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One of my more useful hobbies is learning languages, which is how I came in contact with A Sign Language (ASL) and deaf culture. DC Public Library has a wealth of books on local history and culture, especially focusing on Gallaudet University. Below you’ll find a list of some of the things I found on our shelves, but know that there are many, many more books and resources for you to find. Here are some of my favorites.
The History of Gallaudet University by David F. Armstrong
This volume is a great place to start. The History of Gallaudet University is a commemorative volume to honor the university’s 150-year history. The book is something my family would call a "coffee table book" in that it’s a little larger than your standard volumes, but this means there’s a lot more room for the massive amount of pictures you’ll find inside. It’s a nice overview of the university starting from its very beginning and extending to the 2010’s and covering the major changes not only at the school but in the city surrounding it. Reading this will give you a much better sense of many important issues affecting the Deaf community as well, including the struggle for the school’s self-governance and linguistic agency. This volume is also a great introduction to Abraham Lincoln’s importance in Gallaudet’s history: it’s here I first began to understand the importance of the quote, “A fair chance in the race of life." If you’re interested at all in local history, this book is a must.
A Fair Chance in the Race of Life edited by Brian H. Greenwald and John Vickrey Van Cleve
In another Read Feed, I discussed a book titled In Our Own Hands, a collection of essays about Deaf experiences ranging from the late 1700’s up to the 1970’s. A Fair Chance in the Race of Life is a much more recent version of this collection. Edited by Brian H. Greenwald and John Vickrey Van Cleve, the range of topics covered in this collection is another fascinating glimpse into different facets of Deaf culture and life. Particularly, the essays on Deaf education were really special – hearing about the Deaf President Now campaign from Dr. I. King Jordan’s perspective was really cool. There are a few other historians that I’m a fan of whose work is featured in this collection too, so that appealed it to me even more. It is still a collection of academic essays, so it can be a little dry, but this is definitely a collection to look into if you’re at all interested in Deaf history.
Building Bridges Crossing Borders by Ann Darby Getty
In Building Bridges Crossing Borders, we experience home life from the point of view of an interpreter who worked with one Deaf child in a hearing family for two decades. Ann Darby Getty’s work was originally intended to be a thesis and it shows in her writing and citations, but it is by no means a strictly academic work. Getty writes on her experiences with Kylar’s education, both mainstream and signed, and her set up of the history of ASL and oralism helps the reader to understand the nuances of Kylar’s politicized education. As someone who has grown up around interpreters, I really enjoyed this book! It was nice to see it written from the point of view of an educational interpreter.
On the Beat of Truth by Maxine Childress Brown
For another perspective on Deaf culture, we can turn to Maxine Childress Brown’s On the Beat of Truth. Children of Deaf Adults (CODAs), typically hearing, live well within Deaf culture but have a unique point of view as their parents’ connection to the hearing world. Often they’re asked to be their parents’ interpreters and advocates from a very early age and live with a foot in the oral and Deaf worlds. This is a really great example of that concept from a Deaf rights advocate who’s local! This memoir details Brown’s life growing up and discusses her family life very frankly. She didn’t have the easiest time growing up, so I will give you a content warning that she mentions abuse and alcoholism. This book is an really great read and offers a valuable view into one CODA's life growing up in D.C. After you finish this book, you can look into Brown’s work with the National Black Deaf Advocates.
Through Deaf Eyes by Douglas C. Baynton, Jack R. Gannon, Jean Lindquist Bergey
In Through Deaf Eyes we have another "coffee table" book as a companion to the documentary of the same name and a summary of the Smithsonian Institution’s exhibit from the early 2000’s. This is an absolutely breathtaking book – the photojournalism in this volume tells a multitude of Deaf stories that will lift you up and break your heart. Even though the exhibit and documentary are from earlier in this millennium, it covers a lot of modern issues as well. If you’re looking to learn about current struggles for language access and accessibility, this and the documentary are great places to start. The Americans with Disabilities Act was only passed in 1990. The infrastructure to create more inclusive spaces for people with disabilities is still being worked on and improved every day, but it still has a long way to go.
The Deaf Musicians by Pete Seeger and Paul Dubois Jacobs
Of course I wanted to include a children’s book – this story in particular is about a late-deafened adult musician who loses his hearing. After he gets kicked out of his band, he finds a new group to make new music with. I was really happy to find this story in our picture book section! Having a visible story about how Deafness can affect people no matter what age they are is really important, especially in the context of a late-deafened adult who makes music for a living. Pete Seeger’s rhythmic writing and Paul Dubois Jacobs’ pictures go together beautifully and provide a percussive feel that adds a lot to the story. This story is also really valuable because it shows the importance of finding a community that fits you.
Charlie and Frog by Karen Kane
Here’s another children’s book, this one is a really recent addition to our collection. This story is about a hearing boy named Charlie who stays with his grandparents for the summer while his parents travel the world helping animals. He meets a girl named Frog who is Deaf, and together they discover a mystery in their little town that must be solved before it’s too late. If you can’t already tell, I adored this book. The story line with very sweet and the depiction of language barriers between English and ASL was eloquently presented through the text. It is from a hearing perspective, but it’s still a really nice representation of what language access could look like. Also, it’s just a very cute book. The endpapers even have the manual alphabet on them!
Learn American Sign Language by James W. Guido
Of course, at the end of this article I’m going to try and encourage you to take up American Sign Language. DC Public Library has a wealth of resources for you to learn new languages, ASL included. We not only have books, but also DVDs, online resources and in-person classes at several of our branches on different days of the week too. Having studied it a bit, I really like Learn American Sign Language due to its large, clear pictures and modern signing. ASL is a language that is constantly developing, so there's always something new to learn. There’s always something new, or a new way to say things, depending on who you talk to and when. ASL can open up a new world of communication for you, too. Make sure to stop by Woodridge Library for our ASL class on Thursday nights – I'd love to see you there.
P.S.--The title of this Read Feed is shamelessly stolen from the excellent documentary on Deaf entertainers. If you find yourself wanting to learn more about different facets of Deaf advocacy, there are numerous groups out there dedicated to different communities. Gallaudet University’s Laurent Clerc National Center for Deaf Education has a list, which you can find here.