Ana Arce: Pioneering Deaf educator

The advocate at work. / Photograph courtesy of DLS-CSB SDEAS/Deaf E-News

A trailblazing galaxy that continues to string more stars together in time, one that simply refuses to fade away and shines even more in the face of challenges, Ana Arce is utterly unstoppable.

However, as a Deaf student in her early learning environments that misunderstood her needs, she always felt like an outsider. In elementary, she was taught to lip-read and use hearing aids. Her frustration was ever-present due to the expectations to speak — and thus survive — through oral communication.

Luckily, she was soon enrolled at a sign language school. This was the setting where she desired to belong.

Her college days brought the all-too-familiar woes until she discovered the School of Deaf Education and Applied Studies of the De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde (DLS-CSB SDEAS). This was the milieu where she was absolutely accepted, totally accommodated, and continued to glow. On the much-awaited day where she graduated magna cum laude, she broke barriers when she thoroughly delivered the commencement speech in sign language, to an awed and inspired audience.

She facilitates a Deaf Studies seminar at Gallaudet University. / Photographs courtesy of Ana Arce

Her pioneering journey picked up when she pursued graduate studies at the prestigious Gallaudet University in Washington, DC, the first institution for the advanced education of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing in the world. The first Filipina to receive the

Nippon-Gallaudet World Deaf Leadership Scholarship, her thesis was honored with the George V. Veditz Award, a testament to her excellent study. Truly, she constantly shone.

We have lost touch through the years. But the recent International Women’s Day reminded me of her and her past achievements. I have reconnected with her with a warm welcome.

Here are excerpts of my short chat with Ana Arce:

On the politically correct term for the Deaf:

Members of the Deaf community prefer to be called Deaf, with the capital D. Not hearing impaired, deaf-mute or deaf-dumb. Some people likewise have a residual hearing — they are referred to as Hard of Hearing. I personally prefer to be called Deaf.

On learnings from the Gallaudet University:

I realized that we, Deaf people, are bilingual as we can communicate with both hearing and Deaf people using two languages — natural signs and written medium.

Intersectionality and Social Justice are important to us, Deaf people, as we have intersecting identities and we face discrimination in our society. We must respond to those who treat us differently.

Ana teaches Deaf undergraduate students at DLS-CSB SDEAS.

On current advocacy projects:

I advocate for bilingual students. Deaf students have the right to be bilingual — Filipino Sign Language (FSL) and written language such as English or Filipino in all settings.

I am frequently tapped to facilitate Bilingual-Bicultural workshops for teachers of the Deaf who teach bilingual methodologies in classrooms. Deaf students are learning bicultural — Deaf and hearing culture as we live in an inclusive society.

On involvements with her self-founded NGO:

I completed my term as the president of the Development and Accessibility Fund for the Deaf. However, I am actively advocating for Deaf rights. As I am often invited by NGO and multinational corporations to share my experiences in different fora, I aim to create awareness in disability inclusion at home, office, academe and social services.

On the lessons as a Deaf educator:

Deaf Identity is key. Several Deaf people struggle to find their identity before they come to the DLS-CSB SDEAS, where I am currently a faculty member and Deaf Studies coordinator. Deaf Studies courses assist them to gain a deeper understanding of Deaf people’s lives. They may have hearing loss, but they have the capabilities.

My Deaf students have developed their confidence and accepted their Deaf identity. Today, my former Deaf students are now Deaf leader-advocates who fight for FSL and establish Deaf NGO in their hometowns.

On future plans:

I have no current plans for further studies, for I still wish to pursue several causes for the welfare and promotion of Deaf rights and see more Deaf students enrolled in school, especially in college.

On hopes for the Deaf community:

As the FSL law was passed in 2018, my hopes for the Deaf community are to see more Deaf teachers who will teach FSL. I would likewise want to see Deaf Studies subjects in all public and private schools.

Deaf students can emulate Deaf adult models, as the majority of Deaf and hard of hearing students are born to families who do not sign. They can benefit from Deaf adults to share their experiences about growing up, teach them natural sign language, share career options and learn about Deaf culture.


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