Vzaimno interviewed Gary Malkowski. He was Canada’s first deaf parliamentarian, and the first deaf parliamentarian in the world to address a legislature in a sign language, specifically American Sign Language (ASL).
Ivan: Please introduce yourself.
Hello! My name is Gary Malkowski.Ivan: What year were you born in?
I was born in 1958 (in Hamilton, Ontario).
Ivan: Tell me about your family?
My mother and father are hearing. My brother and sisters are all hearing. I am the only Deaf child in the family.
Ivan: Where did your parents come from?
My father is from Poland and my mother is from France.
Ivan: What school did you go to?
I went to deaf school when I was 5 years old.
Ivan: Tell me about yourself? From the time you went to school and up to the time you graduated from University.
The school I went to was not taught in sign language. They taught orally which I did not understand. They placed me in a class suited for those who cannot hear, read/write or understand. From 5 to 15 years old, I did not fully understand. There were other Deaf students who were much smarter and I just couldn’t keep up with them. They looked at me as if I was someone who is illiterate. During sports activities, a very good friend of mine – I loved playing sports, something I excelled in – told me that I should go to Gallaudet University. Gallaudet University is the only Deaf University in the world and it’s in Washington D.C., USA. He said I could do it and that I should go. I thought to myself maybe I should go. So I asked the teacher and principal at my school if I could take the entrance test. The teacher and principal told me I couldn’t possibly do it because I could not read nor understand. But I insisted that I wanted to give it a try. Sure enough, I couldn’t understand the questions but I gave it my best shot. When the acceptance letter was posted, my name was on the list. This means I was accepted. I was shocked and so were the teachers and administrators of the school. How could I possibly have passed the test and be accepted. Nevertheless, I went to Gallaudet University. I went to Gallaudet University when I was 17 years old. Fairly young and I was in awe, completely shocked. I have never seen a deaf teacher nor have I ever seen a hearing teacher fluent in sign language. I have never seen a sign language interpreter nor have I ever seen closed captioning. Computers were not available at that time. I was in a complete shock, culturally shocked. I couldn’t read or write but I persisted with patience. I worked very hard, studying and learning how to write. I socialized with deaf peers who are brilliant. I immersed myself completely and stayed for 5 years. I was studying psychology and this enables me to understand how I can assist deaf individuals in advocating for their rights. I received my Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree in Psychology and Social Work. I stayed for another 2 years to get my Masters (MA) degree in rehabilitation counseling. I was involved in advancing the rights of Deaf individuals. I also was educating myself from seeing many political protests that occurred in Washington DC. This allowed me to learn how to get involved in politics. I was working at Canadian Hearing Society (CHS), a service agency that assisted Deaf, deafened, hard of hearing and other individuals in search of employment. During my employment, I counseled many individuals who could not hear nor speak but was fluent in sign language. They were capable of expressing themselves very well through sign language. I was angered that there were so many barriers so I got involved in Ontario Association of the Deaf (OAD), a provincial organization affiliated to Canadian Association of the Deaf (CAD). A committee was formed and we raised awareness on Deaf rights. During that time, Deaf President Now was happening at Gallaudet University, deaf students were demanding that a Deaf President be hired. We copied that model for OAD, changing the demands to hiring Deaf Teachers, Deaf principal, and recognizing Sign Language (ASL). Our theme was Deaf Ontario Now along with Deaf Teacher Now and Sign Language Now. The protest attracted more than 1,000 Deaf people. We demanded that the provincial government hear us.
The protests got the provincial government’s attention. Media was involved and broadcasted the news Canada-wide. I have given DVD of the protest to Ivan so he can share with you all. During the advocacy period, I was becoming well known in Deaf community as well as in hearing community. I was approached to see if I would be interested in getting involved in parliament as an MPP. I went door to door and was elected as an MPP for my riding. Hearing people voted for me. I was the first Deaf Parliamentarian in Ontario and across Canada. I was involved in getting the law passed that allowed the Deaf schools to continue, and this resulted in hiring 86 Deaf teachers, Deaf principal and advocated University to establish Deaf Teacher training program. CHS was able to expand number of staff to 450, 20 region offices were set up across Ontario with deaf Directors, managers and supervisors.
