20 SES 09, Identity and Inclusion for a Deaf Community and (Auto)Biographical Research in Rural Networks and Minority Groups' Pathways into Intercultural Eduction
Until recently - particularly in countries without strong democratic and human rights traditions and culture such as Romania is - the failure of Deaf individuals to obtain access to higher grades of education, to find employment or to attain upward social mobility used to be explained basically in terms of lack of personal capability. Deafness was not primarily considered as the source of a distinct identity, equally valuable with other identities, but as the absence of a vital function, with negative consequences which might be “corrected”, “compensated” to varying extent, but only in exceptional cases eliminated altogether. The educational, occupational, family and community-based opportunities currently available to Deaf have been organized and offered on the basis of this assumption. The resulting constrains and exclusionary mechanisms confined most Deaf to have only modest and to a large extent predefined educational and professional career paths.
To achieve a major breakthrough and long term solutions to these fundamental problems of structural exclusion, it is necessary, therefore, a major shift of approach. Deaf should not be defined any more as functionally disabled people in the medical sense, but as members of a distinct cultural and linguistic community with their own identity and sense of belonging, having at its core the familiarity with sign language and bilingualism or even multilingualism, which suffers disadvantage as the result of the lack of recognition and institutionalization of services towards their language(s) and culture(s). From this perspective, the urgent need arises to promote a human rights-based policy approach based on the values of multiculturality and interculturality.
The situation of Deaf belonging to minority ethno-cultural communities is particularly complex in this regard, as they are subjected to social marginality and exclusion not only as members of the Deaf community but also due to their ethno-linguistic belonging. In this way their situation cumulates a multiplicity of disadvantaging factors. First, within a society dominated by the oral linguistic culture of the hearing people, they form the marginalized cultural minority of those who use sign language as their primary and most effective mean of communication. Second, due to their socialisation into a minority ethnic culture they are in a minority situation within the Deaf community as well. Third, their marginalised status, as Deaf, manifests itself in many ways also within the minority ethnic community to which they belong.
Starting from these underlying hypotheses, based on the results of a research conducted among ethnic Hungarian Deaf individuals in Oradea (a historically multicultural city located in Western Romania) this paper discusses the opportunities to use identity as a fundamental resource for social inclusion in a specific context linked to a particular type of minority situation. The central objective of the research is to find out the effects of the influencing factors and conditions which have an important impact on the process of family and community socialisation, educational inclusion and identity development of Deaf community members having a Hungarian ethno-linguistic belonging.
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