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Think. Discuss. Act. Disabled Youth

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Helping Those Who Are Deaf

An article on service with the deaf as implemented by Young Life.


The insights are those of a volunteer Young Life leader in Frederick, Maryland, who runs an all-deaf club comprised of students from the Maryland School for the Deaf (MSD).

Program Background

There is continual tension surrounding the most effective way to reach deaf youth: should there exist an all-deaf group or should deaf kids be streamlined into hearing clubs? Many youth workers come to this work with the view that deaf kids need to learn to live in a hearing world. One volunteer Young Life leader, however, personally supports the idea of an all-deaf club (he is not deaf). He believes that the most effective strategy is to incorporate deaf leadership into youth work. This is a great asset in contact work where hearing leaders may have little frame of reference as they face language and cultural differences. Many deaf kids only want to relate to other deaf kids. Just as the incarnational witness incorporated into Young Life’s mission is one of meeting kids on their turf, so the leader doing contact work must go to the deaf culture.

Program Goals

There are advantages and disadvantages to streamlining deaf kids into hearing clubs. Some advantages include the visual means by which Young Life communicates; for example, the visual aspects of “minutes” is a winner with deaf kids. Similarly, the projector of songs and lyrics, use of drama, and the fast-paced humor are also successful. Disadvantages include cultural language differences, the pressure on the interpreter to make last minute decisions concerning the translation of song lyrics, messages, and other parts of club that use more idioms and common phrases not used in sign language. Moreover, deaf kids sometimes become the attraction to hearing kids who watch their every move. Also, the deaf can very quickly become spectators. They may have a lot of fun and enjoy a really good time, but the message may have been lost on them. The main goal is to accomplish all one can for the deaf kids in as normal and caring environment as possible. The specific goals of this club are not to streamline kids but to adapt ‘hearing’ programs to the deaf and give them the same advantages in their ‘non-hearing’ world as we give normal hearing kids in regular youth group and club settings.

Program Methods

The all-deaf club does not offer a traditional Young Life club talk with an animated speaker trying engage a passive audience; rather, the message is much an exchange between the speaker and the kids-there is more of a question and answer feel to it, with plenty of feedback. The group will also occasionally do songs, usually selecting songs with more repetition in the chorus, and not as many words in the songs. Students often act out a song. Drama is sometimes used in place of a song.

Program Operation

Some advice for starting such a program: leaders should be aware of what already exists; they must not duplicate services. Secondly, the leader must work on deaf language skills; it is very important that there is sensitivity, interests and commitment to language. There also needs to be a raising up of deaf leaders to work with the kids. The average time for a youth worker to earn the trust of kids is 18-24 months; the average time for a deaf missionary is 5-7 years.

For the leader who starts finding deaf youth coming to his club, an interpreter is crucial. The leader cannot assume that the students are skilled at lip reading. Even the best lip reader can pick up only 40-50% of a conversation. Secondly, deaf students should be treated as any other kids. They have their own fears, needs, problems, and joys. One deaf girl went to Lake Champion (in 1990) to serve on the work crew; her attitude was, “I’m just like any other kid here, I just can’t hear.” The deaf can be paralleled to international kids in an exchange program: they are from another culture, they do not speak English as their first language, and they are eternally significant.


  1. With the general public accepting the handicapped with less and less stigma, handicapped kids are becoming more integrated and streamlined. Programs continue to advance and their capabilities continue to increase.
  2. Everyone eventually deals with a person who is disabled. It is worthwhile to serve to them, for they are an appreciative group of people who have to struggle daily just to survive.
  3. Youth workers should be willing and prepared to serve any types of kids who need them.

Jeff Chesemore & Anne Montague
© 2018 CYS

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