Markku Jokinen’s Story: For a Better World Ahead

markku

When looking back, I realize my path has been a path of huge learning. I am still doing the same all the time.

Growing up, we communicated in Finnish sign language alongside Finnish language in our family. Although my brother is hearing, he grew up to be bilingual and bicultural as I did. He has worked with deaf people in the area of deaf education, and worked also as a sign language interpreter. Perhaps our bilingual and bicultural environment and upbringing led him to work with deaf people for many years before moving to other jobs. The way I see it, our upbringing gave us both an advantage of seeing things and people from a point of multilingual and multicultural perspectives. Perhaps we could understand and grasp things that most people could not.

Both my deaf parents have always been involved in deaf community activities. They also supported and encouraged deaf children and their hearing parents around our home municipality. My parents never left lonely deaf persons alone, but brought them to different occasions arranged by them and other deaf persons. It seems that their passions and values have been passed down to me.

Deaf leaders guided me to realize my and other young deaf persons’ huge potentials. They taught us to be proud of ourselves. Former WFD President Dr Liisa Kauppinen has been my teacher and mentor from the beginning, and she still does both. When I really think about it, I now understand why I was involved in deaf organization activities and advocacy issues for many years during my study years and professional development. I’m sure my professional path couldn’t have gone any other way.

When I was about 5 years old I started to learn the basics to read in Finnish. Maybe this is why my relatives suggested my parents that I should join a public school instead of a special school for the deaf. My parents perhaps also thought it was the right path, so I never attend any school for the deaf. Yes, it was tough being put into that situation at such a young age, but on the other hand I think that it was the kind of schooling that prepared me for my next steps, although I do not recommend this to any deaf child. Fortunately, in addition to my deaf parents and deaf uncle during my childhood and youth I have had deaf friends.

It wasn’t until my university years that I first came across sign language interpreters. It was an amazing experience for me! For the first time in my life I could fully understand what the professor was discussing, as well as the students. That’s when I decided not to participate in different situations without sign language interpreters anymore, because I realized deeply that I have the same right to full and equal communication as anybody else. Nowadays, me and the hearing people I work with use them all the time.

I think that as a member of the deaf community and as an expert and representative of national and international organizations of the deaf, I learn the most by interacting with deaf people from other cultures and countries, as well as the non-deaf professionals of various fields. Constant communication and exchange of ideas and thoughts help me grow.

While in university, I mostly focused my studies on learning and teaching, later on teaching the deaf, bilingualism and bilingual education. I also expanded my studies, adding in linguistics, psycholinguistics and linguistics of sign language. I received an honorary doctorate from Gallaudet University in 2012 and from University of Jyväskylä in 2013.

One of the most important parts of my career so far has been as the president of the World Federation of the Deaf, when I attended the historical ICED (International Congress on Education for the Deaf) Congress in 2010 in Vancouver, Canada. It was at that event that we were finally able to remove the outdated and discriminative resolution from 1890 in Milan, Italy, banning sign language from the education of the deaf. Perhaps the most important task was to include sign language, deaf culture and identity in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities together with Dr Kauppinen and other deaf leaders.

After eight years as president, I decided to step down in order to see new areas and developments to work with as Executive Director of the Finnish Association of the Deaf. This way I can guarantee an increase in the quality of life and ensure the human rights for deaf people here in Finland and also all over the world. Amongst my most important tasks as Executive Director is developing linguistic and cultural rights of people using Finnish sign language and the ratification of the UN Convention on the rights of Persons with Disabilities, which has still not been approved.

Although it may appear that I’ve moved from the international sphere to a smaller, more national focus, that is not entirely the case. If we are to begin expanding laws and making changes meant to improve the lives of deaf people, we need to do it on a much larger scale than just one country at a time. We do not live in one certain country anymore, because we are dependent on and interact with each other today all the time, all over the world. We do live together on one planet we are deeply responsible for. This is why I am seeking to find solutions together with the European Union and even the world as a whole. Together we are always stronger.

