10 Ways to build a c/koda identity

[Image Description: A thumb, outlined in black, signs “10” with accompanying text that reads: “KODAheart’s [10] Ways to build a c/koda identity”. In the background is a close up image of a child playing with colored legos, only the hands and a small part of the face visible.]

A person’s identity is formed over time, the result of a mixture of experience and exposure to people from various linguistic and cultural backgrounds. Over time we come to affiliate ourselves with groups that share our worldview. For many, a c/koda identity is forged through experiences at camp or conference- but what steps may be taken to build a c/koda identity year-round? Here are 10 ways to increase and strengthen pride in a deaf-koda heritage!

1- Bi/multicultural exploration

Each year Codas travel from all over the world connect at events or gatherings like conferences and retreats. Often dubbed an “adult coda camp,” conferences provide safe spaces for adult codas to gather and examine the features of language and culture that impact their lives. Conferences include workshops, conversations, speakers, and various social activities. For those who like a more intimate setting, regional retreats offer a similar experience close to home. Retreats are typically held over long weekends with smaller numbers of participants.  For more information on upcoming conferences, and regional retreats check out the CODA International website.

2- Building bridges

Lend your support to your c/koda community by volunteering with a program for kodas. Exposure to coda role models can assist kodas in navigating challenging life transitions, and working with kodas offers codas a sense of accomplishment and increased self esteem. KODA camps are a great place for kodas to meet peers with similar multicultural/multilingual experiences, and connect with coda counselors. Often this can be a rewarding experience and can give c/kodas a place to “unpack” their experiences with each other. Mentorship programs like Big Coda Little Koda utilize technology to bypass the limitations of geography and expense and connect mentors with mentees.

3- Celebrate cultural milestones

Celebrating community holidays and significant historic events allows us to reflect upon the accomplishments of our communities. Each year local, state, and national events commemorate important deaf cultural milestones. In the United States, communities often recognize the Deaf President Now Protests that took place in March 1988, or the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act on July 6, 1990 as moments where the visibility of the rights of deaf people was significantly expanded. Other events, like ASL day and the International Deaf Awareness Week, encourage community members to express pride in signed languages and deaf cultures across the globe. For c/kodas and their families, Mother Father Deaf Day offers an opportunity  to celebrate our unique family experiences each year!

[Image Descriptions: A colorful painting with a blue background of several arms and hands in the air similar to “Deaf applause”. There are three faceless figures located in the middle of the painting, the middle figure dons a hat and facial hair.]
“Celebration” For more of Betty Miller’s art work, click here.
4- Immerse yourself in storytelling

Storytelling is an important aspect of cultural expression. Exposure to the work of ASL storytellers and ASL literature educates, inspires, and builds solidarity amongst community members. These performances share deaf history, folklore, and expose viewers to elements of language play and cinematographic uses of ASL. Deaf performers often travel, performing at various local, state, and national deaf organizations; for instance,  ASL Slam events can now be found in several major cities. Can’t make it to these events? Start by checking out KODAheart’s playlist and enjoy performances by accomplished artists from the comfort of your own couch.


5- Language Pride

Strengthen your skills by taking a sign language class! While many kodas are native signers, formal instruction in the linguistic features of signed languages can help to improve your proficiency. These courses may expand your vocabulary by introducing new sign variations, and lessons on the grammar and structure of sign language can be helpful as you discuss the language with non-signers. Find out if your local community college or high school offers these classes.  Feeling up for a challenge? Learn a new signed language! If you know ASL (one handed alphabet), start learning BSL (which uses a two handed alphabet)! Expand your knowledge, usage and understanding!

