Deaf clubs pro­vid­ing glue that binds the com­mu­nity to­gether

Deaf Vil­lage Ire­land has at­tracted many newvis­i­tors be­cause of the ser­vices and fa­cil­i­ties it of­fers

The Irish Times - Tuesday - Health - - Health | Lifestyle - John Crad­den

Iwas up in our at­tic space at home a few weeks ago when I stum­bled on a box of old press clip­pings from my long and, eh, dis­tin­guished jour­nal­is­tic ca­reer.

It was in­ter­est­ing, to say the least, to re-read pieces writ­ten dur­ing my ear­li­est days on the job, full of the bound­less en­thu­si­asm (but also cringe-in­duc­ing naivety) of some­one start­ing out on a long-dreamt ca­reer path.

But I also found one of the first – and best – ar­ti­cles I ever wrote; a colour piece de­scrib­ing my first-ever visit to a deaf club while I was a un­der­grad­u­ate stu­dent at Dublin City Univer­sity, and pub­lished in the col­lege pa­per (then called the DCU Bull­sheet – such a bril­liant name).

Prior to that visit, I had been learn­ing Ir­ish Sign Lan­guage and find­ing out more about the deaf com­mu­nity and deaf cul­ture, all of which had been in­spired by meet­ing another deaf stu­dent in DCU who had grown up with the Dublin deaf com­mu­nity. Hav­ing taken the time to seek out a few more other deaf folks, go­ing to a deaf club seemed the next log­i­cal step.

Im­por­tance

For sign-lan­guage users all over the world, deaf clubs are like sec­ond homes, places where they can truly re­lax and con­verse with oth­ers in their pre­ferred lan­guage.

For those who lived in Dublin, the lo­ca­tion of the main deaf club was a large build­ing in the heart of Drum­con­dra called the St Vin­cent’s Cen­tre for Deaf Peo­ple, next door to the train sta­tion.

Suf­fice to say, vis­it­ing the place for the first time – and many times sub­se­quently – quickly brought home to me the im­por­tance of deaf clubs as vi­tal phys­i­cal spa­ces where the use of sign lan­guages can thrive and pros­per – and thereby pro­vide the glue that binds the deaf com­mu­nity to­gether. This in­cludes not just deaf peo­ple, but their hear­ing friends, fam­ily, co-work­ers, in­ter­preters, CODAs (chil­dren of deaf adults) and many oth­ers be­sides.

These days the deaf club is based just a cou­ple of miles fur­ther north in Cabra, in a new cam­pus-type fa­cil­ity called Deaf Vil­lage Ire­land (DVI). The club was forced out when the Gov­ern­ment slapped a com­pul­sory pur­chase or­der on the St Vin­cent’s cen­tre for use as a Metro North sta­tion back in 2008. The owner of the build­ing, the Catholic In­sti­tute for Deaf Peo­ple (CIDP), used the gen­er­ous pro­ceeds of the sale to de­velop the new fa­cil­ity on lands it owns in Cabra.

They could have built some­thing small and mod­est but, in con­sul­ta­tion with the deaf com­mu­nity, it chose to build a large, am­bi­tious new fa­cil­ity in­cor­po­rat­ing a so­cial cen­tre, a suite of of­fices and a sta­teof-the-art sports fa­cil­ity with swim­ming pool. The of­fices are oc­cu­pied by just about ev­ery deaf or­gan­i­sa­tion in Ire­land, in­clud­ing Chime (for­merly Deaf­hear), the Ir­ish Deaf So­ci­ety, Deaf Sports Ire­land, the Dublin Deaf As­so­ci­a­tion, Na­tional Deaf Women of Ire­land, the Ir­ish Deaf Youth As­so­ci­a­tion and the Deaf Her­itage Cen­tre, not to men­tion the CIDP.

In many places around the world, you will of­ten find that the same fa­cil­ity that houses a deaf club also serves as of­fices for or­gan­i­sa­tions pro­vid­ing ser­vices for deaf peo­ple. This makes com­plete sense and still does, but in an age when gov­ern­ment pol­icy now blindly dic­tates that in­te­grat­ing and dis­pers­ing key disability ser­vices into the wider com­mu­nity is the way to go, such fa­cil­i­ties are of­ten – and un­fairly – per­ceived as anachro­nisms.

De­spite this, DVI was of­fi­cially opened in 2013 and, bar­ring a few hic­cups, is run­ning very smoothly to­day. A lot of peo­ple were very fond of the old Drum­con­dra club, but the new fa­cil­ity has at­tracted many new and reg­u­lar vis­i­tors by virtue of the range of ser­vices and fa­cil­i­ties that it of­fers.

In­deed, many deaf clubs around the world are strug­gling to stay afloat, un­der pres­sure from un­sus­tain­able busi­ness mod­els on one side and the grow­ing use of tech­nol­ogy on the other, with many young peo­ple choos­ing not to at­tend.

The de­vel­op­ment of DVI was, in many ways, a re­sponse to these pres­sures. By in­clud­ing a top sports cen­tre that is used pre­dom­i­nantly by the lo­cal com­mu­nity in Cabra, as well as ser­vices for deaf peo­ple, it is some­thing of a unique space where deaf and hear­ing peo­ple in­ter­act to­gether in an or­di­nary, ev­ery­day en­vi­ron­ment miles – and miles away from any in­sti­tu­tion­alised feel.

Re­spon­si­bil­ity

I al­ways felt the fa­cil­ity had tremen­dous po­ten­tial, not least be­cause the orig­i­nal vi­sion of the place was that, even­tu­ally, it would be run and con­trolled by the deaf com­mu­nity. It’s one thing to run a deaf club, but it’s another to ac­cept full re­spon­si­bil­ity for the run­ning of a suc­cess­ful com­mer­cial busi­ness, which is the op­por­tu­nity now be­ing pro­vided to the deaf com­mu­nity by the CIDP.

I was in­vited in 2015 to be­come the chair­man of the DVI board of man­age­ment, and since then, we’ve spent a lot of time and ef­fort in the past cou­ple of years in sim­pli­fy­ing the over­all man­age­ment struc­ture and de­vis­ing a new strate­gic plan.

We’re look­ing for­ward to fully re­al­is­ing the po­ten­tial of DVI in the years to come, which has at­tracted a steady stream of vis­i­tors from all over the world.

John Crad­den: “For sign-lan­guage users all over the world, deaf clubs are like sec­ond homes, places where they can truly re­lax and con­verse with oth­ers in their pre­ferred lan­guage.”

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