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DEAF CULTURE 1

Deaf Culture
Brooke M. Hancock
University of Kentucky
October 8, 2014

“Deaf and Dumb” is a phrase that is not only painfully common, but one that holds true
for most people’s view on the deaf. Being deaf is all to commonly seen as a disability instead of
a culture with it’s own distinct traits, social organizations, and accepted ways of behaving.

Similar to other cultural groups, deaf people share a unique form of communication, sign
language, which is plays a major role in deaf culture. American Sign Language(ASL) is the
fourth most commonly used language in the United States with approximately 500,000 to 2
million speakers(Lane, Hoffmeister& Bahan, 1996). Deaf children born to Deaf parents pick up
sign language as easily as a hearing child from hearing parents begins to talk. At around the same
time that a hearing baby begins to speak, a deaf infant of parents who sign will begin signing
nonsense signs(Dolnick, 1993).

However more often than not this ideal match up(deaf child to deaf parent, hearing child
to hearing parent) doesn’t occur; 90% of deaf children are born to hearing parents(Dolnick,
1993). In this case, the parents and the child belong to different cultures and communication is
often a crucial issue in their relationship. Deaf children cannot grasp their parents’ spoken
language, and hearing parents are unlikely to know sign language.

The difficulty of a deaf child trying to communicate in a world full of hearing people is
one factor that strengthens the Deaf culture more than anything else. “Learning to speak is so
hard for people deaf from infancy because they are trying, without any direct feedback, to mimic
sounds they have never heard”(Dolnick,1993, p.2). Even after years of practice reading lips, so

many words and phrases look too much alike to make out with out paying intensely close
attention to context and that individual style of pronunciation.

Aside from a language binding together the Deaf culture, pride also plays a huge role in
the Deaf community. In a survey survey, social scientists asked people who are blind or in a
wheelchair if they wish to see or walk and almost all instantly said yes. However when the deaf
answer their equivalent of this question, they replied with no (Dolnick, 1993).* This is because
the Deaf don’t see deafness as a disability, but rather as a way of life.

This strong pride in their culture, language, and traditions is what leads most Deaf people
to reject new technologies in “fixing” their deafness such as cochlear implants, speech therapy
and other “cures”. An example of this is seen through a seven year old girl, Caitlin Parton, who
got a cochlear implant and was shown on 60 Minutes as a “cure of deafness” success story.
Activists from the Deaf Community were furious that a surgery that often doesn't work and takes
away from an individuals chance of being a part of the Deaf culture was being promoted in such
a positive light.

Other rules for behavior also define the define culture as any other culture would have.
For example, if you are having a conversation eye contact and visual attention is expected at all
times. Along with this, a person who is signing should hold full attention of the conversation
until they indicate they are finished with a visual indicator such as a pause or facial expression.
There are also acceptable ways of getting a person’s attention like gently tapping a person’s
shoulder or waving (Gallaudet University).*

Another common courtesy rule in Deaf culture is how to address a deaf person when
using an interpreter. Margaret Rosenberger, a teacher’s assistant who worked specifically with
deaf children, explained that when using an interpreter, it is seen not to look at the deaf person,
“Because you are talking to the deaf person, not the interpreter, you should be looking at
them as if you were having an other conversation. They can also see your expressions and they
pick up a lot from your face and body movements.”

Other things to avoid doing when interacting with a Deaf individual is exaggerating
mouthing or mocking sign language. Also make sure to offer a deaf person first choice in picking
their seat, as they may need to pick a spot with better lighting or a certain view(American Sign
Language Association, 2012).

While most people will never personally know a deaf person unless they give birth to a
deaf child, understanding Deaf culture often times revolves around respect and common sense.
Just as in any culture they hold their traditions and ways of life very personally, and respecting
this is the best way to show that you respect their culture.