Israel Children's Museum Israel Children's Museum Participants take part in the 'Invitation to Silence' exhibit at the Israel Children's Museum. (Photo: Israel Children's Museum)

Raising awareness and understanding of deaf culture

Exhibits and restaurants help people expand their senses and learn new ways to communicate.

The last full week of September is Deaf Awareness Week, and all over the United States and the world, communities are celebrating with a variety of events and activities aimed at promoting understanding of the issues faced by those with hearing loss. 

In Los Angeles, Ryan Lane from the ABC Family show “Switched at Birth” will headline the 16th annual DEAFestival, while the Washington School for the Deaf will screen "No Ordinary Hero: The SuperDeafy Movie," starring John Maucere and Academy Award winner Marlee Matlin.

"The purpose of Deaf Awareness Week is to increase public awareness of deaf issues, people, and culture," wrote Jillian Winn for SigningSavvy.com, a sign-language blog.

In Israel, a trio of interactive learning projects are helping to raise awareness of the deaf community year-round. Encouraging dialogue and erasing barriers are their goals.

The Israeli Children’s Museum, in Holon City, outside of Tel Aviv, features an exhibit called “Invitation to Silence” that is designed to leave kids speechless. The guides, who are all deaf or hearing-impaired, welcome visitors into a world of alternative communication – one without sound. Adults and children learn how to hear with their eyes and talk with their hands and body language. The interactive exhibit helps them discover the nonverbal communication skills we all have, if we only learn to listen.

In addition to helping guests find hidden communication skills in themselves, the interactive exhibit invites dialogue between the hearing and those who are deaf or hearing-impaired.

Café Kapish, at the Jaffa Port in Tel Aviv, also raises public awareness of the deaf community. Over cheesecake and hot chocolate, brownies and beer, customers get a taste of what it’s like not to hear. They communicate with deaf and hearing-impaired staff members either by signing or writing on a board.

“Both Cafe Kapish and The Israeli Children’s Museum seem to create awareness, mainly teaching hearing people about deaf culture,” Elias Kabakov, of the Institute for the Advancement of Deaf Persons in Israel, told From The Grapevine.

Blackout restaurantThe Blackout restaurant at the Nalaga’at Center for the blind and deaf. (Photo: Erez Kaganovitz) 

A play on “capisce,” the Italian word for “understand,” Café Kapish engages patrons in a silent dialogue with the staff. “You shall be amazed to find out how pleasant and easy communicating without words can be and how an ordinary night out can soon turn to be an ‘out of this world’ experience,” according to the website for the Nalaga’at Center, which houses the café. The center bills itself as a meeting place for deaf, blind and deaf-blind people and the public at large.

The cultural, entertainment and training center opened in 2007. It's home to Café Kapish, as well as a deaf-blind acting ensemble and BlackOut, a restaurant where blind and seeing-impaired waiters accompany guests to a meal in total darkness.

Kabakov sees more social, cultural and educational opportunities sprouting up for deaf and hearing-impaired persons in Israel in recent years. He also credits advances in technology, like text-to-speech and video chat apps, with making one-on-one interactions easier.

“Socially, deaf people may still meet in deaf clubs, but they also meet individually much more because of communication technology,” he says.

To find a Deaf Awareness Week event near you, or to get involved with your local deaf community, check out this list of National Association for the Deaf affiliate organizations.

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