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The Making of: Social Life and Art in the Austrian Deaf Community

The Making of: Social Life and Art in the Austrian Deaf Community

Joanna Kinberger (on the right): spoken English, English subtitles. Marek Kanaš  (on the left): translation in International Sign. 30 November 2022

Exhibition equalizent01

Exhibition equalizent02

Vienna exhibition2

exhibition equalizent04




Video transcript

Can you please introduce yourself and your team?

Hi! My name is Joanna Kinberger and I am the team leader at equalizent. We are 4 people – Daniele Le Rose, Sandra Kral, Laura Körnig and myself.

For the Deaf Museums project, you made the exhibition: “Social life and art in the Austrian deaf community”. 
Can you tell us about the exhibition?
Why did you choose this subject for your exhibition? 

We started off by having a workshop with our colleagues, deaf and hearing together. And we decided that there are certain aspects of the Austrian Deaf community that we wanted to show to our European friends, our European partners and to the world.

In particular, the areas of social life and art. There’s so much variety within the Austrian Deaf community, so much talent, and that’s why we chose these subjects for our exhibition.

We were also very interested in generational subjects, how opinions differ on certain aspects of social life depending whether young or old. So this is why we chose the subjects and yes, we hope you enjoy!

Can you tell us about the interviews? Was it difficult to find people to interview? How did you do the interviews?

We interviewed more than 20 people. It actually wasn’t difficult to find people to interview because people were so interested to give us their opinion to get on camera.

My colleague – Daniele Le Rose – was responsible for the interviews. He contacted people who were interested and people he knew from his extensive experience in the Deaf community.

The interviews were done in various situations as you can see on the videos. Most of the interviews were done outside, mainly because we interviewed during COVID so we have to be careful about people’s health, about maintaining good distance with the interviewer and not infecting anybody so we were very lucky there were no corona infections.  

What is the response of Deaf and hearing people to your exhibition?

How did you take their different needs and preferences into account?

The responses are very very enthusiastic, regardless whether deaf or hearing. People within the Deaf community are thrilled to see so many different interviews together, the pictures on the posters, of course the recognition of people that they know.

For hearing visitors, there’s a lot of new information, there’s a lot of things that people didn’t know. Some of it is very moving. We gained intergenerational insights – from very young people to our oldest interviewee – a sculptor who is in his nineties.

The responses were generally very very positive, not least of all because of the sheer number of videos that we have done – 28 videos.  

What will happen next? What are your plans for the exhibition?

At the moment, the physical exhibition is at our offices at equalizent in the second district of Vienna.

There are 8 posters and via QR code, the visitor finds all the videos that are associated with the particular subject (poster). There are differing numbers of videos per poster.

The exhibition has just gone online. It can be found on the HANDS UP website, which is at www.handsup.wien.

And our plans for the exhibition? Well basically because we put QR codes on the posters which link to playlists, it means that our exhibition can be augmented at any time. So if we do interesting interviews with artists or other deaf associations than Steyr for example, then we can add them to the playlist.

So basically, our exhibition can carry on being added to, being augmented and can grow. Another point that we would like to work on before the end of the project is to translate all of the content into English. Of course, we cannot translate the Sign Language into English, because these are very specific personal experiences, but we will be translating the subtitles into English and all of the poster texts as well.

What advice can you give people who want to do something similar? What lessons have you learned in the process?

I think my advice is the same as the lessons that we have learned. Basically, plan well! We did some quite extensive planning but a lot of the planning changed. So plan well but be flexible.

Our initial idea was we wanted to do something fun, we wanted to play a game. I remember our first presentation [of the idea] was all the steps of the game. It was something along the lines of snakes and ladders.

And yet when we started doing the interviews, we realised that the content was so serious, was so moving, gave such a deep insight into individuals but [also] the community as a whole that we didn’t want to detract from that.

So we moved from the idea of what would have been maybe something fun but frivolous to something much more detailed and much more serious.

So my advice is the same as our lessons learned – plan well but be flexible so you can adapt your planning when you learn something along the way.

Anything else that you would like to add?

What would I like to add? Have fun! We did have a lot of fun.

I think above all – it was a difficult process but we have a lot of fun on the way. We had some fights on the way, we had some disagreements on the way and we had lots of changes and amendments and reorientation.

