Neutral is a Shade of Color,
Not an Organization
By Karen Putz, Hands & Voices Board Member
Eons and eons ago, Leeanne Seaver, the then Director of Hands & Voices issued me a challenge: start up the Illinois chapter of Hands & Voices. I hesitated. I had just completed four years with the team from West Suburban Association of the Deaf in Illinois, growing it from a tiny deaf club with 44 members into a 501(c) (3) non-profit-- one of the few which still exist today. I had three little kids two years apart in age and I worked part-time at the local community college. Did I really want to take on the challenge of starting another non-profit, this time from scratch?
I didn’t hesitate for long, and here’s why: because every single day, I believe in the mission and the purpose of Hands & Voices: Hands & Voices is dedicated to supporting families with children who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing without a bias around communication modes or methodology. We’re a parent-driven, non-profit organization providing families with the resources, networks, and information they need to improve communication access and educational outcomes for their children. Our outreach activities, parent/professional collaboration, and advocacy efforts are focused on enabling Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing children to reach their highest potential.
Starting up that non-profit organization sure wasn’t easy, but it sure was worth it -- and it happened because a team of parents, professionals and deaf and hard of hearing adults believed in the mission as well. Today, Illinois Hands & Voices has expanded under the leadership of two more presidents and includes a state-wide Guide By Your Side program.
As the years went on, Hands & Voices grew from those first four chapters and expanded worldwide. There clearly was a need for support without bias for parents of deaf and hard of hearing children on the parenting journey. Every now and then, I will cross paths with someone who feels Hands & Voices is:
- Not neutral
- Not balanced enough
- Not without bias
- More “hands” than voices
- More “voices” than hands
Before I go any further, I invite you to read Hands & Voices: Supporting Families Without Bias by Leeanne Seaver. This document goes into great detail about the Hands & Voices approach to supporting families.
In the early days of running the organization, I was often thrown into one camp or another based on someone’s judgment of my communication experience, my personal choices for my children or the communication methods we used. To me, that judgment represented everything that Hands & Voices is not. When I look at the families, professionals and deaf/hard of hearing adults involved with Hands & Voices, I see caring individuals who have a heart for children and their futures and I feel really blessed to have crossed paths with so many of them. At any given time, Hands & Voices is whoever is a part of the organization. Families and individuals are not the sum of their communication experience and we don’t identify our Hands & Voices organization merely by those choices. We do our best to include everyone who wants to be a part of the movement of providing support without bias to families. Whenever we stumble along the process, we try harder yet again. The bottom line is to support families along the journey of raising deaf and hard of hearing children. We all have the same goal in mind: well-adjusted, successful kids.
As for being “neutral,” to me, that’s a color, not an organization. What I love seeing instead is an organization that is passionate, vibrant and colorful– an organization which is made up of amazing, diverse families, professionals, and individuals who celebrate the many different ways there are of being Deaf/deaf and hard of hearing.
Now that’s Hands & Voices. And I invite you to be a part of it.
Editor’s note: This article was reprinted with permission from Karen Putz’ blog at http://deafmomworld.com She can be followed @DeafMom on Twitter. Find Seaver’s article at www.handsandvoices.org/articles/