Deaf Culture & Community: (Aspects, Value & Importance)

Ranjeet KumarReviewed by Mr. Ranjeet Kumar Sr. Audiologist, Speech Therapist & Cochlear Implant Specialist, BASLP on Sep 10th, 2019 written by Editorial Team

Man is a social being which needs socialization and communication to share their feelings and thoughts instead of having a disability of their senses. Hearing loss is a prominent obstacle in the socialization process.

Depending on the cause, it can be temporary or permanent 9 million people suffer from hearing loss and hard of hearing problem in the UK. It is 18% of the total population. As deafness resists the people from hearing and sharing their thoughts.

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Though they are not able to hear, they are able to understand your views. This has been possible due to their native culture of communication that is “Deaf Culture”.

Deaf people have two main ways to communicate with others, First is Lips Reading and second is Sign Language. There is a proper way to communicate with them so that they understand you properly what are you saying.

Let’s study how the deaf culture and community enhances promotes communication and socialization and how they communicate with others.


What is Deaf Culture?

Deaf Culture is the set of art, behavior, tradition, values, social environment, and shared institutions of communities that they are influenced by deafness (deafness means a person has limited ability to hear and understand the sound ) and they use sign languages as the means of communication.

Culture used to describe the unique patterns, knowledge of a particular group of people.

Deaf culture is recognized under Article 30, Paragraph 4 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which states that “Persons with disabilities shall be entitled, on an equal basis with others, to recognition and support of their specific cultural and linguistic identity, including sign languages and deaf culture.”

Deaf people use American Sign Language (ASL) to communicate with each other and understand with hearing people who know the language. ASL is a very complex grammatical language.

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It is not a universal language. There are many signed language in other countries such as Italian Sign Language, Chinese Sign Language, etc.


History

History of the deaf is also called deaf history. The history of deaf people has been written in hearing perceptions of deaf people, in fact, those who come from the deaf community often they have lack of a hearing problem.

It makes them have to communicate in a different way. People understand that the inability to hear does not mean they are not intelligent.

Deaf culture - alphabets & number

Deaf education today is much different from 150 years ago because now special schools are available for them, their children go and take education. Some deaf children attend regular classes, some spend part of the day.

Around 1000 B.C, the education of deaf people attracted prominent attention. That time schools generally followed the INJS’s use of a sign language to teach the deaf people.

This method gives training in speech-reading and articulation as a means for deaf people.

Now behavior, values, traditions, everything changed and improve for them a better education. Deaf people who know the ASL they proud of their history.

France in 1816  to help the first school established for deaf people. Thereafter Milan “Italy” established the school for the deaf community.

Sign Language is the most important for communication between deaf people and the deaf culture. People knowing the sign language join a social network, local and global networks. American Sign Language is the oldest sign language.

The political history of deaf people happened in 1880 in Milan “Italy”, It was called the Second International Congress on education for deaf people. This History is known as “The Milan Conference”.

Some Famous Deaf People:
  • Matt Hamill
  • Braam Jordaan
  • Dummy Hoy
  • Marlee Matlin

Importance of Deaf Culture

The words “deaf” means the people who lost some or all of their hearing capacity, and also refers to those who involved in the deaf culture and values.

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If you know, American Sign Language is such a wonderful way to impress yourself in a different culture. Deaf culture is important because it allows knowing who they are. There they learn speech and listening skills.

I think it comes as a pleasant surprise for them to be able to sign what they want rather than have to write it down and making them feel even more isolated from the hearing world.

Why is it Important to learn about Deaf Culture?

To get aware about the deaf culture is important because it allows individuals to understand themselves better, and live in a way that is unique for them.

Learning about their culture helps you understand the deaf people as well what they want to tell you. Some key points of their culture are:

  • Arts
  • Theatre
  • Books of deafness
  • Cinema
  • Poem of deafness

Deaf Culture Facts

Here are some interesting facts about deaf culture. It is a set of learning behaviors. They have own history, tradition, and culture.

They have a different way of talking, understanding, and sharing. People who are deaf can also drive a car, play sports, make music, and get a higher education.

Some more interesting facts about deaf culture:

Sign Language: The ASL (American Sign Language) is used in America and Canada. It is not a universal Sign Language because most countries have their own Sign Language. American sign language is easier to understand in comparison to the British Sign Language.

Sign language is used for delivering the message through facial expression, body and hand movements. 200 Sign languages are used around the globe.

Deaf people are better at driving in comparison to the normal hearing people. They are very attentive while driving. As they focus on vehicles all around them because they are not distracted by radio and music.

These people have their own music, films, dance, theatre, a book of the poem and possess own forms of art. Deaf Culture artists use a specific color to show the beauty of their culture.

