Deaf Immigrants Deserve Special Support

The class at Grant and Fest Ferry St. is attended by ten deaf students from different countries like Somalia, Burma, Nepali, Cuba, Congo and Jamaica. The curriculum provides a variety of subjects including American Sign Language (ASL), reading and writing because most of the students have never had the opportunity to go to school in their home country.

The class was quiet but full of expression of sign languages from a deaf teacher and students. Although it is hard sometimes to penetrate the inner world of these individuals, their efforts to learn and self-suffice in the future arouses feelings of compassion and humanity, and creates the obligation to help these categories of individuals who are exposed to many challenges.

As studies have shown, daily communication between deaf immigrants/refugees and those unfamiliar with both deaf individuals and Immigrants or refugees is complicated and challenges deaf immigrants and refugees face are multiple.

Pamela Kefi, the Director of Program Development and Integration at the Jewish Family services, who is also one of the people who started this special program for the deaf, acknowledged that funds are not available to support deaf immigrants in their quest for  self-realization. “We decided to do this after seeing for several years that there are no comprehensive educational or vocational supports for Deaf refugees in WNY,” said Pamela. She hopes to obtain funding that will help expand class activities from one day per week to three days and to also provide case management in ASL”.

Paula Brooks, the Jamaican-born deaf teacher at the school, has been a valuable asset for the new program by using her commendable experience acquired with support from from an organization called National Association of the Deaf (NAD), which also provides annual Jr. NAD conferences, bringing together American and international Deaf Youth every year. Being herself deaf, Paula connects with  each deaf refugee’s abilities by using sign language from their home countries. Thanks to her interaction with several foreign deaf people, Paula has developed cross-cultural skills for unifying Deaf refugee students through sign language communicating.

Explaining the difficulties she encountered when she got to U.S. a year and half ago, Mane, a 22-year-old Somali deaf student whose a younger sister is deaf too, acknowledges that adapting to the sign language learning was not easy.  “When I arrived here life was so tough. Even though Somali sign language is different from the American one, I am happy that I can learn with other deaf people and understand the American culture,”” she said.

Mane confided that in her country she would never go to school. “In Somalia, only hearing people can go to school not deaf people,” she said.

Western New York (WNY), especially Erie County and Buffalo, is an area where deaf refugees are currently being resettled and integrated. Deaf refugees from around the world must have the chance to learn ASL in order to have access to health care, education and employment. Providers must be aware  that the resettlement and integration process for deaf immigrants and refugees differs from hearing refugees and, as a result, different services must be provided to serve this population.

Jason Goldstein, a native American-born deaf and son of deaf parents, realized the need to help deaf people and started an organization aimed at closing the gap deaf people and the rest of the community as well as providing a network of services, tools and supports for the deaf community to not only get by, but also excel and become productive. With top quality interpreters in American Sign Language, Goldstein’s service enables people who want to communicate with deaf people in neighborhood and workplace.

“Too many deaf refugees in the past have been either taking classes with very little consistency and fall into the cracks of the system, or did not have access to classes that materialize an appropriate, special focus on curriculum development devoted to deaf refugees taking American Sign Language (ASL), self-advocacy and deaf culture classes leading to a bilingual approach to learning written English,” Jason said.

At The World Federation of Deaf held in Turkey, July 2015, the Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki Moon, reminded that deaf people are important and a crucial part of humanity with unique cultural and linguistic contributions to human diversity.

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