The Cleveland non-profit community serves many distinct publics - all with different needs, causes, and missions. The Cleveland Hearing & Speech Center is the nation's oldest hearing and speech center and Northeast Ohio's only nonprofit organization dedicated solely to serving those with special communication needs.
In March, we hosted an open meeting at the Cleveland Hearing & Speech Center to learn more about how non-profits and the Cleveland community can be more inclusive of the deaf and hard of hearing community.
Maria O’Neil Ruddock, the Director of the Community Center for the Deaf & Hard of Hearing, and and Sara Thomas, the Center's Director of Development, hosted our group and gave us so much insight on how we can all be more aware of the needs of the city's deaf community. The Center focuses on three primary program areas: speech services, hearing services, and deaf services.
Our hosts gave us some simple take-a-ways that we could bring into our places of work.
Some easy ways to be more inclusive at a non-profit are:
- Be aware of the needs of your staff - having an interpreter is legally required if a deaf person requests it
- Edit your registration forms to include a request for aid for those who are deaf or hard of hearing. Use plain language in your verbiage.
- Always use a microphone to be inclusive of individuals that are hard of hearing
- Take advantage of the Center's services - they can provide your staff with training on deaf culture and individuals, using interpreters, and more.
- Enhance education in your workplace by offering ASL classes to your front line employees to better serve deaf individuals.
The Center currently has four deaf employees on staff to better connect with and serve their clientele.
Other key points we learned at the Center include:
- American Sign Language (ASL) is NOT English
American Sign Language (ASL) and English are not the same language. ASL has its own unique grammar and vocabulary that differs from English, or any other spoken language. Therefore, there are a lot of deaf individuals who may be fluent in ASL, but cannot read English. A majority of families choose not to introduce ASL to deaf children which in turn causes developmental language delays and reading disabilities due to the lack of language introduction. American Sign Language is just as it seems, just for America. Other countries and languages have their own Sign Languages.
- Deaf individuals have their own culture
Similar to different races, ethnicities, religions, etc. deaf individuals have their own jokes and behaviors. And just like other cultures, there are those who identify and those who don’t. There can be a completely deaf person who does not identify with deaf culture, and an individual who is hard-of-hearing and uses a hearing aid that does completely.
- Information intake is deliberative
As a hearing person, we are inundated with incidental information. Whether it is overhearing conversations, radio and news in the background, or noises in the environment, we are constantly taking in information we may or may not realize is shaping our outlook as well as giving us context for future situations. Deaf people, however, are not receiving this information and need to be “caught up” on certain topics or conversations. Be aware of this privilege as a hearing person and don’t assume lack of knowledge is due to lower intellect.
To learn more about the Cleveland Hearing & Speech Center and the services they provide, visit their website.