Hawaiian Sign Language

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How this year’s community consultations are helping us unlearn and relearn equity

“We are a part of the community too, but you don’t give us a chance to participate,” was the message in an email I received from a community member about our Native Hawaiian Education Council (NHEC) community consultation sessions.

Each year, we engage with our communities across the paeʻāina in mutual dialogue to help us identify community innovations, bright spots, and challenges around education that can inform federal funding. We work closely with our partners, ʻAʻaliʻi Alliance, to design an equitable and inclusive environment for community voices, but this message was an awakening.

Our Native Hawaiian deaf and hearing-impaired community, along with the Hawaiian sign language movement, have been largely left out of our virtual community consultations albeit unintentionally.

“Please provide Hawaiian sign language interpreters at your next community consultation,” was the email plea in my inbox. The Kanaka on the other side of this email was a hearing kumu at the Hawaiʻi School for the Deaf and Blind as well as an advocate for the Native Hawaiian deaf community.

My reaction was immediate. ʻEha, at first. Mihi, sincerely. Then came a most natural clearing for us to talk story with this brave Kanaka advocate on how NHEC can do better now that we know better.

We had three days until our next community consultation to make this right.

Without haste, NHEC and ʻAʻaliʻi Alliance updated our virtual registration to include questions about accessibility support to help identify future sessions where American sign language (ASL) and/or Hawaiian sign language (HSL) interpreters will be needed. Hawaiʻi Interpreting Services was also engaged and secured for our sessions.

Second, we enabled live captioning for all sessions to increase accessibility for hearing impaired participants – which also supports visual reinforcement and engagement. While live captioning will be able to address the general messaging, we know it will still have challenges with ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi and names. With this in mind, our third action was to create the flexibility to update our session materials with captions and verbal queues, while also maintaining an open participant feedback flow to make adjustments along the way to ensure inclusivity.

More than these three actions, we are committed to a deep culture of learning for our continued service to all of our Native Hawaiian communities. As an organization, we are unlearning and relearning that:

  • Equity is leaning in and leaning forward so that everyone wins together;
  • Equity is an awakening of our own accountability and rise of conscious leadership; and
  • Equity is aloha manifested in our everyday and intentional work with one another.

For more information about our 2022 community consultations or to join in on a future session, please visit us on Facebook or our website at www.nhec.org.