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Robert commented on Deaf Awareness Communication Training (ACT) Project

Dear Thomas and All,

I have been following your conversations and have particularly enjoyed the exchanges between Thomas and my wife Lizzy. I appreciate the feedback of the IDEO folks and Thomas’ diligence and efforts to explain the reality of what the CCAP special needs education folks are facing.

This a very feasible program. The CCAP has a long and storied history of contributions to education and health in Malawi. The deaf continue to be marginalized and stigmatized. By and large have not been on the receiving end of most of what the schools in Northern Malawi have to offer, but some of the issues are being addressed here. At this point, deaf adults and deaf learners must be part of the conversation. Teachers, community leaders, volunteers and school administrators must listen to them. Such conversations will build trust, and from that trust more folks will buy into an emerging goal. Then this program can be more refined as it is implemented. Fortunately, structures are in place beyond the school system to help. Some deaf adults who are highly committed to MANAD are in Northern Malawi, and there are plenty of other willing helpers to the south. Additionally, programs in the schools have taught deaf children about human rights. These students are bright and insightful. They are some of the best resources.

I have a few other concerns:
- Skilled interpreters are essential. Some teachers can help in this area, but my understanding from my wife is that there is shortage of trained interpreters in Malawian Sign Language.
- Hearing aids are helpful to the hard of hearing. Even if they are available, they are labor intensive, and require technical skill. In mainstream classrooms where so many of the hard of hearing are sent, will the teachers have the time and training to assist? If they are not working the students will struggle.
- Sensitivity to cultural issues is essential. I say this in all humility as I address Malawians, deaf people, techies, teachers, and Presbyterians, none of whom I am. But I do know a common language binds people together, and that people bound together have a stronger sense of self-worth. The deaf with their common language are a close-knit community. Many of the deaf as they come into their own, no matter the type or level of schooling, will self-identify with that group.
- Lizzy has said, “But, in order for inclusion of a deaf or hard of hearing child to be successful, they MUST have communication access.”
- That raises the question of what is meant by being “successful.” If the goal is to turn deaf people into hearing people it will fail.
- However, the overarching, challenging question is, “How might we reduce stigma and create increased opportunities for people with disabilities?” Stigmas will reduce and opportunities open as people are empowered to make their own decisions and live into them.

I hope these musings are helpful. I live a world away, but remain deeply devoted to what the deaf community in Northern Malawi and in the United States has given me.

I look forward to your next steps.


Robert Davenport