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Gallaudet program focuses on international development, deaf services and inclusion

By Ambreen Ali
summarized by Jennifer Reed, staff writer

Between being raised among her deaf family who signed, going to a school for the deaf, and then graduating from Gallaudet University, Rue Winiarczyk didn’t realize until a trip to Panama that other countries are not educated about deafness.

She says that deaf in the U.S. and Canada still have trials to overcome, but there are resources that many countries do not have. This realization caused her to begin a two-year program at Gallaudet in international development. The program includes a wide array of classes and she is able to complete her degree in various countries as she studies.

Winiarczyk held an internship with the Malaysian Federation of the Deaf in Kuala Lumpur for her internship and then secured a position at Gallaudet’s Office of Research Support and International Affairs after she graduated.

Through the program the school desires to train people to “work toward better systems of inclusion, social justice and human rights for deaf persons, their communities and other marginalized groups around the world.” Often the internships lead to employment positions that advocate for the deaf around the world. 35 students, most who are deaf, have graduated from the seven-year-old program.

It also aims to change “the development industry itself” as it points out how, through a lack of resources such as interpreters, the deaf community is sidelined. Students intern in many countries and find groups unable to provide the resources for a deaf worker.

While Sarah Houge found an all-deaf group in West Africa for her internship, when she worked with UNICEF in Bhutan she could not find even one interpreter in the country. Houge was moved by people’s efforts to communicate with everyone.

A 2006 move by the United Nations that seeks to establish rights for disabled people, has increased awareness of world organizations. This has given Gallaudet students an advantage because of the training skills they are taught. The basis of the program is reaching out to the deaf and other people who may be discriminated against because people believe “they cannot learn or communicate.” The interns may be the first deaf people a community has interacted with.

Another graduate of the program, Anais Keenon explains that “understanding deafness disability is just as important as understanding development.” 24 year old Keenon was mainstreamed as a child, not learning sign language until college. She was 20 went she met another deaf person for the first time. She choose to go to Gallaudet because the program was less expensive than her other choices, a preferable location, and involves “immers[ing] herself in deaf culture.”

She hopes to use her degree to help “organizations improve communication.” She says being deaf makes her an ideal candidate for the job since deaf people spend their lives attempting to communicate with others.

Read the full story here.

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