By Eric Thomas
According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, there have been 393 gun-related domestic violence fatalities this year. The coalition also estimated that 10 million people a year are physically abused by an intimate partner and that 20 percent of women in the U.S. have been raped. Imagine the victim in any of these situations as a person who is deaf or hard of hearing … could the difficulty of a situation be amplified because of this? Victims might not reach out for help due to many different barriers.
Oftentimes law enforcement or shelters don’t have the needed personnel to adequately help in these crises. A victim generally has issues of trust already; he or she needs someone to communicate her story accurately and thoroughly. A local organization is stepping up to help bridge that gap for the deaf community.
Jacksonville Area Center for Independent Living (JACIL), through a grant from the Women for Women group under the Community Foundation for the Land of Lincoln, started designing this program under JACIL’a former executive director Becky McGinnis. After much discussion among the staff, the issue of domestic violence in the deaf community emerged as a priority. Once McGinnis contacted Brandie Belford, former executive secretary for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Commission for Illinois, Belford was able to get Morgan Grant involved and then the Deaf Wings was launched.
“The overall goal for this program is to help remove those barriers that keep the victims silent and isolated and give them a voice,” remarked current JACIL Executive Director Peggy Davidsmeyer. “JACIL is very fortunate to have these two ladies, Brandie and Morgan, working together to advocate for these services and JACIL is proud to be a part of the solution.” Deaf Wings was the first program outside of Sangamon County given a grant since the group started awarding grants 11 years ago. With Jacksonville’s high population of individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing, and JACIL’s ability to help people maintain independence where possible, the program was a natural extension of their services. They are not providing shelter services or replacing existing services, but helping to open the lines of communications.
Both Belford and Grant are deaf and bring a personal mission to their jobs coordinating this program. They both are victims and survivors. It is important to them that other abuse victims not go through abuse of some sort, as well.. “We would like to bring back the hope. No one within the deaf community should have to deal with trauma alone,” replied Belford. “One of our mottos serves as a guiding light: Don’t be ashamed by your story. It will inspire others.”
The implementation of Deaf Wings was designed to run in three phases. The first phase was to train deaf individuals to serve as deaf-to-deaf advocates for victims of domestic and sexual violence. Deaf Hope from Oakland, California, teamed up with Deaf Wings to provide this training.
The second phase was training with master and advanced ASL interpreters, the only ASL interpreters qualified to interpret in medical and legal cases that are trauma-related to domestic violence and sexual assault. Deaf Hope also provided this training. Finally, the third phase involved training for law enforcement and judicial system personnel, focusing on the unique characteristics of domestic violence within the deaf community. Grant concluded, “In our efforts to build a collaborative relationship with the community, we are reminded by this quote from Mattie Stepanek: Unity is strength … when there is teamwork and collaboration, wonderful things can be achieved.”
JACIL services Morgan, Cass, Scott and Mason counties through its regular services, but Deaf Wings is not limited to servicing these counties. Victims who are deaf or hard of hearing who live beyond the normal JACIL service area are encouraged to reach out for help. JACIL may be reached at 217-245-8371 (Voice/TTY), 1-888-317-3287 (Toll free) and 1-866-790-5311 (Deaf Advocate’s Toll Free Videophone).