Motion Light Lab

Creating a signing world

As we acknowledge International Day of the Deaf, we look at how Dela programme participant Motion Light Lab is working to end language deprivation for Deaf children.

This article features Melissa Malzkuhn, the founder and director of Motion Light Lab. Melissa is an Ashoka Fellow and a participant in the third edition of the Dela programme, a global systems change accelerator co-created by Ashoka and IKEA Social Entrepreneurship.

The article first appeared on Medium


Language deprivation is a challenge in the Deaf community

Often people take communicating in their native languages for granted. Do you remember acquiring your first language? Most people do not.

This development occurs so early in life—from birth to age three. As one matures from a baby to a child, they accumulate new words, which are stockpiled in an ever expanding mental library.

Most people may remember learning to read and write through school. However, the languages used to talk, express, and think are innate.

The same cannot be said for Deaf children. Immediate access to their native language—sign language—is not simply given. 95 percent of deaf children are born to hearing families. Their access to sign language requires intent. This means sign language has to be learned, provided, and incorporated within a family unit. For a visual child, sign language is the pathway to developing foundations, healthy cognitive growth, and overall well-being. Yet in the United States, 88 percent of those hearing families do not sign.

This is troubling on many levels. For one, this means the deaf child grows up without access to sign language, and is at risk for language deprivation. Language deprivation has a serious lifelong impact on literacy, academia, and overall development. Language deprivation also walks hand in hand with emotional and mental trauma. Additionally, researchers have found that Adverse Childhood Communication Experiences can lead to an increase in chronic health issues.

Can you imagine not being able to articulate your thoughts and feelings comfortably? No one should have to face this dilemma. Unfortunately, language deprivation is an epidemic in the Deaf community, globally, with devastating effects.

Increasing impact through partnerships

Recognizing the need to build partnerships of alike-minded organizations, Motion Light Lab connected with Jodee Crace and Paula Pittman of SKI-HI, a U.S. deaf mentor organization. Through the Dela Accelerator program, it helped the team organize and plan for bigger systemic change, and in order to ensure language access for deaf children, there is a need to build a coordinated alliance of organizations to educate hearing parents on the benefits of ASL, provide easy-to-access ASL learning resources as well as peer-to-peer support networks.

While gathering data for this program, ML2 conducted a parents focus group. All parents in the group emphasized the need for support as soon as possible–especially coupled with a Deaf mentor and materials to help the ASL learning process.

Partnering with SKI-HI is an integral way to scaffold the realization of a shared vision of a world where language deprivation is nonexistent. Such alliances will lead to an increased percentage of hearing parents signing with their children from birth, and therefore more Deaf children gaining a strong language foundation by age 5.

ML2’s ultimate goal—and the core of their work—is making sign language a human right. This will be possible through a movement that is greater than a single person, a lab, or a team; this requires a community mobilization. ML2 will strive for change, through community building, unity, cohesion, and shared values for a better world.

Dela Accelerator has helped support ML2’s work forward by connecting the team with like-minded peers, fellow activists, and social justice warriors. Those connections help to strengthen Motion Light Lab’s capability to propel meaningful change. Ultimately, once a signing world is created, no child will be left out. The world can be inclusive, and it starts at birth with sign language access for every deaf child.



About Dela  

Ashoka and IKEA Social Entrepreneurship have created a global accelerator to offer space to scale social initiatives. During the first two editions of the Dela Program, 204 selected experts from the global social and corporate innovation sector (including IKEA co-workers and associates from companies such as Microsoft) provided 24 leading social entrepreneurs with support in developing an impact scaling strategy, testing its elements in practice. In addition to the strategic work, the program enabled financial support, networking and offered other opportunities for participating social entrepreneurs selected from the Ashoka Network.