Learning About Deaf Culture and Community
People are attracted to groups who have similar backgrounds, languages, and life experiences as themselves. In the 1800s, in America during the height of immigration, most large cities had areas where immigrants from the same country would live and work, becoming a subculture within the city. Today, a similar phenomenon occurs throughout modern towns and cities. These people aren’t brought together by nationality, but by their inability to hear. Those in the Deaf community take care of their own.
When someone is either born without the ability to hear or later loses their hearing, the clinical word for their condition is deaf, with a lowercase d. When Deaf is used with a capital D, it refers to the subculture of those whose identity is largely shaped by their shared language and experiences of being deaf in a hearing world. The Deaf culture does not necessarily include all who are deaf, but includes all who are brought together via their language, their values and beliefs, and even the way they act. This could also include hearing people. Often sign language interpreters and children of deaf parents are part of the culture as well.
Perhaps the most important aspect of Deaf culture is the language. Most deaf Americans use American Sign Language. To the uninitiated, it can look totally unintelligible; but in reality, it is a beautiful expression of the English language, rich with its own history, poetry, and even dialects. In different parts of the country, grammatical structures and even the way the sign is given can vary, just as a southern drawl is distinguished from the twang of a Bostonian. For this reason, they are often antagonistic against innovations like cochlear implants that would destroy this unique characteristic of themselves.
Members of the Deaf culture do not see themselves as disabled, and resent any discrimination or inference that they are disadvantaged. They have a physiological difference, but don’t see that as anything negative or that should be changed. To them it would be no different than being born with blue eyes rather than brown. This positive attitude towards being deaf and the importance of sign language as a device for cultural unity are perhaps the most identifiable social belief of the Deaf community.
However, believing that there is just one Deaf community would be a mistake. There is as much diversity among the Deaf as there are among other groups. They hold various religious and political beliefs, are employed in a variety of careers, and have ordinary lives in which they parent and pay their taxes just as everyone else does. Most in the Deaf community do tend to meet often and work together for various causes. There are deaf religious organizations, deaf awareness and education groups, and deaf schools. Since most deaf children are born to hearing parents, Deaf culture is most often learned in school, which will all impart it a bit differently.
Due to its differences in language, the Deaf community has developed a set of etiquette rules for dealing with each other and hearing individuals as well. For example, they have rules for interrupting or leaving a conversation and often seem blunt to other hearing individuals. It is also common for them to be early to events to insure they have a seat where they can see the interpreter. They are highly connected to each other as well, keeping each other informed about everything. After all, even in large cities, they are a fairly small group and need that constant communication to maintain the unity they cherish.
For more information on Deaf culture and the Deaf community, read any of the following articles.
- Definition of Deaf Community
- National Association of the Deaf
- Deaf Culture, History, and Importance
- Deaf Culture
- Listening in on Deaf Culture
- How Doctors Can Better Understand the Deaf
- Perspectives in the Deaf Community
- Inside Deaf Culture
- The Socialinguistics of Sign Languages (PDF)
- Audism: Understanding Its Meaning and Implications in the Deaf Community
What is Deaf Culture?
Insightful definitions, comparisons, resources about Deaf culture and other world cultures
Description of perspectives: the pathological model and the cultural model
Culture results from a group of people coming together to form a community around shared experience, common interests, shared norms of behavior, and shared survival techniques. Such groups as the deaf, seek each other out for social interaction and emotional support.
by Deaf Linx
In most cases, an appropriate label depends on how the person functions, rather than a specific degree of hearing loss. Learn more about perspectives on this issue.
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