“The point is not to teach deaf students to be ‘just like hearing people who can’t hear’, but rather to enrich their lives and experiences within the deaf community, if they choose to be part of the deaf community.”
Mel Chua, writer and educator

  Mel at UNICEF with SOWC team

Last week we had the pleasure to host Mel Chua at the UNICEF New York Headquarters. It was nice to get to her know personally and very insightful to learn from her experiences and expertise. I remember when she introduced herself the first time to me a few months ago via email, she wrote: “I’m a deaf hacker, contagiously enthusiastic. I’ve also been called an open-source community ninja”. After this brief introduction, I thought already it would be a good experience to work with her. She is an amazing person, full of energy and possesses unique knowledge; Hence, I decided to dedicate this post to the experience on her visit to New York. Mel is a writer, educator and expert in inclusive education, open source technologies and radically transparent research (open research), among many other topics. For more details on her background, I would suggest to visit her blog to learn what she is currently working on
: http://blog.melchua.com/. She is currently collaborating with us on a research paper on job and education skills for young people with hearing disabilities using technology. The paper will be a theoretic foundation for our programmabilities project (see my first blog post: http://unicefstories.wordpress.com/2012/03/28/programmabilities-project-create-a-cohort-of-young-deaf-computer-programmers-2/.

One of the main goals is to evaluate the potential for youth with hearing disabilities to master technology skills and leverage these skills for learning and employment purposes as well as to create technology resources for their communities. The philosophy and approach behind the research project is one of radically transparent research. The radically transparent research is “an emergent qualitative research methodology inspired by Free and Open Source software and content projects”.  For more details feel free to visit the following website: http://radicallytransparentresearch.org/

 I would like to take this opportunity to share the three main parts of the Programmabilities research project in more detail, which Mel shared with us during her visit.

1) Opportunities for learning experience – open communities
2) Need for access – deaf computing education
3) Resources – developing world

1) What are the learning experiences that open source communities can offer?

a. Apprenticeship/career building: one of the examples used by Mel was Google’s Summer of Code program. This program is a full time internship where students will work on small projects within a bigger one, including the final “capstone” experience.  Mel added: “sometimes open source projects will have a ‘hackathons’ where people will gather online to work on a specific task together, it is like a barn-raising party, but with software instead of barns, participation from different locations and with people talking in a chatroom during the event”. Some requirements that participants/students of the open source community need to have:

 i. Remote communication (chat, emails);
 ii. Fluency in English or in the language used by the open source community;
 iii. Familiarity with basic computer usage, be able to follow instruction on how to install and use software applications;
 iv. A mentor/someone who lead the student through the process/ to help facilitating testing and communication online.

2) Deaf Education

a. It is important to underline the requirements deaf students would need to fully participate in open source communities. For instance:

 i. “Fluency in written English”. This might be difficult for deaf students whose primary language is sign language. However, many schools/centers for deaf adolescents have specific classes and programmes to help with written English.
ii. A closer look at the local deaf culture, language and community (which is, in some cases different from deaf schools) is imperative. In this regard, Mel said “the point is not to teach deaf students to be ‘just like hearing people who can’t hear’, but rather to enrich their lives and experiences within the deaf community, if they choose to be part of the deaf community.”

b. One other aspect to take into account is (with the help of open source communities) giving deaf adolescents training on social skills/ social preparedness for their working life.

3) Available resources and the developing world 

a. The following components need to be considered: (1) the learning experiences gained with the use of open communities and (2) having appropriate resources available for deaf adolescents.  If those two aspects are realized, the open source community platform can be seen as a place where deaf and non-deaf students have a chance to develop high educational and social skills.
The research paper will analyse what can realistically be implemented in various contexts of under-resourced areas.  

 The purpose of this blog post is to provide a brief introduction on the content of the project Mel is currently working on with us. If you are interested in following the development of the project visit the following link: http://teachingopensource.org/index.php/User:Mchua/Programmabilities.

Mel at UNICEF with the Disability and the SOWC team