LITTLE ROCK - Celebrating the contribution of the hard of hearing and deaf communities is the foundation of Deaf History Month, March 13 through April 15. The month commemorates the history and promotes the unique culture of the deaf community. Arkansas’ celebration was held Thursday, March 28, at the Capitol Rotunda.
This year’s theme, Embrace, Accept, and Overcome: A Celebration of Success, highlights the challenges faced by the deaf community and the great achievements possible with perseverance and resolve. This event was designed to recognize deaf champions, acknowledge the struggles of deaf students, and increase awareness of the deaf community’s rich history in the Natural State.
According to Cheryl Seymore, Arkansas Rehabilitation Services (ARS) Area Manager for Services for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (SDDH), the celebration service had a positive impact, “I saw strong unity from the deaf community. I feel that through events like this when we recognize members of the community that have worked hard to obtain a trade or career, it will ignite the desire in students and within other members of the community, to pursue higher education or a specific career.”
Many of the participants were from Arkansas School for the Deaf. As students, they could identify with stories told by keynote speaker, local architect John Dickinson. Dickinson’s struggles to communicate with others at public school, his frustrations resulting from feeling isolated within his family, and ultimately, his perseverance to graduate from college were stirring. He shared his experience having to work “doubly” hard to fit into the hearing world and the strength it took not to give up. Dickinson, now internationally recognized for his disability-friendly designs, also described what he considered his greatest accomplishment.
Dickinson had worked on the design of the now infamous Columbine Senior High School in Littleton, Colorado. He was devastated to see the carnage that took place in the school and assisted the FBI in their investigation of the incident. Months after the tragic events of April 20, 1999, the FBI reported that one of the reasons many students survived injury or death was due to the design of the library. The airy design allowed students to escape during the chaos. The realization that his work had preserved the lives of at least 30 young people was both humbling and gratifying.
Dickinson said he shares his story with young deaf individuals, “to show them they can do anything and never quit because you are deaf.” In addition to encouraging the deaf community, Dickinson believes the celebratory event was important for the hearing population as well. Sharing stories of success “reminds us that we are equal with anyone around. Many times, people forget that we exist and we would like to be treated fairly and equally in careers and our everyday lives.”
ARS and the Arkansas Association of the Deaf sponsored the event in association with the Arkansas School for the Deaf (who provided refreshments), UALR, Arkansas Department of Education, SCOMM, Spa Area Independent Living Services, and Goodwill Industries.