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American Annals of the Deaf

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The Emergence of the Deaf Community in Nicaragua: “With Sign Language You Can Learn So Much”

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In 1994 and 1995, with the help of the Scott Haug Foundation, the Austin (Texas) Sertoma club, and the Pan-American Roundtables, I made preliminary summer field trips to Nicaragua to identify the groups that worked with persons who have hearing loss. The Ministry of Education, the Association of Parents of Disabled Children (Los Pipitos), and ANSNIC graciously answered my multitudes of questions. In 1997, with the help of scholarships from the Fulbright Foundation and the Pan-American Roundtables, I spent a year in Nicaragua regularly attending deaf association activities and classes and visiting the Melania Morales School in Managua. I was also, during that year, able to visit all (at that time) twenty special education schools with one or more classrooms for deaf pupils, which were located outside of the capital. With my scholarship money, I funded a survey of more than 225 deaf persons about their backgrounds and present living conditions.7 I have twice surveyed (1997 and 2000) all of the teachers in classrooms for deaf children about their educational backgrounds and knowledge of deaf persons. In one- or two-month visits to Nicaragua in 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, and 2003, I was able to interview more people, search the National Archives, and, with the help of Yolanda Mendieta, make a concerted effort to locate the oldest members of the deaf association.8

This book discusses the conclusions that I came to on the basis of my nine-year investigation. I found that the use of a “standardized” sign language in Nicaragua did not emerge as an independent entity until there was a community of users meeting on a regular basis and beyond childhood. The adoption and molding of NSL did not happen suddenly, but was a process that took many years and was fed by multiple influences. Adolescents have a profound urge to seek a community in order to assert and attain their social agency in a society, but to do so, they have to be in contact with each other on a regular basis. For deaf adolescents in Nicaragua now, community is found in ANSNIC.9 Once social circles and sign language have been established, the central organization becomes less important, being a crucial focus during young adulthood, but of less importance later on. The larger Nicaraguan society only began to recognize that non-oral deaf persons could be social actors after an organized deaf association formed. And finally, although I will illustrate the tremendous changes that the past sixty years have produced, the fact remains that the work of asserting full social agency for deaf persons in Nicaragua is not complete. It has only begun.


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