Deaf Unity was formed in 2005 by Deaf Community professional and grassroots leaders and supporters from the Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault, Disability Rights Wisconsin, and the then-Department of Health and Family Services and the Office for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. It was recognized that there was a truly significant need for American Sign Language based services for Deaf victims experiencing domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence, and stalking. Before Deaf Unity was formed, Deaf victims faced numerous barriers in getting services from mainstream domestic violence and sexual assault programs, because they did not have advocates who knew ASL and could communicate with Deaf victims, or did not know how or where to get qualified interpreters for services.
Deaf Unity began its journey in 2005 with the cross training offered by Marilyn J. Smith, founder and Executive Director of Abused Deaf Women Advocacy Services, Seattle. This training brought together the Deaf Community and hearing allies to understand domestic violence and sexual assault in the Deaf Community. This was followed by strategic planning meetings during that year to develop a plan of services. The year ended with training of Deaf volunteer advocates to provide basic services to Deaf victims.
Since then, Deaf Unity has grown to become a 501© 3 organization with paid staff and volunteers to provide direct and advocacy services for Deaf victims. Deaf Unity serves all victims – women, children and men. Our mission statement is ALL DEAF PEOPLE ~ WOMEN, CHILDREN AND MEN ~ HAVE A RIGHT TO A HEALTHY AND VIOLENCE-FREE LIFE.
Deaf Unity is important to the Wisconsin Deaf Community because there is no program or agency in Wisconsin that provides direct and advocacy services in ASL to Deaf victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence, and stalking. In addition, Deaf Unity plays a very crucial role in enhancing emergency and service response to Deaf victims by offering training and technical assistance to law enforcement, staff from district attorney offices, domestic violence and sexual assault service advocates, emergency medical technicians, and other professionals. Deaf Unity also provides training to professional interpreters and interpreting students to enhance their knowledge and competency to interpret in a domestic violence or sexual assault situation or service setting.