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Viewing: LING 079 C1: Pgs Global Deaf Rights

Last approved: Thu, 25 Jul 2019 14:22:41 GMT

Last edit: Fri, 14 Jun 2019 17:10:07 GMT

First Name Last Name Userid Title Home School Org Short Name
John Higgins jhiggin Assistant University Registrar - Catalog and Curriculum Division of Finance Office of the University Registrar
Spring 2019
Fall 2018
Pgs Global Deaf Rights
This course explores the linguistic and social statuses of global Deaf communities with respect to language rights and efforts toward parity with spoken language communities. We will begin by providing some background and context for understanding Deaf communities and people as both linguistic and cultural minorities as well as members of a disability group. We then explore various examples of oppression born by Deaf people throughout history and today, with an emphasis on the Milan Conference of 1880, from which several decrees mandated that sign languages be banned in all instruction of Deaf students worldwide. The impacts of said decrees were catastrophic for the linguistic and social rights of Deaf people; effects of these experiences are pernicious and long lasting. Since then, global Deaf communities have fought to gain the legal rights and social recognition that are typically afforded hearing members of their respective communities. There are some Deaf communities that have attained said rights, where others are still left far behind. We explore the lasting effects of the Milan Congress in global terms, using the United States and North American Deaf communities as a standard for comparative measurement. Do note that this course will include a module on Italian Sign Language (LIS) and will give opportunities to learn and use LIS in and amongst Italian Deaf community members while in Italy.

Foundational Approach

Course usually offered in spring term
Cross Cultural Analysis
Jami Fisher
Full Time Lecturer
Full Time Lecturer
This is currently taught as a Penn Global Seminar, but it can also be taught as a stand-alone Deaf Studies course. The course is taught in English.
To introduce and expand on the concept of Deaf communities and culture as they are situated in a majority hearing context as well as in a disability framework.
To explore foundations of global Deaf communities, their formation, and growth both generally and specifically.
To understand human rights as they apply to Deaf communities on both linguistic and other terms, noting the various legal and protective implications of identifying as a linguistic and cultural minority versus a being a member of a disability group.
To investigate the impact of language policy that militates against and/or supports the linguistic rights of Deaf people.
To expose students to introductory levels of Italian Sign Language (LIS)
To apply the above theoretical discussions in meaningfully and mutually engaging Italian Deaf communities in Siena and Rome, Italy.

Methods of Assessment

4 papers total:
2 papers on cultural comparison and analysis (ASL lecture series; film analysis and discussion).
2 Final reflective papers (pre- and post-travel) and plans for/actualization of Italian Deaf Community engagement (7-10 pages)
No exams
Weekly threaded discussion on the readings and preparation for class discussion
Regular in-class discussion/participation
In-class assignments (debate preparation and debate of contentious issues.
Module on Italian Sign Language (learning and preparing short introductions and descriptions in Italian Sign Language)
2 presentations on global deaf experiences and language policy and planning.

As a Penn Global Seminar, students are required to attend a study-abroad module in Siena and Rome, Italy. In Siena, students will have intensive instruction in Italian Sign Language (LIS) (6-8 hours) and Italian Deaf Culture (8 hours). In Rome, they will meet and tour sites in the city with Italian Deaf community members wherein they will learn the cultural customs and engage with the deaf Italians. There will also be two half-day seminars in which they will receive lectures by various researchers and community members from the Italian Deaf community. Topics covered range from linguistics of LIS (sociolinguistic and other analysis); human rights and legal status of Italian Deaf citizens and LIS recognition; the legal system as it relates to Deaf Italians

Cross Cultural Analysis

This course spends a full semester preparing students to understand and engage deaf citizens in deaf communities outside the United States. The first three weeks of the course (lectures and readings) prepare students with foundations of deaf community formation with an ultimate emphasis on the formation of American deaf communities starting with the establishment of the first deaf school in America in Hartford, Connecticut in 1817. Collective values and experiences of American deaf people are examined via historical and social lenses. That is, students are presented with and ask what historical and social forces contributed to the formation of the first and then subsequent deaf communities in the U.S., but also are presented with a critical lens on Deaf identity, setting clear foundations for the fact there is inherently diversity within deaf communities that is typically overlooked by both insiders and outsiders to the community in question. In week 5, students become deeply familiar with the concept of social construction of disability as it relates to global deaf communities. More specifically, students learn about this concept through lecture, introducing the idea that deafness as limitation is really a social construction rather than a medical or biological one. They then read and discuss perspectives on whether or not (and why) deafness as strength vs. limitation is socially constructed. These concepts underpin the entire rest of the semester wherein students research and examine various global deaf communities, including their access to education and other human rights and the legal status of their sign languages vis-a-vis policy (both UNCRPD and local policies like ADA in the U.S.) and implementation.
Each lecture week is introduced by a visual representation of deaf communities as seen through the lens of De’VIA (Deaf Visual Images Art). They view deaf artists’ depictions of deaf oppression and liberation in visual/artistic form and discuss the representations of these two themes within the artwork as well as how the artist uses the characteristic forms of De’VIA (or not). Each piece of art is carefully selected to correspond with the theme under investigation and discussion for the week.

