DeafKids Code: Advocacy for Our Children
~ By Shireen Hafeez
I started my organization Deaf Kids Code after being involved with advocacy for kids like my son – kids who are Deaf or hard of hearing.
Listening Devices are NOT the Answer
Just like most parents who struggle to navigate through the unknown and unpredictable journey of their child’s diagnosis, I too yearned for clarity and a road map. There was none. No amount of knowledge or research would enlighten me with easy answers or give rise to being able to make definite decisions regarding my child. We do the best that we can, but we do so as we drive through fog without a GPS to guide us. All that we have, ultimately, is our intuition, yearning for access, and inclusion in a world we know will not bend for our children’s need. We also are aware that the high unemployment rate and low educational outcomes have not been solved through assisted listening devices – there is nothing that replaces the human ear. So now what?
So What IS the Answer?
I had concluded that my child’s destination in life would not be altered because of his diagnosis; instead, we would brace ourselves for the arduous journey we would take to get there. We would pivot from the traditional path we would have otherwise taken.
For years, I realized that the rapidly changing workforce and the nature of the way we work are ever increasingly accessible for kids like ours. To put it in perspective, 71% of all new jobs are in computing. It is the new literacy. It is global, it is visual, and it is empowering. Where is the advantage for our kids in all this? There are not enough people to fill these job openings. It is estimated that by the year 2022, there will be 1,000,000 jobs needing folks with the know-how to fill these positions. Why not our kids? Why not?
DeafKids Code Established
After searching for opportunities where my child could learn about computer science and technology, I found them to be very costly and inconveniently located. I tried to get local organizations and institutions to take this on for our kids. No one saw the return of investment so no one was willing to do it. Unfortunate. So I decided to create the institution – be the institution. I decided Deaf Kids Code would be a zero barrier to access for our kids. No cost to schools, teachers, students, or parents- NO BARRIER.
In a few short years, what was intended to be a local grassroots effort that would work out of Indiana and Illinois has very quickly scaled into a national outreach organization. A 100% volunteer run organization on a modest budget and sheer will power with a high impact is testament to the “build it and they will come” mantra. By the end of 2019, we will have worked with kids in states around almost half the U.S. I know that when I reflect on all of this, it is so humbling. I remember a few weeks ago after a workshop I presented at the Alabama School for the Deaf, a young man said, “I believe that I can change the world with technology.” He is right because I always say to them that the one who knows how to create technology is the one who yields the power.