Project Emerge Advisory Group Members
Good afternoon everyone, My name is Cindy and I am speaking to you on behalf of Joan, Georgia, Jaylenne and myself. We are a group of women with disabilities and who are Deaf and we are survivors of domestic and sexual violence. Together we make up the Project EMERGE Advisory Group. Project EMERGE is a collaboration between Vera House and ARISE to improve services for people with disabilities and Deaf individuals who may also be experiencing domestic and sexual violence.
We began in this advisory group together as strangers and now consider one another family- the best part of family. We have the trust and support of one another. Until this project, our experiences of trauma and having a disability or being Deaf have had so much negativity; our part in this project lets us use those negative experiences for something so productive. In the beginning, it was tough; there was so much raw emotion. The staff of Project EMERGE asked us so many questions and we wondered why they have to know so much and what really it has to do with us. They wanted us to talk about our trauma, things we had tried to keep hidden. They wanted to know how our disability or our experience of being Deaf braided together with our abuse history. Before Project EMERGE, we always either focused on the disability or the trauma but not how they were related. We struggled, the staff and all of us, trying to figure out how we accommodate all of our needs. We thought having people who are blind or Deaf in the same room would be mess, but we learned how to work with the interpreters and each other. We became more aware of how perfumes and scents including printed materials can affect someone’s emotions. We learned the value of having playdoh available when talking about the hard stuff. And we learned to ignore the flirtations of the service dogs, tempting us to feed and pet them.
We lend ourselves to sharing to build cohesiveness and at the end we are really walking away with so much more. By the end of our meeting time, we have learned from one another, we have taught one another, we have shared with one another about our own ability or inability to access services and what it means for someone else in our group to access services, we realized we may have similar disabilities but our needs are different, and we found safety in talking and sharing. As a result of what we have been as part of the Advisory Group members, we can see an increased awareness in the community about accommodations and the effects of our trauma experiences on receiving services, we are so proud to know that our experience is important.
We are so proud to have been a part of creating and revising so many things for ARISE and Vera House:
- A new brochure targeting people with disabilities or who are Deaf who may be experiencing domestic and/or sexual violence
- A review tool that helped ARISE and Vera House assess their ability to provide accessible and trauma informed services.
- Revising brochures at both agencies with language and designs that are simpler to read and look at it
- The creation of the ASL videos
- A training curriculum for staff at Vera House and ARISE that provides the foundation for understanding domestic and sexual violence and disability and Deaf Culture
We are delighted knowing that our experiences may be used by other programs across the country, as some of the materials are available to other programs. As much as we have done and offered to Project EMERGE, being a part of this group has done so much more for us. One of us has become more of a rebel- she feels stronger and more likely to rock the boat. For all of us this group encourages us to be more real and have the courage to express our feelings- ask for respect, ask for space because they we deserve it. We experienced bad things, thinking it was our fault, but when you hear the experiences of others, you realize that you are not alone. That it is not personal, that we have had the same experience. We feel empowered. Being part of this Advisory Group has been a healing process for us, an opportunity to grow as individuals and to make a difference in our community.