When I wrote my strategic plan in 2017 for the 2-year Gallaudet Peer Mentoring program, I ended up writing the best description I think I have written thus far about what I want my future research lab to look like. Here are these aspirations from 2017-Mel, who (notably) was on a signing academic campus as a signer for the first time - something I think influenced my ability to write this quite a bit.
I run a culturally Deaf research lab working on alternate-ontology curricular culture prototyping in higher education, especially engineering education. We have a name, members, a cultural praxis, and a venue for publicly available output.
I’m at a college or university that loves and supports my work and teaching, and allows me to experiment with teaching in a way that furthers my research goals. My research is on prototyping alternate ontology curricular cultures – in other words, how can we create educational environments that operate from fundamentally different assumptions about teaching and learning than the ones we’re stuck with in the majority world? Among the alternate-ontology (alt.ont) prototypes my students and I work on is Deaf Gain in engineering education… rather than viewing our hearing loss as a deficit to compensate for in order to join a culturally hearing profession, what is it that our perspective has to contribute to a field that desperately needs us?
My lab is a living example of this, and my classrooms (where I teach signal processing, software engineering, and other technical topics) are also part of my lab. We’re not a Deaf Studies lab. We don’t do Deaf Education research; we do not work on signed linguistics. We’re an engineering lab; we build things, we write design philosophy papers, we hack technologies, we make stuff. We also do these things in a culturally Deaf way, with traditions of hospitality towards people coming to us from hearing culture. We are intentional about what all of these things mean.
My colleagues and students are a mix of d/Deaf, HoH, and hearing; they come in with varying levels of experience with Deaf culture and ASL, and a willingness to learn and let our lives within the lab become part of our work on technologies – not just the things we’re building, but who we’re building with and how.
In general, we play out loud, both with our voices and our hands, using all the tools and toys available to us. Lab meetings are in ASL, with captioning and voice interpreting for those who are learning. Regardless of whether people are signers/non-signers, or hearing/non-hearing, everyone deliberately practices working with FM units, T-coil loops, captioners, interpreters, and the host of communication options that make access possible among a diverse group.
We have partnerships with ITPs (interpreter training programs) and realtime captioning communities for exploring how service providers can work with DHH professionals, which often requires a different kind of flexibility and role exploration (i.e. working with the role of Deaf doctor vs. Deaf patient, or HoH professor vs. HoH student – where the DHH person is the expert in charge and not just the recipient of services/information).
We also deliberately look at other avenues of access and inclusion; all our lab gatherings are at wheelchair-accessible locations and family-friendly timings. The events we plan have vegan/gluten-free/nut-free food and ample breaks and quiet rooms and childcare, we attend to pronoun preferences and have a code of conduct that we practice enforcing (in this lab, emotional labor is labor). We caption our videos, we write image descriptions, and we advertise access contact points and options for everything we do. We practice what we preach; we’re engineers, we make the world, and we know that making the world inclusive is just as much a part of our engineering work as technical excellence and insightful publications. We ask for what we need, and give what we can.