City Recognizes Deaf History Month 2023
On April 17, 2023 students of Polk County’s Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing Program based at Lakeland High School attended the City Commissioner’s meeting. Over twenty students, along with their teacher Kathy Sterwerf-Jackson and other LHS staff, were on hand to accept the City’s first Deaf History Month proclamation. Student Kellie Swanson was chosen to accept the proclamation.
Kellie is the president of the Lakeland High School SignNaughts student club (formerly called the Deaf Culture Club). Her first language is American Sign Language (ASL). Kellie is an honor student participating in the National Honor Society and she is a member of the LHS Marching Band Color Guard Team. Kellie was recently offered academic scholarships to two world-class universities, Gallaudet University in Washington DC and Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, New York. She is a great example of the students enrolled in the Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing Program, and of the commitment of their teacher Kathy Sterwerf-Jackson.
The day after the event, Kathy Sterwerf-Jackson shared with the City that students of the Deaf cluster programs at Oscar J Pope Elementary and Southwest Middle School were streaming the program live in their classrooms. She said that, “the younger kids cheered when Kellie finished her speech!”
Below is an excerpt from Kellie Swanson’s speech:
Good Morning Mayor Mutz, City Manager Shawn Sherrouse, ADA Specialist Jenny Sykes, Lakeland Alliance for Accessibility, and City Commissioners! Thank you for inviting us to the very first Deaf proclamation for our community! We are honored to be here to represent our school and the Deaf youth. We are proud to be Deaf and recognize the great importance of honoring the month of April as Deaf History Month.
This proclamation allows us to bring awareness to others about our beautiful language, American Sign Language, and our Deaf culture. We are not different. We are the same as others, except for our hearing loss. Deaf people often struggle with access to communication, education, fair employment and equal rights. Deaf History Month allows our community to shine a light on our uniqueness, our contributions to community, and our needs.
Sharing a bit of Deaf History during this time also affords us the opportunity to teach others about the many events that have impacted us throughout time such as; 1988’s appointment of the first Deaf President of Gallaudet University, the 1880 Milan Conference where a committee of educators banned the use of sign language, which caused decades of language deprivation for Deaf people, and even the most recent events impacting the war-torn Deaf community in the Ukraine.
These monumental events in our history, while burdensome, have empowered us and others in establishing better opportunities and have allowed us to define our Civil Rights and establish better access through laws such as the Rehabilitation Act: Section 508, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and the Federal Communications Act. These laws have been powerful in leveling equity for the Deaf Community. We can now add the City of Lakeland and this newly established proclamation for the Deaf Community as a chance to further advance our community, and to further educate people on the importance of education, accessibility, and the contributions that Deaf people can make within the community in which we live.
Thank you once again to everyone involved for recognizing us. It is our hope that we continue to collaborate, learn, and live in unity! And in closing, as George Veditz said in 1913, “As long as we have Deaf people on Earth, we will have signs.”
If you would like to watch the clip of the Deaf History Month proclamation being accepted, use this link: https://vimeo.com/818719319/ef81790d40
If you would like to watch the students and staff reactions to the proclamation, use this link https://vimeo.com/818869139/0c24c2f470
If you would like to learn more about Polk County’s Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing Program, visit: https://polkschoolsfl.com/ese/dhh/