Attention: You are using an outdated browser, device or you do not have the latest version of JavaScript downloaded and so this website may not work as expected. Please download the latest software or switch device to avoid further issues.

News & Blog > Blogs: "Perspectives, Provocations & Initiatives" > To Radically Rethink Inclusion: The Fight of Deaf Collectives in Colombia

To Radically Rethink Inclusion: The Fight of Deaf Collectives in Colombia

Ana Palma Garcia (MAP17) explores the movement of Deaf Power, a movement going beyond recognition of Deaf communities pushing for Deaf-inclusive policies that protect and promote Deaf identity.
Image by Ana Palma Garcia. The <0/ symbol is based on the written form of Deaf Power.
Image by Ana Palma Garcia. The <0/ symbol is based on the written form of Deaf Power.

Note: The <0/ symbol is based on the written form of Deaf Power, which is signed with an open palm over an ear and with other hand forming a closed fist in the air

We are used to thinking about inclusion as making the world accessible for all, but what happens when accessibility is not enough? For the past decade, Deaf communities around the world have been pushing for an epistemological shift that comprehends the collective and cultural dimension of being deaf. 

This blog is a reflection on the counternarratives that have been driven by these collectives and the relevance of learning from them to improve our work in inclusive development. By asking questions like who decides what inclusion is, looks, and feels like?  This ‘Deaf Power’ movement seeks to show that despite the significant advances of the disability rights movement demanding accessibility and school integration, the disability framework falls short to fully understand the needs and struggles of these Deaf communities.  

Rather than using the term ‘deafness’ (sordera) as an identifier rooted in medical diagnosis and parameters of normality, the Deaf Power movement is creating a counternarrative based on ‘Deafhood’ (Sordedad): a process of embracing proudly the positive value of Deaf people instead of trying to cure it or assimilate it. It is a narrative that changes the frame of the discussion from deficiency to diversity by allowing: 

  • a re-encounter with their Deaf identity, 
  • a recognition of their self as a non-hearing person, not as someone with a disability, but as someone different from others, 
  • an acknowledgment of collective dynamics that have historically created and preserved the outdated and non-inclusive language (like “deaf and dumb” or “handicap”). 

In Colombia, this revindicatorio fight has taken on some interesting nuances thanks to the legal framework of the country’s Constitution. First, let’s consider that because the base of the Colombian Constitution is multiculturality, it is easier in this legal context to be recognized by the state (and gain rights) as an ethnically or culturally diverse group than as any other category that is not prioritised within the (already existing) policies of difference. This can be noticed, for example, in the time gap between the first law officially recognising Colombian Sign Language (LSC), and the first accessibility law addressing disability rights. 

While LSC was granted official status in 1996 and reaffirmed as another native language of the country in 2016, it wasn’t until 2003 that the State issued a law announcing the need for reasonable accommodation and the elimination of all forms of discrimination based on disability. Even with a new law issued in 2013 stating the need to guarantee the rights of people with disabilities, the advances in accessibility are still questionable and not fully binding for private institutions. 

What can we learn from Latin America? 

The socio-political context surrounding a social movement can give us insight into the strategies, wins, and barriers of it. For instance, positioning the notion of Deaf people as a linguistic community with cultural traits would be significantly different in societies like Japan – in which the existence of ethnic minorities and multiculturalist discussions have not been as recognized in politics. In the case of Latin America, the Indigenous movements and historical fights have significantly shaped the context to understand collective rights, especially those related with notions of territory, ethnicity, and culture. 

Latin American countries that share a background of decolonial social mobilizations have shown a trend in becoming pioneers in recognising the sign languages of their Deaf communities, e.g., Ecuador (1998), Venezuela (1999), Brasil (2002), México (2005), and Bolivia (2009). In contrast, we see societies with civil rights at the base of their politics adopting the disability framework over a cultural framework as it will have more success introducing their interest into the political agenda. This is demonstrated in the UK where legislation that protects people with disability can be traced from the late 80’s to the Equality Act of 2010, while the bill that officially recognises British Sign Language was only approved in 2022 and is still awaiting to be implemented.

