Friday, August 15, 2014

Have you HEARD?

For those of you who are familiar with Deaf Culture, it is no surprise that the police force and other elements of the criminal system in America often clash with deaf and hard-of-hearing civilians. Those who cannot communicate through voice often wait long periods of time for a properly trained professional to fill them in, sometimes even left clueless after a conviction has been made. 

HEARD (Helping Educate to Advance the Rights of the Deaf) is a DC-based nonprofit organization that works in correspondence with the American justice system to ensure that the Deaf are given equal opportunities in trial and otherwise pursue a nationwide system of fundamental human rights. For three successful years, volunteers nationwide have broken barriers for deaf inmates. They have worked alongside founder and board advisor Talila Lewis' dream: to form the nation's only database of deaf prisoners, to educate the Deaf community of their legal rights, to advocate for the Deaf which have received wrongful convictions, and for an equal quality of life in prisons - regardless of the status of one's hearing. 

One example of their many successes has been the stride made towards telecommunications opportunities for deaf inmates and their families. Led by Lewis herself, HEARD's Deaf Prisoner Phone Justice Campaign has offered an outlet for many deaf and hard of hearing inmates who have endured isolation, simply because the prison lacked the proper equipment.

Lewis has worked extensively with the producers of Al Jazeera America to create a profound documentary, "Deaf In Prison," which raised awareness of the institutional oppression on disabled individuals in our nation's notorious corrections facilities. This touching documentary zeroed in on the lives of those behind bars, especially the abuse and ignorance of authorities to the Deaf. It reached out to the community asking them to volunteer their time to get involved with their cause.

Whether offering your time as a penpal to one of these inmates, to training justice system professionals on Deaf Culture and communication, there is a niche available for any of us to make a difference in the lives of the thousands affected. 

Learn more about HEARD at their website: