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Adult Education & Outreach
Youth Education & Services
Now Serving Middle Tennessee, northern Alabama, southern Kentucky, and West Tennessee! Our new location, BridgesWEST in Memphis, TN, serves Shelby, Fayette, Tipton, Lauderdale, and Haywood counties and parts of Mississipi and Arkansas.
Bridges for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing was founded in 1927 by Margaret Lane Washington. After learning she was losing her hearing, this young, Middle Tennessee mother, with no services available to her locally, moved to Washington, D.C. where she became a certified lip reading teacher. In 1927, she taught her first speech reading class at the Watkins Institute in downtown Nashville. That first class of thirteen students was the genesis of Bridges for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, and Ms. Washington remained a guiding light at Bridges until her death in 1991, seeing the organization evolve through different names and services. Today, we are a comprehensive service organization with programs and services for birth through senior years.
Bridges for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing is nonprofit organization serving Middle Tennessee, northern Alabama, and southern Kentucky. In 2019, we expanded to open offices in Memphis, TN, now serving Shelby County and surrounding counties in West Tennessee! We serve individuals and families in these areas who live with hearing loss, providing education, outreach, case management, interpreting services, and more--always striving for a vibrant community of equality, access, opportunity, and self realization, a community in which all are welcomed and valued.
Now in our 92nd year of service, we are grateful for our rich history and for the even richer opportunities before us.
Some of our Favorite People
Deaf with a lowercase “d” refers to the condition of hearing loss. Deaf with a capital “D” indicates identification with Deaf culture, including its primary language, American Sign Language. Individuals with hearing loss are hard of hearing, deaf, or Deaf. "Hearing impaired" is considered an offensive term as they recognize no impairment or limit to who they are or what they can do. In 2019, Bridges helped pass a law to change "hearing impaired" and "hearing impairment" to "deaf or hard of hearing" and "hearing loss" in the Tennessee Annotated Code. Bridges offers workshops in Deaf culture, working with Deaf and hard of hearing people, employing Deaf and hard of hearing people, and interactions with law enforcement and other first responders.
Almost 95% of deaf children are born to hearing parents. For a variety of reasons, almost 76% of those parents never learn ASL. Lack of communication has many effects on a child's cognitive and social-emotional development and on family dynamics. Deaf children can experience the same 30 million word gap as children born into poverty because they share the lack of early exposure to vocabulary and learning. Language deprivation is an Adverse Childhood Experience and must be recognized as such. Bridges offers FREE ASL classes to the parents and siblings of Deaf children as well as offering community classes onsite and in other locations, including schools. We also offer Little ACEs for children birth to school age, weekly classes led by a certified Deaf educator and an adult Deaf language model and monthly, in-home visits from a Deaf Mentor. If your child is diagnosed with hearing loss, we can match you with other families who have chosen hearing aids, cochlear implants, or cultural deafness as well as many modes of communication so that you can make an informed choice for your child's well-being and so that you are surrounded with support from day one.
American Sign Language is not a visual form of English. The two languages are not related. American Sign Language is derived from French Sign Language which was derived from French. Bridges offers classes and workshops in ASL and Deaf culture. Participants learn that ASL is a completely-separate language with its own rules and grammar and no relation to sound. Its native users do not think in English. They think in ASL. Bridges for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing offers ASL classes both on and offsite.
Native ASL users are not recognized as English Language Learners (ELL students) in schools, meaning they miss out on supports and interventions that would be helpful in acquiring a true second language, English, and developing literacy in that language. Providing a Deaf or deaf student with an interpreter does not meet all the student's needs, particularly when the student has not attained fluency in ASL before entering school. Bridges’ after-school program focuses on language acquisition in ASL and English.
A language gap, which can be experienced by hard of hearing and D/deaf, can affect employment, housing, important paperwork, education, food security, and much more. Misconceptions about intelligence, capability, and necessary accommodations are also barriers to employment for individuals with hearing loss. Bridges provides an Empowerment program to work with clients to address all these needs.
It wasn’t until the 1973 Rehabilitation Act that the civil rights of Deaf and hard of hearing people were protected by law. Bridges is an advocate for the communities we serve, helping them speak individually and collectively. Empowerment works with clients individually, and our Advocacy program addresses systems-change level issues through Town Halls, educational outreach, collaboration, and legislative initiatives.
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 states, “No individual shall be discriminated against on the basis of disability in the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of any place of public accommodation by any person who owns, leases (or leases to), or operates a place of public accommodation.” The ADA definition of “auxiliary aids and services” includes “qualified interpreters or other effective methods of making aurally delivered materials available to individuals with hearing impairments.” Bridges provides over 25,000 hours of interpreting services annually.
Children of Deaf Adults (CODAs) and other family members are often used as interpreters for their parents because a qualified interpreter has not been provided. Imagine being a ten-year old trying to explain medical terms or a twelve-year old telling your mother she has cancer. Imagine being a child alleging abuse and being forced to rely on the family member who is abusing you to interpret for you. Imagine being a child struggling in school and being asked to interpret legal and educational information. Bridges for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing provides high quality interpreters, including those with specific certifications in medical, legal, educational, and mental health settings. We provide CART (real-time captioning) for our hard of hearing community.