Part of what I love about Penn is that I can always find an event to attend at any time, whether on campus or nearby. A few weeks ago, a friend invited me to accompany her to an event organized by Penn in Hand, a student club that promotes issues related to the deaf community.
The event was a concert for international hip-hop artist Signmark. A native of Finland, Marko “Signmark” Vouriheimo was born deaf and is the first deaf person to receive a record deal. His music is full of low frequencies and heavy bass and is performed bilingually in American Sign Language (ASL) and spoken American English. The latter is provided by Signmark’s “voice,” hip-hop artist Brandon, while Signmark performs his signed lyrics in ASL.
The experience was unlike anything I’d ever seen. People all around me where signing, many of them able to hear, but who had learned or were learning ASL. Having taken two ASL classes at Penn this year, my friend taught me a few basic signs throughout the night, and we both tried to pick up more from the lyrics that Signmark was performing. The music was surprisingly good. The performance was enhanced by the signing and an accompanying background visual display, and the room was full of energy.
During that evening at the Penn in Hand event, I felt as if I was in an established society where I had so much to learn and gain.
As Signmark makes clear through his music, the deaf should not be considered to be handicapped but rather “a linguistic minority with their own culture, community, history and heritage.”
After I left the event, I wondered why there aren’t more avenues and events catering to the deaf community. Why don’t more businesses realize this and try to attract the deaf community through innovative methods? Signmark’s performance model is definitely an example of how one can take a conventional model (business, performing arts or otherwise) and alter it to target and tap into a previously neglected consumer segment. The turnout that night alone was substantial, and I am sure that there are many in the Philadelphia deaf community who did not attend the concert.
Imagine the opportunities, especially in the media industry, in products, services and performances tailored to the deaf community that have previously not been explored or have not reached their full potential.
In the words of Signmark, “It’s about time for you to open your eyes, open your mind. It’s there for you to find/ no longer time to decline.”