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Deaf Culture, History and Importance
"Deaf Culture: Culture, History, and Importance"
(Source: Unknown)
Many people think of hearing loss as a disability, but many members of the Deaf community do not see it that way. Deaf people in this country are a linguistic subculture. They identify themselves as Deaf, as an ethnic identity, and not a physical condition. People who identify themselves as Deaf belong to a proud and distinctive subcultural group known as the Deaf community. The uppercase "Deaf" is used to identify those who are members of the Deaf community. They feel they are simply a linguistic minority, and are no more in need of a cure for their condition than are Haitians or Hispanics.
Composed of people who use American Sign Language as their primary means of communication, the Deaf community has over the past 150 years developed a rich social life and folklore. Though their own efforts to meet their own needs, Deaf people have organized a national and international network of social, religious, athletic, dramatic, scholarly, and literary organizations serving local, national and international memberships. Every four years, for example, the World Games for the Deaf (the Deaf Olympics) brings together deaf athletes from many countries to compete for international prizes. Other important Deaf Organizations are:
  • National Theater for the Deaf
  • Gallaudet University
  • National Association for the Deaf
  • Miss Deaf America Pageant
  • World Federation of the Deaf
  • American Athletic Association of the Deaf
  • World Recreation Association of the Deaf
  • National Fraternal Society of the Deaf
The Deaf community has social norms and values particular to their society, which are passed from generation to generation, but it recruits memberships in a unique fashion. In general, human culture is passed down within families. But because 90% of deaf children have two hearing parents, only a minority of Deaf community members acquire their cultural identity and distinctive social skills at home. Most Deaf children learn about deaf culture in schools for the Deaf, from other children, teachers, and dormitory leaders. Nonetheless, the cultural link is strong, and the Deaf community is quite cohesive. A high percentage of members (90%) marry within the group.
A number of people have begun to study Deaf folklore. They have collected jokes, legends, games, riddles, etc. based on American Sign Language and the experiences of Deaf people. In addition, linguists have isolated some of the characteristics and values of Deaf culture. Some of these characteristics are:
  • Membership in the Deaf community is usually based on deafness, although many children of deaf adults, interpreters, and other persons fluent in American Sign Language (ASL) often become "part" of the deaf community.
  • There is a heavy emphasis on vision. American Sign Language (ASL), a visual mode of communication, is the language used within the Deaf community. Members gain the vast majority of their information through their eyes, and by a observing closely what is happening around them.
  • There is a specific set of social norms. The accepted forms of etiquette within the Deaf community are somewhat different from those in the general society. For example:
  • Members do not generally use their voices with Deaf friends, but will with hearing persons. In fact, many members of the Deaf community disassociate themselves from speech.
  • Members will wave, tap or throw a small piece of paper to attract a person’s attention.
  • In Deaf culture, it is polite to "talk", that is sign, with one’s mouth full, but speaking with one’s hands full is not done.
  • Members use a variety of devices to replace ordinary alarm clocks, doorbells, telephones, fire alarms, etc..
  • Deaf culture had no prohibition against staring, because it is necessary for effective communication. In hearing culture, however it is often considered rude.
  • Members place a strong emphasis on fostering and maintaining social ties within the community.
Research on the Deaf community, its values, mores, and folklore, is in its infancy. Several social scientist are presently working to develop a more detailed and accurate picture of this distinctive way of life. The Gallaudet Deaf President Now protest, The Academy-Award winning actress, Marlee Matlin, and the selection of a deaf 1994-1995 Miss America, Heather Whitestone, have contributed to the increase in general awareness of the Deaf population and its unique characteristics.
Facts about Deaf Community
  • The Deaf community is separate from other disability consumer groups by the virtue of communication process, not physical disabilities.
  • The Deaf community considers itself a minority group, a separate entity because of its unique culture, language and social norms.
  • Within the Deaf community, there are approximately eight subgroups and 20 communication modes/sign language systems.
  • The Deaf community is a multi-cultural community that includes African-Americans, Asian Pacific-Islanders, Hispanics, Native Americans, to name a few.
  • Hearing people get about 75% of their information through aural means such as radio, television and other people’s conversations. Therefore, about 25% of information acquired is through other methods. Of this 25% receivable information, deaf people acquire only half and sometimes even less.
  • Since American Sign Language is not a written language, some deaf people’s reading and writing skills vary between third and fifth grade level. Other deaf people who are fluent in English and ASL will have higher reading and writing level.
  • A typical Deaf person’s thought process is more in terms of visual and logical concepts, not verbal and auditory concepts.
  • The median economic level of the Deaf community is below the lower middle class.
  • Many Deaf people receive Supplementary Security Income (SSI) as their means of support.
  • Demographically, the Deaf community parallels other minority groups in terms of underachievement, underemployment and unemployment.
  • For years, Deaf people have experienced oppression though inferior education, and by hearing people’s denial of the Deaf culture and ASL as a language.