If you wanted to socialize with fellow members of the Deaf community back in the 1980s and 1990s, you went to Deaf clubs. Deaf clubs were largely self-funded and had a steady income from recreational events, raffle drives, food, and drinks to keep going. A community member in the northeastern region stated that in New England, there used to have more than 10 Deaf clubs and now there are only two and one of them is struggling to stay open due to lack of funds. Deaf clubs were dedicated brick-and-mortar spaces for impromptu social gatherings including expectations from club members and visitors in terms of respectful behavior or face being kicked out if they did not follow the rules. Deaf clubs were key for sharing information, language, culture, history and forming community connections, and fostering leadership. With the decline of Deaf clubs and the increase of covid cases, social hubs are evolving in the form of Deaf Night Out coffee spots, intermittent events, and even online groups on the Internet.
Online social hubs have turned for the worse in the Deaf community. Take Deaf World Kissfist Vloggers [DWFKV] on Facebook, for example. DWFKV has been shut down several times for violating “Facebook standards,” and yet they resurrect every time – this is their 7th or 8th version now. Middle school students, high school students, and young adults have access to this sheer degree of drama and the obscene language being used in a space where just about anything goes such as throwing around insults and there is zero accountability…what happened to our standards? Especially with recognition of mental health awareness rising…are those online groups even empathetic? Is this really the direction we want the Deaf community to head in?
Most of our leaders today are nearing retirement age, including those involved in the Deaf President Now! movement and other events of similar significance. Where are the up-and-coming young leaders? Where’s that bridge between our current leaders and our most promising youth? Gone are the days where our elders connected with and mentoring youth, it seems. DWKFV is a possible glimpse into how we are shaping the future of our Deaf community for leadership.
Why the exclusivity of leadership camps? How do we develop leadership in the community, for the community?
Many families have shown ideas of setting up businesses with their children–a few of them are in the Deaf community–but there is no role example of community-based organizations, programs, or resources that elevate our youth in ways similar to that of Deaf clubs, Deaf organizations such as the National Association of the NAD (still around but not as elevated), youth camps, and so forth. Funding plays a huge role in why camps struggle to stay open and leadership activities (i.e., pageants) have largely been phased out.
DWFKV was created out of necessity. The Deaf club has always been a safe place for Deaf community members to go. For years, Deaf clubs were the foundation of Deaf communities nationwide… we’re losing the Deaf clubs, on top of closures of schools for the Deaf, because of politics. Not to mention the systemic oppression that our community faces day in and day out. People look for a group of like-minded individuals to get support from. Deaf people aren’t born in clusters because you can’t predict who will be Deaf at birth, so social media is a powerful tool to connect with others and that’s what DWKFV offers those individuals.
The number of parents choosing an oral-only method (Listening and Spoken Languages) is astonishing. Many of them are not allowing their children to sign because they’re being told by doctors and audiologists that their child(ren) can function as hearing people with cochlear implants. But… the doctors, audiologists, and other “experts” also missed the mark, their children are and will always be Deaf, regardless of if they wear cochlear implants or hearing aids. That’s where we need leaders to come through for our Deaf community.
Keep in mind, not all Deaf people agree with online groups like DWKFV. DWKFV and similar groups are mostly grassroots deaf people along with “lurking” members. People are saying the golden age of the Deaf community is over and we are going backward. We have Deaf people who are language deprived or language delayed and refuse to believe the mainstream media and would rather rely on their own community to be informed of what’s going on, and yet we call them “gullible”? Folks have shared that DWKFV is a “world” where the mainstream media and the hearing world doesn’t have an impact on them as individuals.
The combination of distrust in the “hearing system” and the lack of leadership are severe issues in the Deaf community, and conversations and action are needed to address those issues.