Subsequently, spend each week exploring different topics pertaining to the cultural, linguistic, and social formation of deaf communities. Students learn about the foundations of human rights of deaf people via policy (UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities as well as state-driven policy of various countries and the deaf communities within). Students are responsible for two research-based presentations in which they first examine the cultural, linguistic, and social experiences of selected deaf communities around the globe. They later examine other communities pre-selected to have what is on the surface a strong legal position for the rights of deaf people and the recognition of the respective sign languages within that region or country. However, they go beyond the legislation to see whether the policy is able to be implemented in practice and see how and why legal recognition of the language may not be enough to elevate deaf people to positions of parity with hearing citizens of their respective countries.

Furthermore, in the exploration of diverse countries with respect to policy, practice, art, culture, and education, students draw a comparative understanding of how, when, and why global deaf communities have successes and struggles with respect to their ability to access education and other human rights. For example, students watch a documentary film called Ishaare (which means gestures and signs in Hindi), and follow along exploring the lived experiences of several Indian deaf people including a deaf-blind Indian man. They use their foundational understanding of deaf communities more generally to see the overlaps and divergences in Indian deaf lives.

Ultimately, students explore the intersection of these cultural topics as they manifest in practice while in Italy. They are told the history (of the people, art, and architecture) of Italy (specifically Rome) through the lens and stories of deaf Italians. They view art and architecture led by an Italian deaf tour guide who demonstrates her knowledge through Italian Sign Language. One salient example of the way in which Italian deaf people perceive and represent their artistic and cultural values is through the sign for Caravaggio: his name sign is the combination of LUCE/CHIARA (light) and SCURO (dark), a beautiful and visually present example of his signature depictions of art through the chiaroscuro technique.
This course does not focus on one particular element in deaf culture. In fact, it is premised on the idea that common conceptions of Deaf-culture-as-monolith is a fallacy that does harm to both deaf and hearing people alike. We spend an entire semester discussing these issues and in particular, the conception of "DEAF-SAME" (a notion that deaf people all around the world are connected by the shared experience of deafness) and how, why, and when the notion holds up and falls apart. These theoretical exercises become much more real to students in their interactions with deaf Philadelphians and deaf Italians (during the travel component of the course).
Again, this course spends an entire semester orienting students to the fact that global deaf communities are systematically and regularly marginalized and oppressed by traditional notions of deafness as delineated by hearing community members and societies. Students do this by first understanding different definitions of and perspectives on deafness, exploring the deafness-as-identity concept and expanding this with intersectionality as framework for understanding deafness and deaf experiences as multifaceted and not not monolithic. Students then attend to first-hand accounts of deaf people throughout history (in various forms—written and video-based), including an emphasis of the effects of policy and planning via on deaf people in various countries (for example, Chile, Uganda, Ireland, New Zealand, and Japan). These accounts are underpinned by detailed attention to analysis and statistics provided by NGOs that track the status and progress of global deaf communities. All of these readings are framed by the theoretical models of human rights for deaf people, social constructions of identity and disability, as well as approaching engaging deaf communities through allyship models.

Finally, it cannot be understated that this course is designed with the intention that students will actually engage with deaf community members from outside the U.S. and learn about global deaf experiences directly from deaf people themselves. At this current point, our efforts center on Italy and Italian deaf citizens as they push forward in their attempts for legal recognition of their sign language (LIS) in the LIS SUBITO! movement. Italy is currently the only EU country without any legal recognition of their sign language. Our students use their foundational knowledge from the semester to explore the process and status of their language and legal rights as citizens while also learning the personal and everyday lives of deaf Italians in the social and cultural exchanges during the Rome segment of the trip.

Cultural Diversity in the US


Quantitative Data Analysis

Application required through Penn Global:

Formal Reasoning


Administrative Fields

Key: 855