If sign language in Colombia is already recognised, then what are these collectives fighting for?  

The current goal of the Deaf Power movement is to achieve a widespread appreciation of Deaf Culture that will be articulated in the processes of policymaking, going beyond merely recognition to start creating deaf-inclusive policies that protect and promote sign language and Deaf identity. Just as previous policies in Latin America have granted the right to exist to Indigenous Peoples, who also have linguistic and cultural differences that vary from the norm, the same standards should be upheld to Deaf Communities. Deaf Communities have the right to exist being linguistically and culturally different. This movement is asking for policies that address them as communities, not only as autonomous individuals in need of personalised accessibility adjustments (though this is equally important to achieve too) and grant them their own right to exist

This right to exist refers to a need to go beyond a reasoning of "add deaf and stir" that limits inclusion to just presence. In this sense, what is being demanded is that the policymaking processes allow spaces to integrate other epistemologies, like Deafhood, while discussing issues that directly affects Deaf communities.  

For example, inclusive education for deaf children will need to address a variety of questions, such as: 

  • Do schools isolate deaf children from the Deaf community and their culture and language, or promote it?  
  • Are deaf children being encouraged to embrace and be proud of who they are, or asked to accommodate their bodies to what is consider normal (through medical rehabilitation)? 
  • Do deaf children grow up without knowing anyone else like them? 
  • Are deaf children being taught sign language (historically created by the community) or signed Spanish (a communication system created by hearing interpreters)? 

What's next for Deaf Power? 

 

Similarly to indigenous movements, there are two further fundamental rights posed in this narrative: 

  1. The call for a recognition of the historical oppression or violence lived by this population (medical intervention in their bodies, negative terms like “deaf and dumb”, structural inequality, education systems based on rehabilitation rather than learning, etc.) aiming to repair and avoid its continuity.  
  2. The pertinence to include a participatory dimension to Deaf-inclusive policymaking, preventing future decisions from being made without first consulting the community themselves.  

Similarly to indigenous movements, there are two further fundamental rights posed in this narrative: 

The call for a recognition of the historical oppression or violence lived by this population (medical intervention in their bodies, negative terms like “deaf and dumb”, structural inequality, education systems based on rehabilitation rather than learning, etc.) aiming to repair and avoid its continuity.  

The pertinence to include a participatory dimension to Deaf-inclusive policymaking, preventing future decisions from being made without first consulting the community themselves.  


This is one of a series of blogs supported by the IDS alumni office and written by current IDS students and PhD Researchers from academic year 2022-2023 Autumn Term. 

Similar stories

Flickr: Africa Renewal 5100301558

In Nigeria, every election cycle witnesses a decline in the number of women contesting and being represented in government. Faith Chiazor (MAGaD) explores barriers to women's polit… More...

Source: Pexels

Simin Ibnat Dharitree (MAGaD) warns us about the lack of intersectionality in girl boss feminism, which appears to be ga… More...

Shutterstock image 1040414509

In adversity, Mexican prosecutors collaborate with academia, civil society, and the private sector to shape Criminal Pro… More...

Stock photo ID:1226721220

In India's eastern hills, an ancient tribe's eternal forest bond faces rupture as controversial legislation opens their … More...

Photo Courtesy: Manzil Project, IPE Global.

IDS Alum Shreya Ray (MA Gender & Development, 2009) tells us more about how skill-based training can change lives and li… More...

Most read

Image by Soifer via iStock

Ameeta Motwani (MAGEN35) tells us how evolving themes in Bollywood cinema are challenging traditional norms surrounding gender and sexuality throughou… More...

Photo by: Ryomaandres at Wikimedia Commons

Nana Sugaya (MADev15) explores the relationship between former Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's poverty reduction policies and his 'war on drugs… More...

'Give aid to the poor!' - Labor Day Protest at Welcome Rotonda, Quezon City, (Photo by Jire Carreon)

Andre Flores (MAFOOD04) tells us about government provision of ayuda to Philippine citizens and discusses its benefits and pitfalls during the Covid-1… More...

Submit your blog

 
This website is powered by
ToucanTech