I now work as a Special Advisor to President & CEO of CHS.
Ivan: How were you elected as a Parliamentarian for Ontario Government?
How did I get elected as a Parliamentarian for Ontario Government, specifically as a Parliament assistant to Minister of Education? I was a good friend of former NDP MPP, Richard Johnston. He encouraged me to get involved, along with sign language interpreter and taught me how to advocate for Deaf rights and how to use media to spread the message. He taught me how to give appropriate presentations and how to present myself. I always had qualified sign language interpreters that are skilled in politics with me. When I was elected, I came up with an idea of placing a name card in front of me saying “I am Deaf, vote for me,” this attracted media’s and hearing’s attention. I am very good at making loud statement, giving an inspiring presentation that motivated everyone in electing me.
I am here in Ontario Legislature with former NDP MPP, Gary Malkowski. Gary was sitting in the far corner with 2 interpreters on the legislature floor. All other MPP’s were hearing and Gary was an MPP for 5 years. I was inspired by the fact that Gary was the first Deaf parliamentarian and was appreciative of having the opportunity to meet him. Gary has showed me around the building and enlightened me with his stories.
Yes, when I was elected, I was the first Deaf person whose primary communication is American Sign Language (ASL). I sat in the far corner and 2 interpreters stood on the legislature floor not too far away from me. I was elected from 1990 to 1995, 5 years as NDP MPP. This means any Deaf people can be elected as MPP and be involved in Legislature. Any Bulgarian Deaf people can get involved in politics and get elected as a member.
Ivan: You did not have to speak nor write? You communicated only in ASL?
Gary: Yes, correct. I never had to speak, I cannot hear. I was born deaf, I went to deaf school, ASL is my primary communication, I am still Deaf. You CAN do it!
Ivan: Thank you Gary for sharing your stories as a first Deaf Parliamentarian.
Gary: During the legislature voting, all lights were configured to flash when MPP’s were required on the floor to vote on the law. I was provided with 6 sign language interpreters 24/7. This allows me to get involved in communicating with Richard Johnston on how to advocate on hiring Deaf Teachers and not only that, I was able to communicate with hearing members in my ridings. This enables me to advocate for their rights with regards to local school, get involved in Clean Air (environment), assisting children in poverty, people living in apartment not able to afford to pay monthly, I assisted them in getting the monthly payment reduced. Not only did I advocate for the Deaf, I also advocated for persons with disability, sought for funds to fund projects and I also gave numerous presentations. Not only did I give presentations locally, people from all over the world requested my presence so I travelled across Canada, USA and Europe. I went to World Federation of the Deaf congress in Japan, Austria, and Spain and gave presentations on being first Deaf parliamentarian.
Now there are 15 Deaf parliamentarians around the world. Numbers are increasing and that is wonderful. There’s one in Hungary, Greece, Austria, South Africa, Iceland and China. Many are cropping up worldwide. Look at me, I am Deaf, I cannot speak, I cannot hear, I cannot lip-read and yet, I can communicate by using sign language interpreters. This shows what? You CAN too. You do not have to speak or hear. Look at me! I am COMPLETELY Deaf, stoned Deaf! I cannot speak! I cannot lip-read! This proves I am capable of functioning in hearing world and be involved as a parliamentarian as well as in Deaf world. This is a wake up call! What’s important is that you stay away from the word “I CAN’T” and change your thinking to “I CAN”. Change your attitude from “I CAN’T” to “I CAN” and do not let others tell you that you CAN’T. Everyone needs to change how he or she thinks and think that the Deaf “CAN”.
Ivan: When visiting Ontario Provincial Government, I was asked to sign the guest book. I signed the guest book with my name, where I was from and when did I visit.
Ivan: After having toured Queen’s Park, I had to return the visitor’s badge prior to leaving.
Ivan: What do you mean by Audism (Звукизъм)? Can you explain?
