THAheadline Highlights: Bree Jones, Hands4Ears
Updated: Mar 14, 2019
Did you know that ninety percent of Deaf individuals are born to hearing families who never learn American Sign Language (ASL), which in most cases leads to no communication in the home?
This alarming statistic is one of the many reasons Bree Jones, founder of Hands4Ears made it her mission to serve the Deaf community by working to merge the gap between the Deaf and the Hearing. THAheadline had a Q&A with Bree where she shared her passion for change.
1. Tell us about Hand4Ears.
Hands4Ears is a program under the nonprofit the 'PowHERful woman.' Hands4Ears raises Deaf awareness by hosting workshops in the community for the hearing population to learn about this group of people, how to interact with them when meeting them, and basic communication skills. Typically when a hearing person encounters a Deaf person, they freeze up and don't know what to do, often resulting in trying to avoid them or ignoring them or rushing off. Therefore, the goal is to educate the hearing population about the Deaf to help ease social anxieties they may feel and bridge the gap in communication.
2. When did you first start ASL, how did you get started?
Originally, I was introduced to ASL when I was in 7th grade. However, it wasn't until college that I became consistent in learning the language. My university offered it as a foreign language for a graduation requirement. From 7th grade until my sophomore year of college, I had no interaction with ASL. I had plans on being a Psychologist, but clearly, those college classes altered my career path.
3. Why did you decide to be of service to the deaf community?
I decided to be of service to the Deaf community because I developed a passion for change. I want the world to see them the way I see them; a unique group of people who can fully elaborate on their thoughts and feelings by using their hands, facial expressions, and body language. I see them as some of the smartest people in the world, and I want them to be acknowledged for the many things they have contributed to society! If I don't service them, then someone will suffer. They have experienced enough as a community.
4. What did your family do to encourage you?
There was no particular encouragement because they didn't know much about it until I became super involved. However, my family, in general, is very supportive. Even if it's something crazy, as long as I truly believe in it, they're on board believing in me and encouraging me to continue to follow my dreams. Growing up, my family always told me, "find God's will for your life." I was lucky enough to find that at an early age. I know for a fact God has called me to do this.
5. Are there any ASL interpreters that inspire you?
Interpreters? No. But my former teacher who introduced me to ASL and Deaf Culture inspires me. She's an amazing woman, and we are literally the same person as far as our ideas, visions, and passions for the Deaf community. I am very blessed to have her in my life as someone I look up to.
6. Where have you gained the experience necessary to do ASL?
I have gained experience through college courses, through my interpreter training program, by immersing myself fully into the Deaf community, and by even providing services to community centers. Since ASL is always evolving, I will never stop learning.
7. What are some stereotypes and misconceptions about the deaf community that you would like to break?
The stereotypes and misconceptions I will break are the idea that Deaf people are dumb, they are helpless people, it's impossible for them to be independent, they can't navigate the world, they read Braille; which makes absolutely no sense considering that braille is for BLIND PEOPLE! Deaf and blind are two different things, which unless someone is Deaf-Blind, and that is a whole different topic. The list goes on and on, but I do my best to "normalize" the Deaf community by telling people fun facts such as Beethoven (the most famous composer in the world) composed his most famous piece known while Deaf. Whatever stereotypes or misconceptions I do not break, I will make sure that the foundation I lay out is so replicable that the legacy will have no choice but to continue.
8. What are some challenges/positives you have faced since creating Hands4Ears?
I am the only one (to some degree) doing what I am doing. That in itself is a challenge I have faced and am still facing because I have to gain respect, I have to make people care (most hearing people do not care because it doesn't personally affect them), and also there's no blueprint for it. I don't have anyone to look at who has done this before, so I am creating everything day by day as I go along. You can only imagine the daily trials and errors.
The positives make it all worth it. Deaf people who have seen my YouTube or my Instagram and have often messaged me telling me how thankful they are for shining light on their community. I have loads of messages on Facebook that are filled with gratitude because they see that I genuinely care. When hearing people tell me, "Oh my Gosh Bree, I ran into a Deaf person today, and I slightly knew how to communicate with them, it didn't feel awkward! Thank you!" Those are the positives.
9. What else can we expect from you in the future?
You can expect so many things in the future from me. The first thing you can expect from me is a book! I just finished writing it, so I am unsure of when it will be released. Second, I plan on enrolling at Gallaudet University (the only university in the entire nation that is dedicated to the Deaf and hard of hearing) come fall 2017 to get my Master's in Interpreting Practice & Research and Deaf Studies. I have much more visions, ideas, and projects for the future, but I'll keep that under wraps for now.
At the young age of 22, this Deaf community merger is wise beyond her years and is bound to go far. To stay in THA know with Bree, be sure to subscribe to her YouTube channel, Hands4Ears and follow her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter at @Hands4Ears. You can also visit her online if you are interested in Deaf culture services.