OLATHE, Kan. — The Museum of Deaf History, Arts & Culture requires no spoken words be used throughout its exhibitions.
Curators use gestures and written notes to communicate with visitors so they can fully experience what it is like to live in a world with no sound.
“It’s to elevate and recognize the diversity of humanity. That’s what this museum is about,” said co-executive director Kim Anderson.
Anderson and fellow co-executive director Chriz Dally envision a future where people who are deaf or hard of hearing are seen as equals in society.
The pair works every day to shift oppressive ideologies that have hindered those in the community from reaching their full potential.
“Deaf people aren’t needing to be cured or fixed and rather to be inspired that we are just a different dimension of humanity as a whole,” Dally said. “We really strive to focus on helping people realize that their ideologies or perceptions of deaf people could really be changed.”
Anderson believes in order to fully unpack generations of societal barriers, people must understand historical context. The first ban on sign language dates back to 1880 during what is known as the Milan Conference.
“Deaf educators gathered in Milan from all over the world," Anderson said. "At that event, there was one deaf person, and the remainder of the attendees were non-deaf. They voted to ban the use of sign languages in deaf education."
It was not until recently that a bill called the Language Equality and Acquisition for Deaf Kids, better known as LEAD-K, protected deaf children's right to language.
“Kansas was the second state in the United States to pass a LEAD-K bill,” Anderson said.
Anderson and Dally hope visitors become aware of the numerous contributions made by those who are deaf and hard of hearing. Television, the light bulb, the internet and even the practice of “huddling” in football were all invented or inspired by deaf people.
“Thanks to these deaf individuals that come up with these inventions that really have a global-scale impact and that benefit all of humanity. We call that deaf gain — thats’ the terminology for that,” Anderson said.
Looking to the future, Anderson and Dally want more accessibility and better representation in positions of leadership, which can go a long way in leveling the playing field.
“Change happens where the power is, so we need that authentic representation in those levels within the system in order to affect change,” Anderson said.
The Museum of Deaf History, Arts & Culture is an independently-owned entity that operates on donations and grants. To help further its mission, you can donate here.