Most importantly, I believe that in order to truly know why we are here and what we want to achieve, we must make a commitment to our goals. My goal is to improve the future for all deaf people through working with other people, and I believe that by staying in touch with the social and technological changes of our time it is paramount to make that change. We don’t want to find ourselves suddenly behind the times. We need to lead changes together with other people and show the way.

I am deaf, yet I’m a dance teacher – This is my story

I was born deaf. I don’t know the sound of a guitar, a ringing phone or even my mother’s voice. Despite this fact of my life I happen to be a Latin dance instructor for a living- I am teaching something many people thought I wouldn’t be even able to learn. Strange, isn’t it?

I was born and raised in Bratislava, the capital city of post-communist Slovakia. There were few advantages in school for deaf students and I was schooled with hearing children despite my handicap.

I understand that many deaf people don’t percieve their deafness as handicap, but I see it differently. Understanding my handicap, grasping it and turning it into what I wanted it to be, made me who I am today. I am a strong personality, a fighter, a dancer.

Dancing teacher

I remember being at school for the first time and writing in my notebook to my mother, “Write down everthing the teacher says.“ I wanted to know everything.

My Mother always motivated me to live and act like I was a hearing person. This didn’t mean denying who I am, but meant understanding the world we live in as I was.

She taught me to speak using numerous home-made tools. Thanks to her, I can lip-read with little to no problems. Since day one she’s been encouraging me to “Say anything, anyhow, just keep talking“ and eventually I learned to form words the right way. I was able to read before I went to elementary school and my mother was integral in forming my attitudes towards learning and the world. I live my life finding a way to do things, not finding an excuse not to.

Suprisingly I‘ve loved music since before I can remember. When my mother and I played together when I was a kid she would turn up the music, put my hand on the speaker and I started to dance. I even wanted to sing! Could you guess her reaction? First she looked horrified, and then she said to me, “Ok, let’s try it!“ She wrote the lyrics to the song on a piece of paper, put earphones over my head, maxed out the volume and showed me the pitch with her hands.

As you can imagine, it didn’t go quite as well as I thought it would back then! My mother was very sweet about it. She carefully explained to me that even many hearing people don’t have the ability to sing. But I think it was a very important lesson for me; knowing how to face failure with grace is a priceless life skill.

My love of music only grew stronger. I loved watching dancing shows on TV and I couldn’t get enough of all the dancers and singers and their moves. I got hooked on Music and it never let me go!

A turning point came during a vacation in the Dominican Republic. There was a lot of Latin style dancing all the time, and for an eleven-year-old, I was awestruck by this new world. If I had enjoyed music up till then, what was this new thrill running through me? Music indeed flew through my veins. The universe smiled on me and shortly after I returned from the Dominican Republic, a lecturer named Jimmy visited my school and inspired me to start learning to dance professionally.

I was learning and training harder than anyone else, and I had to work hard for every achievement. Few things came easy, as you can imagine! For me the hardest part was to catch the rhythm of a song, but choreography and technique came naturally.

Today I am 28 years old and it is my time to give back and teach others. I give personal lectures and my plan is to start a Latin dance school.

Many of my students are surprised with the fact that I am deaf.. Well, most of them, anyways! 🙂 When people see me dance there is no indication that I’m not like everyone else.

My students and I have discussions about my handicap, but anyone observing or participating can see that it doesn’t affect how we dance at all.

To help meet my goals for the future I have an entrepreneurial mentor. She is helping me set and achieve my goals for various projects and helps me stay motivated when things don’t go as planned! I am aware of my advantages and disadvantages but always consider myself successful in terms of personal and entrepreneurial freedom. I live my life the way I want, regardless of my deafness.

As my mother taught me- find a way to do it, not an excuse not to.

Being deaf doesn’t mean you can’t cycle like Indurain

cycle like Indurain

It seems like just yesterday that Miguel Indurain was pedaling up the steep road on Mont Ventoux in 1995. The whole thing fascinated me with such intensity, I had a hard time thinking of much else. That was the year he won Tour de France for the fifth time in a row, making him the only cyclist with such a record at that time. Unbelieveable, I thought. That was the moment I realized I wanted to be just like him.