Nyle DiMarco (model and actor) has led his life in his own way instead of suffering from deafness. Deaf are very direct when they are communicating. Technology has changed the culture of the deaf.

When deaf people are talking they are looking at the face, not hands. Facial expression is very important for communication in sign language.


Values of Deaf Culture

Values depend upon culture in which individual lives and in the behavior, deaf people have different values than the hearing people.

The culture allows physical touch that means back-slapping, touching more casually to understand each other while the hearing community is much more verbal and uncomfortable with touch.

The main values of deaf people are the following:

  • Eye contact – When deaf people communicating they maintain eye contact, breaking the stare means as rude or uninterested, it leaves a bad impression. They learn how and when to stare at the people faces.
  • Attention – Many ways to get the attention of a deaf people like; flickering the lights, waving the hand and their peripheral view, blinking light, and hitting the floor or surface that would allow them to feel vibrations.
  • Facial Expressions – Facial expression included in the grammar of ASL, facial expression using movements of eyes, face, and head.
  • Leavetaking – They take a long time to say goodbye was gathering or events. They do this because they value the company and interaction with other deaf people.

Controversies Related to Deaf Culture

Studies show that every nine out of ten deaf infants are born to hearing parents. Most of them choose cochlear implant surgery as soon as they are able medically. This helps the child with speech development.

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But the deaf culture believes that mainstream hearing people put too much stress on spoken words. According to Deaf culture, American Sign Language is a complete language, even though they don’t produce any sound.

Audism – Also called as autist by some people, considering oneself superior based on the ability to hear.

Oralism – advocating or using the oral method to teach the deaf student about how to speak.

Some activists maintain that Audism and Oralism degrade American Sign Language. It interferes with the ability of a deaf person to develop speech and listening skills.

As explained by O’Banion, ”Importance of Deaf Culture is there because it allows individuals to be who they are and they can live in the way unique to them.

Don’t just focus on the ears of a person, there is more to the person than whether they can hear or not.


Removing Stigmas attached to Deaf Culture

Rich Communication Doesn’t Have To Be Verbal

The use of the word “disabled” is not believed by the Deaf people in America as it is considered to be “less than”- presented as if they are lacking something. Deaf people distinguish themselves as a culture.

One of the ways to do so is capitalizing the word Deaf and working towards changing the attitude of America’s mainstream. They are trying to remove any stigma attached to them by removing this label.

“It’s all about the perspective. If you are deaf you see the world differently. Your way of communication is different. You seek out for other Deaf people as they understand you. You don’t want to be fixed – as you don’t believe you have any disability” as said by Eileen O’Banion, Deaf Advocate.

Some Advocates have discussed “Deaf Gain”. It is a type of communication advantage afforded by only those who must use other than verbal language.

This gives us an idea that Deaf individuals enjoy more meaningful and intentional connection as they cannot hear.

Making Tough Choices

Cochlear implants can help a deaf individual to hear what’s going on around them. But some Deaf Community members are against it, especially for infants who are born without hearing.

The community believes in the equality of right to choose for every individual whether they want to remain deaf or not. It also encourages parents to teach American Sign Language as the baby’s first language.

Some activists believe that choosing cochlear implants for the baby steers families away from the Deaf Culture a learning ASL.

They also believe that it is the basic human right to learn the language and cognitive development through ASL and we need to protect this basic human right.

As described by Megan Watt, author of CD’s ear blog, she lost her hearing ability at the age of two after contracting with HIB Meningitis.

Today she has a bilateral cochlear implant, and she got her interest in this while having a conversation with a middle-high school teacher. Later she confessed that she was not always keen on the idea.

She was aware of the controversy regarding the cochlear implant among certain factions of the Deaf Community. She also mentioned that she is really comfortable with the choice she made.


Deaf Culture in India Today

Now, India has the largest deaf community in the world. In India, many welfare organization is working for the benefits of the deaf community as 18 million people are suffering from deafness.

Today, the country has many organization working and dedicated to the deaf at the national, state, and regional levels.

Some key Organizations:

  • All India Federation and Sports Council of the Deaf(New Delhi)
  • Bihar Association (Patna)
  • Deaf can Association (Bhopal)
  • Delhi Association (New Delhi)
  • West Bengal Association(Kolkata)
  • Madras Association (Chennai) Etc.
Education and Training In India

In the 1960s and 70s, India has no more than 10 schools for the deaf, but today there are several deaf schools and colleges in the country. The highest concentration was seen in the states of Delhi, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu.

India has developed its own sign language. First Indian sign language was launched with 3000 words of a dictionary by Shri Thaawarchand Gehlot. This Dictionary was created by ISLR and TC.

The main purpose of the dictionary was to remove communication barriers between the deaf and normal people. The aim was to give constitutional rights regarding speech and opportunity for freedom of expression into the mainstream in the society to Deaf people.

