Did you know that Catholic priests were pioneers in sign language and Deaf education?
I didn’t, until my little sister told me. She’s away at college studying American Sign Language. Since her interest in the Deaf and Hearing Impaired community blossomed several years ago, our family has had a heightened awareness of that community, as well.
96 percent of Deaf people do not go to church, because religious services and programs are not as accessible to them as they are to hearing people (National Catholic Office for the Deaf). It’s staggeringly clear that apostolates for the Deaf are urgently needed.
Enter: New media.
YouTube, Google+ hangouts, and all their siblings, have empowered the Deaf to express themselves using sign language with people who aren’t in the same room as them. That’s no small matter. Those of us in the hearing community understand the difference that voice inflections can make when listening to someone speak. For Deaf persons, that’s comparable to the difference that facial and hand expressions make when watching someone sign.
One of my YouTube heroes is Father Shawn Carey, Acting Director for the Archdiocese of Boston, MA’s Deaf Apostolate. His frequent videos – community announcements, check-ins during his travels, and – most especially – personal interviews, demonstrate the variety and beauty found in the Deaf Catholic community. Even as a hearing person, I enjoy watching Fr. Shawn’s videos because they give me a window into the life of my Deaf brothers and sisters…and Fr. Shawn is a hoot.
Here’s one to give you an idea: A Live It Up! With Fr. Shawn episode featuring an interview with Fr. Christopher Klusman. F.r Christopher is a Deaf priest for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. Here, he’s chatting with Fr. Shawn about his first-year experiences as a new Deaf priest.