Skip to content

Irvine’s Office Coordinator Shavonda McCaleb Honors Deaf History Month

The Irvine Foundation is fortunate to have talented staff with diverse backgrounds and life experiences, and we want to introduce some of our colleagues to you. We spoke with Shavonda McCaleb, Irvine’s Office Coordinator, about National Deaf History Month, her experience raising a daughter who is deaf and the importance of advocacy and celebrating the achievements of the deaf community.

What is your connection to the deaf community?  

My connection started at home 26 years ago. My daughter, Camry, was born deaf, but we didn’t discover that until she was one year old. One day her dad was cleaning, and she decided that she wanted to ride the vacuum. Most kids, if not all, fear the spooky vacuum, so we knew something wasn’t right. Raising a hearing son and a daughter who just happens to be deaf was one for the books. I knew nothing about sign language but had to learn quickly so my daughter could develop her language.  I went to the library and checked out books, DVDs, and discovered that the Internet had so many free resources readily available for the deaf community and their families.  

We quickly became a bilingual family: English speaking and American Sign Language. I would use my voice to communicate with my son, and I had to sign simultaneously so my daughter could be engaged in the conversation and vice versa. You’re talking about multitasking with my mouth, facial expressions, and hands – whew! 

What has your daughter’s experience been with working in a hearing world?  

Because of limited employment opportunities, only certain jobs are available to the deaf community, e.g., warehouses or factories, which have fewer chances for career advancement and earning potential. I celebrate and appreciate these jobs, and if the deaf community could access additional training and interpreters on hearing jobs, the workforce would explode in a good way.  

Some of the barriers that my daughter has encountered have been great. She knows her American Disability Act (ADA) rights, so she requests an interpreter during job interviews and at orientation. And when she has medical, dental, and vision appointments, she informs the provider that she is deaf and requests an interpreter. For the most part, they provide one, but there are some who do not adhere to the ADA, and that’s when I step in to advocate for my daughter and remind the providers of her ADA rights as a deaf person!

What’s something we’d be surprised to learn about the deaf community?  

You would be surprised to learn that more than 90% of deaf children are born to hearing parents. Sadly, many hearing parents and families never learn to sign fluently – leaving the children to learn the best way they can. When I lived in Atlanta, my daughter’s friend, who is also deaf, went into labor, and her mother didn’t know how to sign. They called me to interpret and pray for the young lady before she was taken into surgery. I was honored and disappointed at the same time.  

I wish parents and families would love their deaf family members enough to learn their language. It’s simple as A-B-C, 1-2-3. 

Why is it important to honor deaf history?  

It’s extremely important to honor deaf history because people who are deaf are, what I consider, a forgotten community. If we broke down the barriers that separate the hearing community from the deaf community, people would be amazed at how many gifts and talents are within the deaf communities. Honoring deaf history gives us a chance to remember and celebrate those contributions and make sure they are not forgotten.  

Over the years, I’ve served on many boards and advocated for deaf and hard-of-hearing children and families. I make it a point to stay engaged, advocate, and remind my daughter of the importance of knowing her ADA rights regarding her everyday interactions with the hearing world. Honoring deaf history is something that I will forever uplift and advocate for.

There are NO limits to what my daughter and other deaf individuals can do. My daughter graduated high school valedictorian and received a full-ride scholarship to Gallaudet University. She ran track and played baseball, and was the captain of her basketball and volleyball teams. She received many awards, scholarships, and letters of recommendation in high school. She works full-time at a well-known company and is living her best life — without limits!