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Photo Voices: Deaf Lesbian and Bisexual Women Unite to Tell Their Stories

This was one of the first actions undertaken by the group. Communication tools based on reading or listening by the user are largely inaccessible to Deaf people who need information delivered in highly visual formats. But photographs do not necessarily require spoken or written language to communicate their meaning. Taking photographs are an essential and effective tool in assisting Deaf lesbians and bisexual women to explore, to examine themselves and their position in society and that of others.

In this project, a group of Deaf lesbian and bisexual women were given training on the use of cameras to document their experiences by photographer Jean Brundritt. The photographs they took became the basis for group discussions of Deaf lesbian and bisexual women's community concerns.

After taking their photographs, the women had time alone to look at their printed photographs, edit and write about the content. The group met several times to share pictures and talk about what the photos meant. These discussions were used as the basis for creating captions for each photograph. Each woman selected which of her photographs, with words or without words, she wanted to include in a public display/exhibition.

The project created a body of photographic work and stories that has been used to create positive visibility and educate a range of public audiences, including the Deaf Community in South Africa, on the experiences of South African Deaf lesbians and bisexual women. This photographic work highlights the challenges that this vulnerable community faces.

The project also empowered a group of Deaf lesbians and bisexual women to be role models who can support and give information, advocate for their rights and combat negative stereotypes and misconceptions about Deaf lesbians and bisexual women.

One of the highlights for this group was their participation in the World Federation for the Deaf (WFD) Congress in Durban, July 2011, including a conference presentation. This presentation was the first time that Deaf lesbian and bisexual women from Africa stood up in a public space and broke the silence about their lives. The presentation by these courageous women created visibility and awareness in the Deaf and hearing communities. It also provided support and a sense of social connection to other Deaf lesbian and bisexual women in the audience.