Advocating for the Human Rights of Deaf Youth
I've been involved with two organizations advocating for the human rights of Deaf Youth on both national and international levels. Why is advocating for Deaf Youth important - or even an issue?
On the national level - it's about self-representation, leadership, mobilization on greater issues at hand, and hosting events that fit in the interest of Deaf Youth. "Youth" in this context applies towards 18-35 years old (according to Deaf Youth USA's bylaws). My master thesis in 2008, towards a degree in Cultural Studies, explored the question and status of "Deaf Youth in America" in the sense of advocacy and why there wasn't an organization to serve the interests of Americans in the 18-35 demographic.
My thesis direction was also initially inspired by my involvement on the board of the World Federation of the Deaf Youth Section ("WFDYS"), where I served as a secretary from 2007 to 2011. WFDYS is a section within the World Federation of the Deaf - an international human rights organization for all deaf people, protecting our linguistic and cultural rights, with over 120 country members. In a sense, WFD is what the United Nations is for Deaf Associations over the world. The WFD has a consultative status with the UN - and has played a pivotal role in passing the UN Convention of Rights for Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD). Basically, our rights are not always granted, especially not in some countries - so we have to fight for recognition of our sign languages, of our minority status, and our cultural values. This fight for equality and social justice is better vetted through collectivism in an organizational structure. The four years I served as secretary on the board of the WFDYS was a great learning experience: we organized and hosted camps in different parts of the globe, we had board meetings in different countries, and we met so many people - exchanged stories, experiences, and most of all - we found ourselves transcending boundaries as we relate to one other through our Deaf Culture and knowledge of sign language.
So, on the international level - it's about leadership, educating on human rights to strive for equality, and the celebration of our linguistic and cultural identity. And through my experience with the WFDYS I came to realize there was a serious gap in self-representation and voice among our 18-35 year olds in America - what issues were of paramount importance? What sort of changes could we bring forth? What kind of opportunities? That was the direction of my thesis, but I didn't simply want to write about something without putting it in action so what I did was an active research project. I established a committee of wonderful leaders whom I knew, and from this early "formation" we expanded to establish the first national camp, welcoming 60 youths to discuss on topics that mattered to us - it also led to the establishment of Deaf Youth USA. Now DYUSA has hosted four national and local camps, organized numerous of activities and fundraising, and is on its third generation of board members.
Video in international sign on membership / how to enroll / added under WFDYouthSection on YouTube. (January 2011)