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Identifying Deaf Refugees’ Vulnerabilities


Presenters:  Johanna Katz-Searls and Diana Pryntz


Description of the Presentation:

It is imperative that people know what the deaf refugees' journey looks like from the moment they flee their homes until they arrive at their new destination: how their lives are at refugee camps, how they are vetted and moved into the States or other countries. 

  Considering that more than 90% of deaf people from developing countries receive no education at all (World Federation of the Deaf, 2009), there is a higher chance that most Deaf refugees have experienced language deprivation. Approximately 90% of Deaf people are born to hearing parents who are ignorant about deafness and do not know how to communicate with or educate their deaf child. Consequentially, their thinking and logical decision-making skills are underdeveloped. 

  When extreme situations in a country occur such as a war or a natural disaster, deaf people are frequently among the last to find help. If they are fortunate, their families or neighbors may be able to communicate with them on a basic level. 

  At the camps, when they are almost ready to be transferred to the US, they undergo a health exam, security screenings, and vetting. Eventually, get ready to move to the United States. To process all this information is difficult with for people who are language deprived. Often they rely on others such as relatives or spouses that might not provide the right information. Communication barriers deny Deaf people the opportunity to participate in society, affecting their personal growth and social development. Some are forced to be family servants, while others are sexually abused or suffer extreme isolation, unable to leave their families.

  Recognizing that Deaf refugees have unique needs that are best provided by a Deaf-to-Deaf approach, the audience needs to build up a bridge between current organizations and agencies to ensure inclusion of Deaf refugees into general society by providing assistance as they strive to be self-sustaining individuals with their own cultural heritage, identity, language, and religion.

Presenters’ Bios:

Johanna Katz-Searls, MA in International Development with a focus in language rights, is a Deaf Multilingual Interpreter native from Buenos Aires, Argentina. She currently lives in Rochester, NY and had worked as a language and culture instructor with Deaf Refugee Advocacy.

Diana Pryntz is one of the founders and is co-director of Deaf   Refugee  Advocacy.   Deaf since birth, she grew up in New York City attending public schools. When she was of college age she moved to Rochester,   NY to attend Rochester Institute of Technology.   It was there where she learned American Sign Language and developed her deaf identity.  She graduated with a bachelors in Computer Science and a masters in Instructional Technology. After a short stint working in the industry, she became a Computer Science professor at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf.  In 1987, she switched gears and changed her career to motherhood. After 30 years and four sons later, she is now focusing on supporting the Deaf refugees and the vulnerable deaf community.