The Dictionary has focused on providing more information in Indian Sign Language. There is an explanation of easy language for deaf and hearing people for learning and expressing their feeling and ideas.

This dictionary is available in Hindi as well as in English in hard copy and video format.

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Deaf Community

Deaf community means a group of people who understand and supports the same belief, ideas, interests, and common goal.

The people of the deaf community living in the same area and providing services to meet the needs of deaf children, adults, and seniors.

The deaf community is a society of deaf people, e.g., Deaf school, club, agency, they celebrate deaf events. They also include their family members who are able to hear properly.

So, they can learn their sign language as well as understand their culture. It does not mean who has a hearing problem, that defines a member of the deaf community.

A member of the deaf community they identify “him/her” as a member of the deaf community. Some child born in the deaf community in an obvious way as the children of deaf parents.

5% of the community have both deaf (parent & child). Another 5% have one parent deaf and 20% have brother and sister deaf. Other deaf members are drawn from the families where is no deafness.

Deaf Culture vs Hearing Culture

Deaf culture and hearing culture both are different because deaf people use sign language and move the body to express their opinion.

Hearing behaviors are limited and less body is used to express own thought. In hearing culture communicating with each may be done through spoken language but in the Deaf culture, it is done through sign language.

Deaf cultureHearing culture
When people are talking to each other it is necessary to look at each other.Eye contact is not necessary while talking to each other
Imagine more pictures than wordsPeople think more words than pictures
Pointing is necessary as it helps more in understanding somethingPointing is rude
Touching is allowed to express own feeling and thoughtsTouching is not allowed in hearing culture
Can talk with a mouth full of foodCan’t talk with a mouth full of food because considered this as rude
Long goodbye/long introductionShort goodbye/Short introduction

Deaf vs deaf

Two different spelling of the word “Deaf” and “deaf”. Generally, the small ”d” deaf do not consider partners with other members of the deaf community. And big “D” deaf people identify themselves as culturally deaf and they have a strong deaf identity. They are proud to be deaf.

Small “d” people can not able to read lips but uses sign language for communication. A second person is totally deaf but able to read lips and communicates orally they come to the deaf community.

Small ‘’d’’’comes in deafness and Big ‘’’D’’ comes in deaf culture. So you can see, the big “D” and a small “d” is not confusing.

The two terms are also widely used to refer to distinct but partially overlapping groups of people: deaf people (those with significant hearing loss) vs. Deaf people (those who identify with Deaf culture and use a sign language as a primary means of communication).

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American Sign Language(ASL)

National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders(NIDCD) suggests that ASL is the complete and complex language.

It consists of the facial expression, hand movements and body language. ASL is the “backbone of the American Deaf Culture” as said by the National Association of the Deaf(NAD).

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O’Banion said “People not familiar with ASL think that it is English and hand gestures. But it is not. As spoken words are different based on countries and regions, so is singing.”

The origin of ASL is still not clear, but some say it was about 200 years ago and evolved over time. Like many other modern languages, Sign language also has a different accent, rhythm, word order, rules of pronunciation and grammar.

Some members of the deaf culture are so versed in American Sign Language that they can identify that when a person has learned it by observing the way they sign.

Just like ASl, some people also considered British Sign Language (BSL) where you can get a thousand of words and phrases of sign language.


Communicating with the Deaf Person

If you want to communicate with a deaf person, you no need to know American Sign Language. Rochester Institute of Technology developed a tip sheet to give five guidelines to communicate with the deaf person.

  1. One should acknowledge the fact that the first attempt to communicate with a deaf person will be really uncomfortable and awkward. This will lead to interaction progress.
  2. Using pen and paper will be ok. The deaf person will appreciate your efforts if you use a combination of communication methods such as hand movements, facial expression, and written words.
  3. Take your time to connect and communicate. Communication is considered the investment of time and effort. Be slow while communicating with a deaf person and ask for clarification if required.
  4. Vision is the most important tool for a deaf person as they listen with their eyes. They use their vision to communicate and receive information. So maintain eye contact while speaking, even if they are using the interpreter as maintaining eye contact is a sign of respect.
  5. You should use the beginning and end of the conversation as an opportunity to make physical(if appropriate) and visual contact with the Deaf person. Especially if they are using an interpreter during the conversation.

That’s all on our behalf. Give us your opinion & view by commenting below. If you wish to avail our help services, please dial our toll-free number 1800-121-4408 or visit our hearing clinic.

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A more useful article to read

>> Top Deaf Universities of the world for Deaf Students

>> Things You Need To Remember Before Travelling With a Hearing Loss

>> 10 Diseases & Medical Condition That May Cause Hearing Loss



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