Gary: You know when you see how hearing people would look at you and sympathize that you’re deaf. They would say, “I am sorry you cannot hear, cannot speak and are not intelligent.” And for these deaf people who can speak, hear and are intelligent, looks down on others. That’s an attitude of looking down on others. Look at me, I cannot speak, I cannot hear, I cannot lip-read but I do have a mind of my own, I am intelligent. The problem is that hearing and also deaf who look down on us. Oh yes, there’s deaf people who can speak their mind, or expressed themselves well, portrays themselves as being intelligent would look down on others and thinking they’re not intelligent. That’s so wrong! That’s NOT acceptable! That’s audism. Let me emphasize it, its AUDISM (Звукизъм)!
It’s important to understand that if you’re being oppressed because you cannot hear, that’s audism. Deaf people cannot work because they cannot hear? Deaf people cannot lip-read? That’s audism!
Leaders of the deaf community who shows that they’re smart and can speak well and pushes away those who cannot – that’s audism!
What’s really important is that ALL deaf people can function and using sign language as their method of communication are all equally the same. With the attitude of can’t, that’s audism! Who is to say you can’t? That’s not acceptable! You CAN! Look at me! Ever since I was young, I could not understand, I could not speak and I could not write. Look at me now; this just proves that I can. I was able to express naturally, using sign language. Hearing people elected me as a parliamentarian. The world sees it. This shows Deaf people can do it. I overcame audism. You can too!
Ivan: Can you explain differences of distinct groups and Deaf culture?
Gary: Who invented light bulb? Deaf scientist! Who invented sign language? Deaf people from many years ago. This shows that deaf people CAN! (If you can DREAM IT, You can DO IT). It is important for you to understand that within the deaf community, there are distinct groups – they are culturally Deaf, oral deaf, hard of hearing and deafened. These groups are all different. They all use different method of communication, expressed themselves differently and have different emotions. Hearing people do look down on them and that’s audism. It’s important to accept distinct group. It’s ok for those who are oral deaf to learn sign language and we should support them. Deafened people desiring to learn sign language, it’s ok as well. We should encourage them. To have hearing people telling us that we cannot, that’s not acceptable. It’s important for you to understand that there’s no right or wrong. If you oppress them, that’s very wrong! If a deaf person wants to learn how to speak, that’s their choice and we should respect them. If they want to learn sign language, we should encourage and support them. A culturally Deaf individual who communicates ASL fluently rejects those who cannot have a very wrong attitude. It is really important to respect everyone. What’s really important is when you see these who thinks they cannot do anything is to change their attitude. You must encourage them to change their way of thinking.
Ivan: Should Sign Language be preserved and what can be done to preserve Bulgaria Sign Language? (Show video of Ivan with ASL Book)
Gary: It’s important that Deaf people preserve sign language. This should be disseminated by group of deaf people. Hearing linguistics can get involved but act as an advisor only. Only a group of deaf people can officially accept sign language. Respecting the rights of their sign language – linguistically. What’s important is that you do not do research based on auditory but rather on expressive language. The research must be based on several categories of information, including lexical distinction, grammatical structure, adjectival or adverbial content, and discourse functions based on postures or movements of the body, head, eyebrows, eyes, cheeks, and mouth. Sign language belongs to Deaf, it is their right. Now there are more people getting involved especially hearing parents wanting to teach their babies. Sports organizations, especially referees, they use hand signals. In place of employment, employees using hand gestures to communicate. At airport, you have a person using hand signals. When scuba diving, you use gestures to communicate. This is one way of communicating. It is important that hearing people recognizes that deaf people can communicate, expressing their thoughts. It is important that everyone does not look at auditory but rather at individual who can share thoughts and this may mean through sign language. So a group of deaf individuals is the only group of people that can officially approve the development of Bulgarian Sign Language book. Not one person can, it needs to be a group of deaf people who collectively agree what’s Bulgarian Sign Language. To produce a book, a group of people need to work on it and not a single person, be it deaf or hearing. A single person cannot expect group of deaf people to accept what she or he has developed in the book without consulting them. It is important to get inputs from a group of deaf people. It is their language, a way to celebrate their life, their language and take pride in their language. Show the world of your pride and that’s important.