It wasn’t until an incident with my classmate from Kremnica, Slovakia that I really started to cycle. Steve and I would ride together whenever we got the chance. It was exhilarating, but still amateur, of course.

One day after school, Steve told me that instead of taking the bus back home he’d ride his bike. I thought he was crazy! The trip was nearly 100 miles long, but not long after I got off the bus, Steve was there smiling and full of satisfaction. I couldn’t believe it. He made it! It was right then and there that I realized that if you want something bad enough, all you have to do is try.

After that day we rode our bikes to school almost every day together. I spent the weekends making even longer trips, overcoming distances I’d only dreamed of in my fantasies of becoming my hero, Indurain. After a while Steve found himself a girlfriend and stopped going cycling with me. I didn’t mind, really. From then on it was just me, my bike, and my dream.

In 1997 I received my very first mountain bike. It was nothing glamorous, but it got me from point A to point B in one piece. Only one month later someone stole my brand new mountain bike. I cried hard tears, realizing my biggest hobby and my dream were gone. When my parents saw me crying they knew that without a bike I was hopeless, lost. To this day I thank them, for without them I don’t know where I’d be today. They got me a new bike, after which I started to train even harder.

Soon after, I took part in my very first MTB marathon. I was enthralled by the experience. I decided to go to every race I possibly could. Dependent on my parents for transportation, I was very lucky to get their support in my lifelong dream of cycling.

It didn’t take long until I was approached by the Slovak Federation of Deaf Athletes. “Would you like to represent your country in cycling?” Hell yes was my answer. After all, what could be better than doing what you love and representing your country doing it?

By now I’ve taken part in thousands of races. So many I’ve lost track. I consider my biggest success to be from the World Deaf Cycling Championship in San Francisco, where I took home 2nd place. I’ve also had my taste of success at the Sochi Deaflympics where I won 6th place, 7th place at the International Race Around Taiwan in 2014, and more recently at the European Championship 2014 in Kirchberg, where I ranked in 2nd place.

I may still not be as good as Indurain, but at least I put my heart and soul into every kick to the pedal. Every time I’m on the track I focus on cycling like it’s the last time I’ll ever race again. My son is 7 years old now and seems to be just as excited about cycling as I was… if it stick then who knows, he could be the next Indurain.

My biggest thanks go out to my parents, who’ve supported me from the very start as well as my girlfriend, who continues to cheer me on despite having to care for our two children. Thanks to her belief in me I’m able to get on my bike and cycle literally every day. To me, that is the #DeafinitionofSuccess.

The one app that can bring the whole deaf community together

JustInSign

The deaf community faces many struggles, and not being able to communicate within itself is one of them. That’s why we created JustInSign app for your smartphone. Read more and get excited!
People suffering from hearing loss are part of a strong and independent community. They live their lives the way they want. But there’s one thing they couldn’t do – talk to their friends from other countries. While there’s this myth about sign language being universal, it couldn’t be further from the truth.

American sign language is very different from Russian or Spanish sign language. While there are similarities across different versions of sign language, there was no easy way to talk to deaf strangers until now.

First International Sign Language application

Fortunately, there is such a thing as international sign language. Deaf people who wanted to travel abroad or meet their foreign friends had to find a lecturer who would teach them. That required money, time and effort but now there’s another way to learn. We are pleased to have created an educational application that will teach the international sign language to anyone who is interested in an easy and fun way.

The new, revolutionary way to learn

Now you can talk to your friends, to your lover or even to complete strangers from around the globe. How? The JustInSign app for your smartphone will teach you new sets of words and phrases. Learn anywhere and anytime – your smartphone is always in your pocket, after all!

We developed this app because we are part of the community – and we felt isolated when we couldn’t talk to foreigners. There are 360,000,000 people globally suffering from hearing loss. Not knowing the universal language means your world is hundred or even thousand times smaller. This is something we’d like to change. We want to be free.

JustInSign app

What’s more, you can start learning universal sign language completely for free. Just download the app and start – it’s easy as that. If you are satisfied, you can buy more lessons. Best of all, it’s easy and fun! You can compete with your friends and motivate each other to get better and better.