By Erika Stebbings
How did I become a Deaf advocate?
Remembering Deaf Ontario Now's movement for Deaf rights, that was the moment it began.
I was learning about the importance of DON and their six objectives, including recognizing American Sign Language (ASL)/Quebec Sign Language (LSQ) as a language of the Deaf community, accepting these languages of instructions in classrooms, establishing ASL curriculum from kindergarten to Grade 12, and preserving three provincial schools for the Deaf.
I was also involved with a rally in Belleville, and at that time I was in high school at the Sir James Whitney School for the Deaf around 1988-1989.
As a residence student, this school provided me with not only social skills, but a rich experience allowing me to grow personally within the deaf community with teachers, staff, peers and students.
Immersed in an environment with 100% ASL access including sports, activities, and courses, I was given the opportunity to show who I was and what I wanted.
One day, when I was 17 years-old, I went to the Canadian Hearing Society (CHS) and noticed something was missing at the one in my hometown.
After telling the manager that the CHS there needed to improve the communication access to staff and information for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.
My first year while studying for a bachelor's degree in social work at Gallaudet University, I became student body government vice president.
It was an exciting time for me and gave me the chance to become involved with different organizations and develop my leadership skills, confidence and advocacy.
After I graduated from Gallaudet University, I promised to give back to the Deaf community in Ontario and I did.
They gave me many opportunities to become who I am today: a Deaf advocate.
In a few months, I became a member of their (CHS) staff as a front-line worker for deaf consumers, helping to explain their programs and services using ASL, as well as teaching their staff.
Since then, I have worked in various jobs during my working career related to the social worker field, as a general social services counsellor, employment counsellor, mental health intake worker and connect case manager.
Through this work, I have gained experience advocating for consumers and clients to get full access to informations, services and programs.
Now, there's an important issue happening in Ontario related to Deaf schools and the possibility of their closings. I immediately got involved because Deaf and Hard of Hearing children need and deserve these schools.
They are the reason why I advocate for Deaf schools.
I am doing this for all the Deaf children, including my own, who is now attending the Sir James Whitney School for the Deaf where I graduated.
These children from within the deaf community are important and fighting for them is the right thing to do.
I am a Deaf person with a passion for the Deaf community. I am a social worker, ASL instructor and Deaf advocate.
I am a Deaf mother of a deaf child who calls me his superhero.
A brief summary of what’s happening in Ontario right now:
In early March 2016, the Ontario Ministry of Education announced they decided to halt new applications to attend Centre Jules- Legar in Ottawa, the Trillum in Milton, Amethyst in London, and Sagonaska in Belleville for students with learning disabilities, and the Robarts School for the Deaf in London.
Education Minister Liz Sandals refused to rule out the possibility of closing the schools in the future, blaming “low enrolments and limited quality.”
However, alumni and parents of Deaf students and students with learning disabilities disagree with her statement. They express that part of the blame for low enrolments falls with the government for a lack of promotion.
The Deaf community also fear if they close Deaf schools, the community itself will suffer.
Many parents, alumni, and students have been expressing their concerns via social media and through their local MPPs. They know students attending these Deaf schools and schools for those with learning disabilities have lives that have benefitted drastically better than if they had attended and become isolated in mainstream schools, where students would not access to what they need – teachers fluent in ASL and bilingual learning materials.
After long months of pressure from parents, families and alumni, Minister of Education Liz Sandals announced that all Deaf schools and school for students with learning disabilities will remain open for now – just one day before a large protest and rally was scheduled at Queen’s Park.
They have not said, however, what will happen to the schools after the 2016/17 year. This is still very worrisome for parents and families.
The large protest and rally was scheduled on Thursday April 14 2016 where NDP Education Critic MPP Lisa Gretzky made her motion to save provincial and demonstration schools long-term, however most of the Liberal government voted against her motion.
That does not stop the Deaf community and many parents who are fighting to keep their school open in the future.
It is not over yet…
** There are four deaf schools in Ontario; Sir James Whitney School for the Deaf in Belleville, Ernest C. Drury School for the Deaf in Milton, Robarts School for the Deaf in London, and Centre Jules-Legar in Ottawa.**
**There are four schools for students with learning disabilities; Sagonaska Demonstration School in Belleville, Trillium Demonstration School in Milton, Amethyst Demonstration School in London, and Centre Jules-Legar in Ottawa.
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