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VOICE…how do you sign it?

The word voice represents a unit of expression including standing up for oneself, defending a position and asserting one’s rights.  The deaf community typically views the word voice as a representation of the dominant culture and the English language.  Voice also represent a vocal sound, speech or utterance.  While the deaf community utilizes their hands to vocalize themselves, the word does not exactly fit in the American Sign Language vocabulary.  Since the word voice is not readily translated into American Sign Language, the translation can lose its potency and/or its meaning.  The American Sign Language translation for voice produces multiple, descriptive signs or sign phrases to capture its meaning.  This concept, in American Sign Language, simply does not have a single equitable sign to represent voice.  In American mainstream society (the hearing community), the word voice when used in context is understood and considered powerful.  No explanation or description is needed. Does this mean we lose our potency as a linguistic minority? I don’t think so.

Analyzing situations where deaf leaders asserts their voice is fascinating and complex.  Reflecting upon my professional and personal lives, I have experienced and witnessed many examples of these assertions.  As a deaf leader, I find myself contemplating strategically how I would deliver the message in American Sign Language to maximize the power behind my voice. I am confident that the potency is captured through my stance, expression and passion.  Often times, in the midst of interpretation, I have left my interpreters in the whirling dust.  However, I do recognize that interpreters will faithfully translate/interpret what they see; and I will use strategies to support my interpreters in mirroring my potent voice.

The Deaf President Now leaders’ moving speeches or the historical George Veditz’s ASL preservation film are great examples of how leaders asserts their voice.  I continue to ask today’s deaf leaders, “How do you sign v-o-i-c-e?”  I receive numerous suggestions, elaborate descriptions and many versions of voice.  But they will always stop and ponder for a bit at the question. The ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle stated, “All that a man has ever thought, wanted, done, or will do, depends on the movement of a breath of air, for it this divine breath has not inspired us, and floated like a charm on our lips, we would all still be running wild in the forests.”  Aristotle is so grossly misinformed on the potency of American Sign Language and our voice. 

My dissertation study, Sustaining Voice Through Leadership: How Do Deaf Leaders Sustain Voice in Challenging Dominant Systems, identified 8 characteristics that deaf leaders share when asserting their voice:

  1. Empowered Articulation – The deaf leader develops a message that is empowered and purposefully articulated.
  2. Nurture Relationships and Connections – The deaf leader cultivates relationships to gain support and allies to bridge worlds.
  3. Credibility – The deaf leader demonstrates skills, knowledge and confidence.
  4. Owning the processes – The deaf leader is acutely aware of the dynamics in her environment.
  5. Solution Oriented – The deaf leader focuses on solutions when presented with challenges and/or conflicts.
  6. Bridging Communications – The deaf leader mediates multiple languages and cultures.
  7. Building Experiences – The deaf leader builds maturity and knowledge through experiences.
  8. Managing Peripheral Challenges – The deaf leader anticipates other challenges that are secondary to cultural and linguistic challenges.

(Author’s note: The study focused on deaf leaders’ lived experiences.  The meanings were grouped into four thematic areas: unique qualities, cultural challenges, positioning strategies and experiences in sustaining voice.  This blog piece represents a partial list.)

We hold the power of our voices in our hands.  Wishing you all the best in your leadership endeavors!

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