Importance and Brief Description of Deaf Culture

Deaf Culture – a linguistic subculture in our society not everyone has enough privilege to enjoy this. It officially got recognition in 1965(almost 53 years ago). Basically, Deaf Culture is defined as a set of various social beliefs, art, literary, traditions, values, the influence of deafness and using sign language as a main method of communication. A different language is used by the members of the deaf community in America – American Sign Language(ASL). ASL helps them to connect with others who are deaf and also serves as the membership card to the linguistic subculture.

Removing Stigmas attached to Deaf Culture

Rich Communication doesn’t have to be verbal

The use of 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 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 the Deaf individuals enjoy more meaningful and intentional connection as they cannot hear.

Making Tough Choices

Cochlear implants can help a deaf individual to hear whats going on around them. But some Deaf Community members are against it, especially for infants who are born without hearing. The community believes in equality of right to choose for every individual whether they want to remain deaf or not. It also encourages parents to teach ASL as the baby’s first language. Some activists believe that choosing cochlear implants for the baby steers families away from the Deaf Culture an 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 Deaf Community. She also mentioned that she is really comfortable with the choice she made.

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

Audism – 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 ASL. 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 or not they can hear.

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).

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 ASL that they can identify that when a person has learned ASL by observing the way they sign.

Communicating with the Deaf Person

If you want to communicate with a deaf person, you no need to know ASL. 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 first attempt to communicate with a deaf person will be really uncomfortable and awkward. This will be the interaction progress.
  2. Using pen and paper will be ok. Your efforts will be appreciated even more by the deaf person 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 as 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. Begining and ending of the conversation can be used 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.

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