Quite a lot of things went wrong and quite a lot of things went well and the final result is something that I’m very proud of. I’m very proud of the team and I would like to say a very deep thank you to everybody who took part – there are far too many to name. But it has been a great experience.

So what would I like to add? Have some fun! I hope you enjoy making your own exhibition, inspired by our exhibitions. Thank you! 

Interview, 30 November 2022, Vienna



  • "For many members of the Deaf community their shared history is both personal and social. Deaf people will have gone to the same school, in many cases boarding schools where most of their younger lives will have been spent together, and then met again at their Deaf clubs, Deaf social events, reunions and other more personal events.
    One of the first things a Deaf person will often ask on meeting, before asking your name, is what school or Deaf club you go to. Making this connection is an important part of any greeting, as it will then help an individual to understand what shared history or people in common you may have."
    from: The Cultural Model of Deafness
  • "Deaf people have always had a sense of their history as it was being passed down in stories told by generations of students walking in the hallways of their residential schools and by others who congregated in their clubs, ran associations, attended religious services, and played in sporting events.
    With these activities, the deaf community exhibited hallmarks of agency — an effort to maintain their social, cultural, and political autonomy amid intense pressure to conform as hearing, speaking people."
    BRIAN H. GREENWALD AND JOSEPH J. MURRAY, in: Sign Language Studies, Volume 17, Number 1, Fall 2016
  • "The UN Declaration of Human Rights states that “Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community”. This is based on the principle that citizens are not just consumers of cultural capital created by others; we have agency and the right to contribute through culture to the wider good of society."
    Source: A manifesto for museum learning and engagement
  • “Stories of disability are largely absent from museum displays. Where they appear, they often reflect deeply entrenched, negative attitudes towards physical and mental difference. Research reveals that museums don’t simply reflect attitudes; they are active in shaping conversations about difference.
    Projects created with disabled people show that museums hold enormous potential to shape more progressive, accurate and respectful ways of understanding human diversity. Why wouldn’t we take up this opportunity? ”
    Richard Sandell, co-director, Research Centre for Museums and Galleries, University of Leicester
  • "And yet, even within a large and, in many ways, traditional organization such as this (Trøndelag Folk Museum, Norway), the museum's encounter with Deaf culture contributed to profound changes and a process, still underway, which challenges our own understanding of what a museum is today, our role in society and our obligations towards more diverse audiences than those we had previously engaged or even recognized."
    Hanna Mellemsether, in:  Re-presenting Disability: Activism and Agency in the Museum, 2013
  • "Opening ourselves to the Deaf community, listening to and respecting them as co-creators and experts telling the stories they want told, makes our practice richer, and has ongoing positive effects for the community.
    These embryonic relationships hopefully encourage Deaf people to feel welcome in our space — it’s their space too.
    For both side, communities and museum professionals, while genuinely, openly and truly committing to working together can be time-consuming, it repays any investment many-fold."
    Corinne Ball: Expressing ourselves’: creating a Deaf exhibition", 2020
  • "Inclusion is moving from “we tolerate your presence” to “we WANT you here with us”.
    Jillian Enright in The Social Model of Disability, 2021
  • "It was only during the past decade that recognition of the importance of preserving Deaf history has emerged. In the main, Deaf heritage, culture and folklore has been passed down from generation to generation via the medium of sign language and fingerspelling. (..) It is also vital that the history of Deaf people is made available to future generations, especially Deaf schoolchildren as part of their history lessons."
    A. Murray Holmes,  in: Cruel Legacy, an introduction of Deaf people in history, by A.F. Dimmock, 1993
  • "Beyond works of art and objects, museums collect shared heritage, memories and living cultures as well as what we call intangible collectables."
    Source: We are Museums
  • "An important matter for any minority group is that written documents in public archives are often drawn up by the majority group and do not always reflect a minority as it sees itself. Thus, preserving sign language narration is of the utmost importance and a challenge to those working in the field of Deaf history."
    In: TIINA NAUKKARINEN, Finnish Museum of the Deaf: Presenting the Life of Carl Oscar Malm (1826–1863)
  • "Until the fall semester of 1986, the history department at Gallaudet University had never before offered a course in the history of deaf people.
    In the 122 years, to that point, since the founding of the university, which was specifically intended for the education of deaf peoples, no one had ever taught a course about this very group of people.
    In all of those years the history department had offered courses on a wide range of topics but never deaf history. "
    ENNIS, WILLIAM T., et al. “A Conversation: Looking Back on 25 Years of A Place of Their Own.” Sign Language Studies, vol. 17, no. 1, 2016, pp. 26–41. 
  • "What has become clear is that museums don’t just function as custodians of the past anymore; instead, they have embraced their responsibility towards the communities of the present: a responsibility to represent them, to speak to them, and to be open to dialogue with them."
    Tim Deakin, August 2021
  • the past can hurt

