Blending deaf and hearing cultures.
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Sign language practice is gaining prominence as inclusive eco-art interventions assist with integrating the Deaf into wider society in the City of Durban. Urban-nature adventures that attract both Deaf and hearing participants include Deaf Theatre, Silent Cinema, Skywriting Poetry and Board Gaming at pavement cafés and Deaf-friendly spaces in Durban. Skywriting is a term originated by the Green Heart Movement to illustrate the ‘mirroring of sign language to writing in the sky or Air’. The idea introduces an imaginative and accessible terminology to describe the term ‘sign language’ and encourages the hearing to become familiar with Deaf culture and its visual language. Eco-arts offer entry points into social solidarity and inclusiveness. The activations hone poetry skills and encourage interaction through sensitised socialisation. The self-generative poetry sessions assist multi-cultural groups from across the age spectrum to form a dynamic community of practice. Active citizenship showcases participants performing poetry in eco-cultural spaces across the City. The theoretical framework is informed by the Syntactic Theory of Visual Communication (Lester, 2006), Intergroup Contact Theory (Pettigrew, 1998) and Communities of Practice (Lave and Wenger, 1991). Central to the study are visual culture and two disparate social groupings. The research design incorporated ‘arts-based critical auto-ethnography’ (Taylor, 2014) as a focusing lens to achieve a holistic understanding of the complexity and convergences of Deaf and Hearing Worlds. Through action inquiry the researcher explored ways of facilitating interaction between Deaf and hearing participants. The study sample comprised eight Deaf and eight hearing respondents who participated in arts and ecology interventions that featured sign language. Data production tools included conversation notebooks that provide a record of written dialogue between Deaf and hearing participants, focus groups, interviews, participant observation, and a video titled ‘The Durban Deaf Room’. Narrative inquiry was employed to reflect on the data and represent the outcomes of the study. There is minimal literature associated with the South African experience of mixed media practice and its potential for value-added engagements that combine Deaf and hearing cultures. The study contributes to the literature by providing a lived ethnographic account of ways that Deaf culture and eco-arts act as progressive enablers in advancing mutually-beneficial social programmes for Deaf and hearing communities.