PBS Presents: Through Deaf Eyes

Last night I watched a PBS documentary “THROUGH DEAF EYES” which is a must-see and one I hope could be shown every year. There’s so much to learn here about deaf history and culture. But, also, there’s so much to learn about the formation of culture (mainstream and sub-cultures) and language. Here’s the official description:

THROUGH DEAF EYES–a two-hour HDTV documentary–explores 200 years of Deaf life in America. The film includes interviews with prominent members of the Deaf community, including actress Marlee Matlin and Gallaudet University president emeritus I. King Jordan.

Interwoven throughout the film are six short documentaries produced by Deaf media artists and filmmakers. Poignant, sometimes humorous, these commissioned stories bring a personalized sense of Deaf life in America to the film. Through first person accounts and the film as a whole, THROUGH DEAF EYES tells the story of conflicts, prejudice and affirmation that ultimately reaches the heart of what it means to be human.

What I loved was the presentation of Deaf Culture and how deaf people had to fight to be a community in addition to the many other things they had to fight for. One of the threads in creating the Deaf Culture was the eventual acceptance and wide-spread use of American Sign Language. Through Deaf Eyes brilliantly shows the initial opposition to sign language and the opposing ideas of whether sign was an asset or set the deaf apart. The introduction of films of master signers in the early 1900s showed sign as a dynamic language, not static as on a poster or carved wooden hands. These films communicated what miles of editorial arguments and speeches could not: a living language.

There’s so much humor and humanity packed into the history presented in “Through Deaf Eyes.” I hope you’ll get a chance to see it. Through Deaf Eyes website has wonderful resources about Deaf life in America you’ll want to explore including:

• Discussion Guide
• Video Clips
• Related Links

My mother’s brother, Uncle Ralph, was deaf and sent away to a deaf school. He made Eagle Scout. I never met him because he died young, but because of him my mother knew how to finger-spell and she taught me. A decade ago I went to a series of signing classes to observe how this language of the body worked and I learned how rigorous it’s grammatical structure was, underlying its beauty. Hurrah for American Sign Language and the culture it helped create!

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