf experience.

11. Closed Captioning Awareness


The Deaf online community, led by video blogger Rikki Poynter, have been using the #NoMoreCraptions hashtag to highlight their personal experiences with poor/ unintelligible captioning. Their goal is to raise awareness among online content providers, including YouTubers, that deaf audiences deserve equal access to their videos, and that this access is not difficult to provide.

This year saw a few encouraging captioning victories. In January, Gogo LLC, providers of in-flight wireless entertainment, and NAD established a partnership agreement to provide Closed Captioning on airlines. In February, an Open Captioned version of Star Wars: The Force Awakens opened at Consolidated Ward Theaters in Hawaii, making it the first theater in the nation to offer open captioned films on a regular basis, where the captioning is right on the screen and deaf viewers do not need to wear glasses.

10. Children learn sign language to connect with classmates


This year there were many news stories about kids taking the time to learn sign language to help their deaf peers feel included. A group of 5th graders in Illinois began skipping recess to attend sign language club, an after school ASL class for 2nd graders at one North Carolina elementary school became so popular that they had to add a second class, and a classroom of 1st graders in Bosnia captured hearts around the world for learning sign language to make sure their deaf friend never gets left out.

9. D-PAN TV Launches


Early in 2016, the much anticipated DPAN-TV launched, which offers programming in ASL with voiceovers and/or captioning. What is DPAN.TV? DPAN.TV (The Sign Language Channel) was formed for a singular, essential purpose: to make quality American Sign Language (ASL) daily news and information accessible to both the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community and its supporters.

8. Deaf Dancers Prove (Once Again) Music is for EVERYONE!

Fighting back against one of the most common deaf stereotypes, several dancers gained international attention this year for their exceptional talent and fearless ability to claim the spotlight.

Of course there was Dancing with the Stars winner Nyle DiMarco, who used a moment of silence during one of his routines to give hearing audiences a taste of what it was like to dance without full access to the music. Then there was Chris Fonseca, a UK native who teamed up with Smirnoff for an inclusive ad campaign called “We’re Open” that encourages people to follow their passion, no matter what obstacles may seem to be in their way. Taiwanese dancer Lin Chang Lan captured hearts around the world when she shared her story in a video for SK-II about wanting to be a dancer since she was a little girl, and the many people who discouraged her along the way. The video culminates in an impressive performance and a powerful message from the dancer.

7. #WhyISign Campaign Gains National Attention


Who doesn’t love an awesome activist hashtag?! Stacy Abrams pioneered the #WhyISign movement by sharing her personal story of why she uses sign language, and asking others to do the same. Designed to show support and solidarity for families and friends who use ASL to communicate, the campaign quickly took off, with thousands of ASL users— both deaf and hearing— sending videos and sharing their #WhyISign stories.

6. Deaf Awakening Uses Kickstarter to Fund Tony Awards Show Performance


The cast of Deaf Awakening, the sign language-focused reboot of the sensational musical Spring Awakening, has certainly enjoyed an eventful two years since its premier. Defying people’s assumptions about deafness and musical performance, members of Deaf West Theater Company exposed audiences (from LA to NYC) to an exciting inclusive concept of musical theater. In May, the cast launched a very successful Kickstarter campaign that brought their unique performance all the way to the Tony Awards!

5. Ingrid Michaelson Releases ASL Music Video for Her Song "Hell No"


Inspired by the Deaf West ASL version of Spring Awakening, singer Ingrid Michaelson took the opportunity to make her music video for the song “Hell No” accessible for everyone. She invited some of the actors to star with her in the video. And when she was invited to perform the song live on the Today show, Michaelson asked the actors to support her by providing interpretations. Prominently featuring ASL performers, the “Hell No” music video is both fun AND fully inclusive… See that wasn’t so hard!

4. Haben Girma Invited to Present on Accessibility in Tech at WWDC

As the first ever Deafblind Harvard Law graduate, Haben Girma has served as a staff attorney at Disability Rights Advocates (DRA), and was honored by the Obama administration as a Champion of Change, meeting with the president himself in 2015 to highlight the importance of accessible technology. In 2016, she was asked to present at the World Wide Developers Conference (WWDC) to offer developers some valuable insight from a Deafblind perspective. As technology continues to become more and more influential in our daily lives, it’s important that we see deaf representation in the STEM fields. It’s crucial that input is gathered directly from disabled communities to guide the direction of accessibility as new tech is developed— to ensure that accessibility is built in and not just an afterthought.

3. #HearingPrivilege Twitter Takeover


Tackling a nuanced and difficult topic in 140 characters or less, the #HearingPrivilege discussion took over Twitter on September 28 to raise awareness of deaf oppression. Using the hashtag, d/Deaf/HoH individuals provided clear examples of everyday situations where hearing people have a built in advantage. The thread is a MUST READ for anyone who still wonders what #HearingPrivilege really means.

2. 12 Deaf/HoH Attorneys Sworn to US Supreme Court Bar

On Tuesday, April 19, 2016, twelve deaf and hard of hearing attorneys were sworn into the United States Supreme Court bar by Chief Justice John Roberts. In a historic gesture, Chief Justice Roberts used ASL to sign “your motion is granted, welcome” to indicate that the attorneys were admitted. This event marked the first-ever group ceremony for deaf and hard of hearing attorneys at the U.S. Supreme Court, a symbol of the strides that attorneys with disabilities have made, and further opening the door for deaf perspective to influence the legal profession.

1. National Black Deaf Advocates FB Spotlight Series Celebrates Black Deaf History Month

The accomplishments of individuals who are deaf and black have long been overlooked, lost to the volumes of mainstream history. In an effort to amplify the work of the black deaf community, the National Black Deaf Advocates (NBDA) used the month of February (Black History Month in the US) to highlight 29 contemporary Americans who are making history in their own way. On their Facebook page NBDA featured an awesome spotlight series of #BlackDeafStars-- one for each day-- ranging from deaf interpreters to artists to social workers, and everything in between!

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