Raija Niemisen (1937–2004) was the very person behind the Cultural Centre of the Finnish Association of the Deaf and the Theatre of the Deaf. According to her, the Deaf and the hearing should have equal rights for cultural services. The Accessibility of culture was tightly connected with enhancing the social position of the Deaf. In an interview for her 60th birthday in Helsingin Sanomat (Helsinki News) she stated that a Deaf should not be seen only as deaf but as a cultural person.
Jämsänkoski-born Raija Nieminen became gradually deaf between the age years of 3–20. She took her matriculation examination in Jämsä yhteiskoulu in 1956, and later graduated as a Bachelor of Arts. In the late 1960′s, she found the sign language using community and immediately felt at home. She got positions of trust in the Finnish Association of the Deaf but after finishing her studies in 1975, she moved with her husband and two sons to St. Lucia Island for her husband’s job in the UN. On the island Raija worked voluntarily in the local Deaf school. Later she wrote a book about her life on St. Lucia. The book Äänetön saari (Voyage to the Island) has been translated into English and dramatised in 1991.
Life’s work with Deaf culture
After returning to Finland, Raija Nieminen started her work as a secretary in the Finnish Association of the Deaf. The Deaf culture played an important part in her work. She was secretary in the cultural work group founded by the Ministry of Education in 1982, and the cultural secretary of the Finnish Association of the Deaf.
Once the Deaf Cultural Centre was established, Raija became the first director. She aimed at bringing forth the Deaf culture also outside the Deaf community and thus ensuring the financial basis of the work. The Cultural Centre followed the same lines as the Deaf culture before, adding to it the Museum of the Deaf and the Theatre of the Deaf. Raija was also responsible of the National Culture Days of the Deaf. According to her, the culture was to follow its time and thus the cultural changes were to show also at the Culture Days, though traditional forms of the culture, e.g. recitation and folk dance, should also hold their place.
Raija Nieminen was elected as the chairman of the Commission of Culture and Arts in the World Federation of the Deaf, and she presented the Finnish Association of the Deaf in Nordic cultural seminars and festivals. First she felt that the work was very demanding but by and by it got easier. She regarded her work with the World federation of the Deaf not limiting her input for the Finnish Deaf culture but increasing it.
Deaf Awareness movement finding its way to Finland in the turn of 1970′s–1980′s, Raija was actively involved in lecturing, and organising events. The Deaf had the right to be Deaf and feel themselves as important as the hearing. According to Raija, this demanded acknowledging the sign language as a language among other languages.