    From: Walt Disney, The Lion King

  • "Access to and participation in culture is a basic human right. Everyone has a right to representation and agency in museums, and communities should have the power to decide how they engage."
    Source: A manifesto for museum learning and engagement
  • “If you do not know where you come from, then you don't know where you are, and if you don't know where you are, then you don't know where you're going. And if you don't know where you're going, you're probably going wrong.”
    Terry Pratchett, I Shall Wear Midnight
  • "The Deaf community is international. What binds Deaf people, despite their different national sign languages, is their shared visual communication, history, cultural activities, and the need for a Deaf “space” where people come together."

    from: The Cultural Model of Deafness
  • "Deaf mute, deaf and dumb, hearing impaired – the choices are many and not without consequences. Words have many meanings, they convey attitudes and prejudices and may hurt, even when used in a well-intended context."
    Hanna Mellemsether, in:  Re-presenting Disability: Activism and Agency in the Museum, 2013
  • “One story makes you weak. But as soon as we have one-hundred stories, you will be strong.”
    Chris Cleave in "Little Bee", 2008
  • "As recently as the 1970s, deaf history did not exist. There were available sketches of various hearing men, primarily teachers, who were credited with bringing knowledge and enlightenment to generations of deaf children, but deaf adults were absent."

    In: Preface to: "Deaf History Unvailed, Interpretations from the New Scholarship". John Vickrey van Cleve, editor
    Publisher: Gallaudet University Press, 1993
  • "Museums can increase our sense of wellbeing, help us feel proud of where we have come from, and inspire, challenge and stimulate us."
    Source: Museums Change Lives
  • "Histories have for too long emphasized the controversies over communication methods and the accomplishments of hearing people in the education of deaf students, with inadequate attention paid to those deaf individuals who created communication bridges and distinguished themselves as change agents in their respective field of endeavour."
    from: Harry G. Lang, Bonny Meath-Lang: Deaf Persons in the Arts and Sciences, 1995
  • "This (Deaf) Museum is not intended as a casual show, to be seen once and forgotten. Its pretensions are nobler; it has a humanitarian aim. By its solid and tangible evidences, making history memorable and attractive by illustration, it serves a double purpose: to dispel ignorance and prejudice regarding the deaf, and to raise the victims of this prejudice and ignorance to their true level in society."
    The British Deaf Monthly, Vol. VI (p.265) 1897. In: Deaf Museums and Archival Centres, 2006
  • "The Finnish Museum of the Deaf) was founded by deaf people, and, thus, its task has been to strengthen their identity and historical communality.

    Most of our materials have a connection to the key experiences that generations of deaf people have shared. These are important in understanding the past and keeping the collective memory alive."
    In: TIINA NAUKKARINEN, Finnish Museum of the Deaf: Presenting the Life of Carl Oscar Malm (1826–1863)
  • "Nina Simon has described true inclusion in a museum context as occurring when museums value the diversity in their audience, value those individuals’ potential and contributions, when they actively link those diverse people across differences, and when the organisation reaches out with generosity and curiosity at the core.
    On a practical level this sort of museum practice would see widespread inclusion of people with disabilities in the planning of museum exhibitions, on museum boards and steering committees, and working in curatorial roles."
    In: Corinne Ball: Expressing Ourselves, 2020
  • "Museums can increase our sense of wellbeing, help us feel proud of where we have come from, and inspire, challenge and stimulate us."
    Source: https://www.museumsassociation.org/campaigns/museums-change-lives/
  • "After all, we are all of us explorers, and we all have much to bring to each other from our own
    Ladd, P. (2003). Understanding Deaf Culture: In Search of Deafhood.
  • "The most significant function of museums is as centres for cultural democracy, where children and adults learn through practical experience that we all have cultural rights. Having the opportunity to create, and to give to others, may be one of our greatest sources of fulfilment. Culture is everywhere and is created by everyone."
    Source: A manifesto for museum learning and engagement