[Image Description: A Nancy Roarke painting consisting of yellow, blue, black and red colors. Three forearms take up mos ot the painting“ASL” in handshapes are above the painted word “Pride”. “ASL pride”
For more of Nancy Roarke’s work click here.
6- Learn about coda heritage

Did you know that codas have played in the NFL, appeared on broadway, founded deaf schools, featured on national television, and worked in various levels of US government? Across history we can find stories of coda artists, researchers, writers, performers, interpreters, educators, judges, politicians, and more. Learning about our community members, about their challenges and accomplishments, allows us to identify role models and encourages us to consider the weight of our own impact. To learn more about your coda heritage, check out the biographies and interviews conducted by the KODAheart team in the Koda Spotlight, read the autobiographies listed on the KODAheart resource page, and view the performances of 10 Coda Performers.

[Image Description: Rows of circle shaped portraits fill the frame, each photo is of a different person. At the bottom is a fore-arm outlined in black signing "spotlight". A yellow beam of light emanates from the palm, creating a spotlight on the black text to the right "Koda Spotlight".]


7- Support deaf organizations and deaf businesses
Express your support for the deaf community by participating in the community economy! Deaf organizations often cultivate relationships with local business owners to host free or low-cost events. Attending local deaf events, such as ASL trivia nights or deaf club events, allows you to stay connected to important issues impacting your community, and encourages local businesses to continue to work with deaf people. Support deaf people directly by frequenting deaf-owned businesses. Talented deaf individuals in various fields utilize physical and online markets to earn a livelihood- choose to purchase goods or services from them. Check out some of our favorites gift ideas here and here.  

[Image Description: A close- up image of two hands signing “support” in ASL in front of a maroon background.]

8- Acknowledge c/koda privilege

As hearing and speaking people, c/kodas benefit from societal privileges derived from pervasive ideas about deaf people, disability, and signed language. Audism is a system of belief that denigrates deaf bodies and produces prejudice or discrimination towards deaf or hard of hearing people. These judgments are often derived from a person’s hearing and speaking ability. c/kodas must work to grapple with our internalized audism, and acknowledging our privilege within the deaf/ASL community can lead to building stronger and deeper relationships with those around us. Educate yourself with films like Audism Unveiled, articles on audism, and texts like Harlan Lane’s Mask of Benevolence. Importantly, we must also use our privilege as a platform for exposing instances of audism in our own communities; call out instances of audism, lend support (emotional, physical, financial) to deaf community members contending with audism, and foreground deaf people’s voices and experiences over your own.


9- Tell your story

Share your experiences with friends and family members! Talk to them about what it means to be a c/koda and share what it was like to grow up in a multicultural and bimodal household. Invite friends for dinner, give a presentation at school, or volunteer to visit a local ASL class. Schoolwork and writing assignments may also provide an opportunity to expose classmates to your unique cultural and linguistic heritage. Share with them stories from your time at camp, or educate them on aspects of deaf culture. You may also take a cue from other members of our community, and commit your stories to video. Vlogging offers an opportunity to reach a large audience and engage in a much broader conversation! By telling your story, you enable the people around you to begin to learn about deaf culture and our community!

[Image Description: A black and white drawing of three “ILY” hands emerging from the ground, resembling tree trunks with branches form a treeline. One hand in the middle of the image has a heart on the forearm.]
“ASL tree of love” For more of Kelley’s work click here.
10- Explore your family history

Learn more about your community, starting with your own family! For instance, educational experiences can strongly impact deaf people’s lives; did your parents attend residential deaf schools or mainstream programs? When did they first meet deaf people? What languages were used in the classroom or at home? What activities did they enjoy with their friends? Or ask about local, state, and national deaf events; how and when did your parents get involved? How did they feel about major events like Deaflympics, the Deaf President Now Protest, or the Deaf Way International Conference? Learn more about how Deaf Culture has changed over time by asking about developments in technology or legislation. These cultural milestones are significant to deaf-c/koda heritages around the world. Asking questions empowers you to explore how these historical shifts have impacted your own language, culture, and life.


A strong sense of self helps us to frame our experiences and to develop healthy responses to challenges and changes in life. These tips offer techniques for incorporating awareness and pride in our community, culture, and language. What are some ways you show your c/koda pride? Share them with us at onekodaheart@gmail.com!