Deaf Culture Is Dope & Ava Is Here for It

th the new generation, the new era that we live in — being able to interpret accordingly instead of being stuck in the past. I think that has been the big picture with the black Deaf interpreters accurately representing the festival or by having quality interpreters showing that we can enjoy music. It doesn’t have to be [unanimated]. You can vibe with it. Now, if you can’t vibe, that’s your problem, but I want people who can vibe on the team.

Something that's being talked about in the captioning space is how captioning is able to capture AAVE (African-American Vernacular English). Do you know about that, or want to comment?

That’s a great question. I saw a show on TV the other day, a cartoon with a black father and son communicating in sign language. And I remember thinking that the signs were correct, but the facial expressions not so much. I’m not sure if captions can show that. It’s tough to really show it, but if you know it, you know it when you see it. If you don’t know it, it’s hard to explain from the outside looking in.

Matt stands in front of a blue painted gate with the mural of two hands fist bumping. He wears a black shirt that says "Sign and Chill", signals "I love you" in ASL and smiles.

Source: CNN

When you’re watching a horror movie, captions may include leaves crumbling, or the door creaking, and it helps you paint the picture. But when it comes to cultural linguistics or speaking, it’s hard to put that into words. You can break it down and explain it, but then you’re adding more text to the captions, and for those reading, it’s like you’re constantly playing catch up.

I understand the struggles with caption. I understand the goals and the frustration with trying to achieve the goals. I’m not a technology person, I don’t know the backend, or the process, but I do know when I see something that works. I can vouch for and verify when something will have an impact on someone like myself.

It’s helpful that technology has been able to bring conversations to life. The fact that Ava is something I can bring to a business meeting is impactful. When people ask what I’m using, I explain that this is something to help me understand what people are saying in the room in real time. We get that understanding through technology sparking the discussion.

You mention wanting to bring Deaf awareness to educational spaces. Where do you think the education system needs to improve for Deaf students?

I think the education system needs to understand the system that has been set up for us has not really been for us. It’s been for them and ADA compliance and convenience. I think the more we become accepting and the more we become aware, the more we become a part of the Deaf experience. I’m not blind, but the more I learn about the blind experience, it helps me become more conscious about how I approach them. What do I say? How do I help? Do I do everything for them? No, they value their independence. So, how do I support?

In a classroom, Matt stands on stage teaching in sign language to an attentive audience of students.

Source: Anya Ball

I don’t think those kinds of questions have 100% hit the educational system yet. It’s more of the mindset that things must be working if we haven’t gotten any complaints, so we’ll just keep doing what we’re doing. When a lot of the products of those systems end up being youth lost in life, depressed, anxious, unsure of their identity, all things that are hard to document on paper as it may not be deemed relevant to school.

The school may say we had a 100% graduate success rate, but they don’t mention that after graduation these students had to go on antidepressants because they don’t feel like part of the program. I think that’s where the school systems can improve. They can put more value on the human experience, and less on the numbers, papers and statistics.  

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Ava celebrates Deaf awareness throughout the year and commends our fellow advocates of the Deaf community. DEAFinitely Dope has grabbed the attention of educational institutions, media outlets, artists, including Chance the Rapper, and festivals across the country.

Matt Maxey turned personal struggle into opportunity for himself and for others — a lesson to emulate. He makes a point to keep the human experience at the center of his mission, and encourages the system to do the same.

As Deaf awareness for inclusivity and equality increases, creative thinking combined with inventive technology continues to aid access and keep progress in motion. Visual language and alternative means of communication, such as ASL and live caption options whenever there is audio present is not only about access, it’s about human connection.