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Demonstrating sustainability in deaf leadership

sustainability in deaf leadership
This month we’re celebrating Deaf Awareness Month, an initiative of the World Federation of the Deaf (WFD), which corresponds with International Week of the Deaf People 2021. Today, Sept. 21, the theme is “Sustainable Deaf Leadership.”

When I think of sustainability in deaf leadership, I think of someone who has created lasting change for many people. Someone who has done this quietly and with joy. Leadership also promotes acceptance. It’s lifting up others. For me, that someone is Lisa Faria.

An Example of Sustainability in Deaf Leadership

Although I wear hearing aids, I have always lived between a hearing and deaf world. I was not introduced to Deaf Culture until I was in my 20s, when I went to take American Sign Language Classes (ASL) at the Bob Rumball Canadian Centre of Excellence for the Deaf in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. There, I had the honor of meeting Lisa Faria, a shining example of sustainability in deaf leadership

Faria runs all the programming for ASL classes and learning. She’s humble, a true comedienne and actress, and has a pure love for teaching others ASL and about the Deaf Community. She doesn’t push anyone, but welcomes everyone to see the world in a different way. In her humbleness, it’s easy to see that Faria runs day to day operations. The reality is that she has changed lives for so many.

Faria is hard of hearing and identifies as Deaf. She and her brother were born in Canada. Her parents (hearing) were born in Guyana. She is bilingual and uses both English and ASL. Faria was mainstreamed as a child in a hearing school and took speech therapy. She started learning ASL at around four years old. While English is her first language, she is fluent in ASL and has been teaching for more than 18 years. Teaching is one of her passions.

Creating Accessibility Through Programming

Faria is the Coordinator of Sign Language Services (SLS) and an ASL teacher at the Bob Rumball Canadian Centre of Excellence for the Deaf (BRCCED). She has been there for 15 years. BRCCED offers ASL instruction to the hearing community for ages nine and up. All ASL Instructors are Deaf and certified to teach using the Signing Naturally curriculum. They also run an Adult Immersion Summer Camp where voices are turned off as students are completely immersed in ASL. This one-week camp runs once a year at the Ontario Camp of the Deaf in Parry Sound, as well as a weekend spring and fall retreat. The immersion camp and retreats are for hearing adults who want to learn ASL. The majority of students are hearing. There are also some students who are hard of hearing or oral deaf and interested in learning ASL.

When asked about the differences in weekly classes vs immersion camp, Faria replied, “The camp/retreat environment is the best way to provide others the opportunity to develop the habit of signing for an entire week when Deaf people are present. …  Being immersed offers an advantage as they will become more visually aware and experience what it is like to be Deaf. This way, everybody has equal access to what is being communicated.”

Faria coordinates and promotes all ASL classes, immersion camps and retreats. She loves her job and where she works because every day, she can communicate with Deaf staff, coworkers, and her boss who uses ASL.

Achieving Goals is Rewarding 

One of Faria’s biggest goals is to break down communication barriers and bridge the gap between Deaf and hearing communities. Providing the hearing community an understanding of Deaf Culture, language, and challenges, while also teaching how to use ASL to communicate, is key. It’s rewarding for her when she’s out in the hearing world and encounters another hearing person who can sign. It feels inclusive and welcoming, she says.

Faria has been invited represent the Deaf community and ensure accessibility through participation in many events that exposes Deaf culture and ASL to the hearing world. She has translated various training and information videos into ASL to make them accessible, including for the Toronto Police Service, Canadian Human Rights Museum, fire safety videos, and mental health training). She has also signed the Canadian National Anthem in ASL for the Toronto Maple Leafs and Toronto Raptors. For Canada’s 150th birthday, Faria signed our National Anthem in ASL accompanied by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.

“Helping to make the hearing world accessible for all Deaf people is the biggest reward for the services I help to provide,” she said.

“Helping to make the hearing world accessible for all Deaf people is the biggest reward for the services I help to provide.”

Read more: Sign languages around the world

What Creates Motivation?

When asked what keeps Faria motivated, she said:

“I am always thinking about how I can advocate for accessibility, more inclusion and more representation of Deaf people in the community. I do many things to make the world more accessible for myself, and all the other Deaf people. I enjoy taking part in various events that bring knowledge and understanding that Deaf people can do anything they put their mind to.

“In 2014, I participated in Mud Hero, which empowered me to climb, crawl, run and walk my way through obstacles. Last year, I was recognized and nominated as one of the Deaf Women for my achievements and contributions to the Deaf Community during Women’s History Month.

“I have worked hard to be where I am today despite the challenges of life and its struggle as a Deaf person. The world is not currently accessible for Deaf people, and we must continue spreading awareness through education. That’s ultimately what keeps me motivated.”

Life Outside of Work

For Faria, acting is one of her passions. Since she was a child she has acted in theatres and films. Recently she was involved in the Mrs. America movie and an episode of Murdoch Mysteries. She was also featured in a recent Tim Horton’s commercial (Tim Horton’s is a popular coffee chain in Canada).

Faria can speak and wears a hearing aid. However, she continues to use ASL as an education tool to encourage others to learn to sign and accommodate the Deaf community, even if it means using gestures or writing messages on paper and/or phones.

Read more: Learning to overcome poor communication habits caused by my hearing loss 

Faria is also a facilitator for a workshop at Humber College called “ASL: Communicating with the Deaf in Emergency.” She is also involved in training for Early Childhood Educators who may work with Deaf and hard of hearing children in the future. Additionally, Faria participates in Mayfest and Junefest,  Deaf events that occur annually.

Aspirations and Dreams

This model of sustainability in deaf leadership’s dream is that Deaf people be treated equally, have equal opportunities in education and employment, and cultural recognition.

Faria says she would also like to see the removal of all barriers for people who are Deaf and hard of hearing and have other disabilities. For example, she would like to see more website content interpreted into ASL so that they are more accessible. Seeing more Deaf actors in TV/films, is also important, with theatre performances made accessible through the use of Deaf Interpreters (DI) and ASL Interpreters.

Read more: 5 deaf actors to watch on Netflix right now

“I want to see the hearing community understand the importance of having press conferences interpreted into ASL,” Faria says. “As the COVID pandemic was beginning, no press conferences held by any level of government were interpreted. This left the Deaf community without access to potential lifesaving information. The various levels of government need to be the role models for inclusion. I also want to see hospitals and doctor’s visits be accessible through the hiring of interpreters.

“Deaf people should not have to depend on friends and family members for information about themselves and their health. Deaf people have the right to accessible communication the same as a person in a wheelchair has the right to physically accessible buildings. The hearing community needs to turn to Deaf people for information and guidance about what is needed to make life accessible.”

Author Details
I’m a Hard of Hearing mom, originally from Canada and living in Southern California. When I’m not running my brand and design studio, I share stories online about raising my two Hard of Hearing daughters and advocating for hearing loss awareness.