Photo: I. King Jordan, the first deaf president of Gallaudet University
THROUGH DEAF EYES is a two-hour HDTV documentary for PBS exploring nearly 200 years of Deaf life in America. The film presents the shared experiences of American history—family life, education, work, and community connections—from the perspective of deaf citizens.
Interviews include community leaders, historians, and deaf Americans with diverse views on language use, technology and identity. Bringing a Deaf cinematic lens to the film are six artistic works by Deaf media artists and filmmakers. Poignant, sometimes humorous, these films draw on the media artists' own lives and are woven throughout the documentary. But the core of the film remains the larger story of Deaf life in America—a story of conflicts, prejudice and affirmation that reaches the heart of what it means to be human. THROUGH DEAF EYES will be broadcast nationally on PBS on Wednesday, March 21 at 9 p.m. ET (check local listings).
THROUGH DEAF EYES does not approach the topic of deaf history from the perspective of sentimentality or overcoming, nor does it deny the physical reality of being deaf. The documentary takes a straight-forward look at life for people who are part of the cultural-linguistic group who use American Sign Language and often define themselves as "Deaf" with a capital, and cultural, "D" and deaf people who, for a variety of reasons, do not identify with the Deaf cultural community. The history often shows that intersections between deaf and Deaf people are many and that oppression and discrimination are common experiences.
The perspective I initially achieved during the film was that, deaf people had a really hard life. They strived to become equal with the “hearing world,” to not be out casted, to be allowed their own form of communication, and overall to be accepted for who they are. This film had so many great stories from the interviewers, they brought in that personal touch to make it effective and ensue many emotions. The whole film was very touching; I had a variation of feelings watching the film. I felt mad at times because what deaf people had to go through, sad for when the film mentioned what the children had to endure at schools, and happy when DPN happened and they showed the footage of it. Furthermore, I didn’t realize how much deaf people had to strive for throughout so many years, even today; I believe there is still some discrimination towards deaf people.
Watching the film, the part that impacted me the most was when they started mentioning the deaf children. It may because I am a mother, but this portion of the film made me really sad. Many children were sent off to residential schools at such a young age (where parents are needed at times) and only come home for a few days. Also, children were forced, so to say, to speak because oralism ruled over sign language at times throughout the years. The children were punished if seen to using their hands for any type of communication or for any reason for that matter. In addition, it made me sad when some of the interviewers started telling their own stories of how hearing tests were done and how doctors tried to “cure” them. I know that medicine was not as advanced as it is today but some of the tests seemed cruel. I believe that the children had it worse than adults because for every new deaf generation, there were some sort of new tests or methods to be tried out. Furthermore, there were a few stories that were mentioned where parents accepted their children, and empowered them to be who they wanted to be and accomplish anything they set their mind to.
To conclude, deafness and the acceptance of deaf people have evolved so much throughout the years. This film brought history of deaf culture to the forefront and made me realize that deafness is so much more than only learning another language to communicate. It is a culture within itself, with many people wanting the same things and to achieve their goals. Also, deaf children and the teachings have drastically changed by embracing sign language, although there are still some oral schools, and making deaf children empowered. Deafness has reached new levels and deaf people have achieved and continue to overcome so many battles within society and themselves. I am glad I am able to be a part of it, even as a student, because I am able to see and learn how powerful this culture is.