Ivan: What do you do in your current position?
Gary: I work as a Special Advisor to the President at Canadian Hearing Society (CHS). I let the President & CEO know of any new or changes in the provincial law. I work with government by educating them about deaf culture and language. I also provide recommendations based on my knowledge and inputs from deaf community. I give presentations throughout Ontario on Deaf rights. I also give presentations to hearing audiences, employers about Deaf rights, audism and accessibility. I am also involved in UN CRPD committee, providing information and educating them of deaf needs.
Ivan: Just before our interview started, we discussed how Deaf Bulgarians were doing in their daily lives. You mentioned that you had the privilege of meeting Vasil Panev several times. Can you tell me how and where did you meet him?
Gary: Hello Vasil! I have had the privileges of meeting you at several places, Japan 1992 (1991), Austria, 1995, Montreal, Canada, 2003 and Spain, 2007. I have high respect for you as a President of Bulgaria Deaf Association. You led the organization for 50 years and this is admirable. However, I think it’s high time for you to pass down to those young and interested deaf members in the community who have new ideas and are motivated. It is important to recognize them and allow them to contribute. The thinking of that they cannot do it is not acceptable and should not be encouraged. Do you remember the time when you asked me if I was deaf and I said I am? You expressed how sorry you were and I was taken aback and said I am proud to be Deaf. Proud to be a member of deaf community who are equally capable of doing anything like hearing people. What’s really important is that you encourage everyone to get involve and not discriminate them. Allowing them to grow and be a contributing member of the society. Hearing and speaking should be put aside – what’s really important is that they receive information through sign language, allowing them to be part of the community. I really respect you and I encourage you to encourage everyone to get more involved, take pride in their identity and their language. Do not think that they cannot do it. It’s a high time that you change your way of thinking from CAN’T to CAN. Union of the Deaf Bulgarian can get stronger by involving all deaf people, fighting for their rights and getting recognition of their sign language. You cannot be the only person to lead the organization, there are numerous of deaf people wanting to get involved. There’s Ivan and there’s also many deaf activists in your country that wants to make things better for deaf Bulgarians. It is important that you step aside and lead the way for those that want to do better. Your support is needed. All the best!
Ivan: Any last comments you would like to make?
Gary: In closing, I want to convey an important message to all Deaf Bulgarians. Knowledge is power. It is important for all deaf members in Bulgaria to be united and work together in achieving common goals. Gathering information from World Federation of the Deaf (WFD). Preserving and supporting the activities that Union of the Deaf in Bulgaria organization does and will do. Working closely with other organization such as Canadian Association of the Deaf, Gallaudet University, Ivan’s website Vzaimno and H3 through Internet. Learn as much as you can, educate yourself of your rights. The future of Deaf children is critically important; they want to do better, to take pride of their sign language and to have a mentor. A mentor that shows any deaf person CAN do it, can work and be a contributing member of the society. The attitude of CAN’T must not be tolerated. Audism must not be tolerated. Discrimination must not be tolerated. To be oppressed by Deaf people especially Vasil Panev must not be tolerated or accepted.
Work together, be united and hopefully someday, one day, one of you will be involved in parliament and I look forward to it! Remember there are many across Europe, there’s Hungary, Austria, England and Canada had one, me! We can do it! You can do it! Deaf children will look up to you and be inspired. Do not let your dreams be evaporated by others. Bulgarian deaf CAN do it. You CAN do it!
All the best!
Ivan: Thank you Gary, for taking the time out of his busy schedule for the interview. I was honored for having the opportunity to meet with him. He inspired me and I hope this interview will inspire you all.
Gary talked about so many things. Being a parliamentarian and Deaf advocator, he taught and inspired so many people through meetings and presentations worldwide. Through this interview, I have learned so much about audism, discrimination and respecting others.
Deaf can! Deaf can! Deaf can!
Deaf now! Deaf now! Deaf NOW!