National Deaf History Month: Deaf Awareness in the Legal Community

National Deaf History Month: Deaf Awareness in the Legal Community

Written by Sarah Duggan, CP, and Samantha Burns

April 2022

April is National Deaf History Month, a unique opportunity to highlight the importance of inclusivity and equal accessibility for those who are deaf, hard of hearing, or experiencing hearing loss within our local communities.

In response to a motion at the 2020 National Association of the Deaf (NAD) Counsel of Representatives meeting, The National Association of the Deaf Board consulted with the organization’s own Deaf Culture and History Section (DCHS) and various stakeholders in voting to designate April 1-30 as National Deaf History Month. This shift from March 15-April 15 to the entire month of April will support a more streamlined approach to recognizing and celebrating all aspects of the Deaf Community, from dismantling racism to raising awareness.

Samantha Burns is a Deaf Paralegal Manager for Marjiya Law PC in Altadena, California. Handling personal injury cases and civil litigation matters, Samantha communicates fluently in both English and American Sign Language (ASL). Samantha currently serves as President and Board Director for the Los Angeles Paralegal Association (LAPA) and is a member of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Bar Association (DHHBA) and the National Association of the Deaf (NAD). While serving as Vice President of Marketing and Planning for LAPA, she served as Co-Chair of the Diversity & Inclusion Committee and assisted LAPA in winning the 2021 NALA Affiliated Award on behalf of the School Liaison Committee’s contributions during the COVID-19 pandemic. Samantha has been a NALA member since 2019 and seeks to earn her NALA CP designation by the end of 2023.

As a passionate advocate for deaf legal professionals worldwide, Samantha provides a valuable perspective on the importance of deaf awareness within our paralegal community, along with ways we can promote inclusivity and equal accessibility for paralegals who are deaf, hard of hearing, or experiencing hearing loss:

“There are about 800 Deaf and Hard of Hearing (HOH) legal professionals within the United States alone today. One of the most common methods of communication within the Deaf Community is American Sign Language (ASL). One of these methods would include using interpreters in the fast-paced courtroom, as deaf University of Virginia School of Law student Jehanne McCullough did while presenting her oral argument regarding federal excessive force appeal virtually before the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia last year. The method McCullough used provided a chance to not waste the Court’s time at all with several interpreters translating English to ASL and vice-versa. McCullough’s method proved effective because it allowed court proceedings to move along as smoothly as possible while also exhibiting how Deaf professionals can effectively work alongside hearing colleagues.

A lack of a clear and efficient communication channel currently serves as the basis of why there is a distinct separation and lack of collaboration between the Deaf and HOH communities and hearing communities today. Both communities exercise their own way of communicating, and a solid bridge of communication has yet to be erected between both communities. Interpreters are ideal, but only if they are translating accurately to avoid any potential misunderstandings. There are many different types of communication methods among the Deaf and HOH communities, including ASL, oral English, and a mix of both communication styles.

On a personal note, I am an Oral Deaf legal professional. I was born deaf, and I decided to pursue a career as a paralegal because it is a role I find value in and enjoy. My deafness has never prevented me from producing the best quality work at my law firm. In fact, it is because of my deafness that I can maintain focus without difficulty in comparison to many of my hearing colleagues who get distracted by surrounding noises from time to time.

Being more mindful of the Deaf and HOH communities is important when it comes to bridging a more solid connection between the Deaf and HOH communities and hearing communities. One way to promote more effective communication is by providing live transcriptions on your webinars, virtual meetings, and such. Another way is to hire a certified interpreter at live events or even on virtual events to provide a wider range of services for the Deaf and HOH communities. Take the time to read the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and check out various organizations, such as the National Association of the Deaf (NAD), for additional ideas on how to serve your Deaf and HOH colleagues more effectively. ”