5 Deaf Educators Share Inclusivity Tips to Embrace in Your Classroom

The mission of National Geographic Education is rooted in creating an inclusive learning environment where all can thrive. And so in celebration of Deaf Awareness Week 2020, we asked five Deaf educators what the National Geographic Education community should know about Deaf culture, Deaf history, ASL, and Deaf education to be more inclusive. Read on for their responses and reflections on the Deaf community, inclusive lesson plans, helpful apps, and more:

Trevor Anderson
High School Social Studies Teacher, Texas School for the Deaf

As a Deaf individual and educator of the deaf, I strongly believe that we must understand the history and culture of our deaf identity first in order to be empowered and make the world a better place. Many deaf students across the country and world do not have access to the culture and history of deaf people due to many different factors such as access to a language. The environment of our deaf students needs to be language rich and filled with deaf role mentors. When they develop an understanding of their deaf identity and actively use an accessible language, they will thrive in this world without any doubt. 

The needs of deaf individuals vary, but we all need access to information in this hearing-majority world. There is no “one size fits all” solution to provide access to deaf individuals. Captioning video materials is an effective accessibility tool, but followers of National Geographic Education should not limit themselves to captioning as including transcript, adding visual aids, and providing American Sign Language interpretation makes it even more inclusive for deaf people. Deaf culture is unique. We have a rich history and our deaf education has come a long way, but there is still a lot of work to provide inclusive language access for all of our deaf students. I urge you all to make your materials accessible for deaf students. 

Jeff Bibb
Deaf ASL High School Teacher at California School for the Deaf, Fremont

During Raza de Sord(x) leadership weekend, the group snaps a photo in front of mural made by Rolando Sigüenza, a deaf artist from Mexico. Photo courtesy of Jeff Bibb.

I feel empowered by the statement that an inclusive learning environment is what all educators should strive to have in their classroom. I would like to see all content online and brought into classrooms inclusive with captioning and American Sign Language. The deaf people are a cultural-linguistic group with sign languages unique to their geographic regions. If you meet with a deaf person, don’t think of sound as the only barrier to communicate with the individual. There are creative ways around this such as using Siri to caption your voice into text, typing in Word/Notes, downloading the Ava app, or going old school with paper and pencil. However, the best solution to removing barriers is to learn ASL by enrolling in your local community college, signing up for online tutorials, or downloading the ASL app.

Kathleen L. Brockway
Culturally Deaf Author of multiple books, Historian, and Notable Social Media Content Creator hailed from Washington, D. C. 

Kathleen visits the cemetery where Edward Joseph Dundon, America’s first deaf professional baseball player and umpire, was buried. Visiting deaf cultural and historical sites makes the stories in an educational experience more powerful to share. Photo courtesy Kathleen L. Brockway.

Growing up with a deaf experience as a native signer from a signing family, I saw so many things I did not learn about until I became a book author of deaf cultures and history. As an author of multiple books since 2014, I saw there is more history of our deaf cultures and history of our education and society out there that we do not know about because we are often overlooked. 

To know and understand the culture(s) and history, you need to understand the basics first, such as an introduction to deaf culture, deaf history, ASL, and deaf education. You cannot learn right away in one day and educate the public. You need to learn a lot every day in order to be more inclusive. If you want to be inclusive, include and recognize the deaf culture and history in every city, town, place, things you see. Especially recognize the visual languages and do the appropriate cultural documentation, so our linguistic minority cultures and history won’t be lost forever.  

National Geographic is a valued channel to explore more, and we need the empowerment from the followers to share our deaf cultures, deaf education, and verified authentic deaf history. We in the deaf community are a very small linguistic minority group, and we have a variety of deaf cultures like Indigenous, Black, and others that often get overlooked. We need you, the followers, to SHARE and EMPOWER for us so we won’t get overlooked. 

Continue to connect with Kathleen on Instagram, Facebook, and with others inside and outside the United States.

Najia Elyoumni-Pinedo
Foreign Language Transition Classes Teacher at Lexington School for the Deaf in Queens, NY

Growing up as a deaf person, I’ve always relied on visuals to learn about the world. When the internet was not well-developed back then, National Geographic magazines were one of the few resources I had access to information about nature, animals, and cultures on this planet. I was always in awe of their spectacular photographs and other visuals. With such visuals, I was able to grasp context quicker and it helped grow my love for science. Today, I am a teacher in the fast-paced information era. I sometimes use the National Geographic YouTube channel and some of its resources to teach my Deaf students, who are also natural visual learners. They love it. It sparks their imagination, inquiry, and curiosity–the same feelings I experienced every time I opened a National Geographic magazine.

Think of us deaf people as a different linguistic group, rather than a disability group. We have different ways of obtaining information. To make information more accessible for the Deaf, we need more captioning or/and transcripts accompanying all audio portions.

Lauren Maucere
Program Specialist, Deaf Education, Los Angeles Unified School District

Lauren Maucere and Janette Duran share resources. Photo courtesy Lauren Maucere.

In “mainstream” education, teachers typically practice from an aural, monolingual perspective when in reality we live in a robust sensory and multilingual world. Education needs to be a 4-D approach and that includes visual, tactile, and kinetic. When designing lessons, think about all the senses you can use to allow students of differing abilities to flourish beyond what’s possible. To be inclusive of all students’ social identities, being the sole teacher in the classroom is not enough. Bring the community into your classroom. They can be teachers, too. Weave in the stories of Deaf, DeafBlind, DeafDisabled, Hard of Hearing, and Late-Deafened people from all walks of life into your curriculum. Invite them to collaborate on projects with you such as doing a play about the civil rights movements of the Deaf community. Study how the contributions of Deaf people have positively impacted society as a whole. Learn and teach about “Deaf gain” not “hearing loss” and why this approach is important because we live in an intersectional world, there is no ideal human. Each one of us impacts the world in myriad ways and that is what makes humanity…brilliant. 

Interested in learning more or getting involved? Check out this list of helpful resources:


Special thanks to National Geographic Teacher Advisory Committee Member Heidi Givens for helping to organize this effort.

Feature image by Tonya Lindsey