Concept Culture Deaf Essay Explaining

Contributed by Debbie Clason, staff writer, Healthy Hearing
September 14, 20172014-09-22T00:00:00-05002017-09-14T00:00:00-0500

Members of the Deaf community in America use a different language – literally. Not only does their language – American Sign Language (ASL) – connect them to others who are Deaf, it also serves as a membership card into a linguistic subculture of our society that not everyone is privileged to enjoy.

Breaking down stigmas

One of the ways the Deaf distinguish themselves as a culture is by capitalizing the word Deaf and working to change mainstream America’s attitude. The Deaf culture doesn’t believe in using the word "disabled" because that word makes implies “less than” – as though they are lacking something. By removing the label, they are also removing any stigma that might be attached.

“It’s about perspective,” Deaf advocate, Eileen O’Banion said. “When you are Deaf, you see the world in a different way. You communicate differently. You seek out others who are Deaf because they understand you. You don’t believe you have a disability – and you don’t want to be fixed.”

In fact, some advocates even speak about "Deaf gain" which is a communication advantage afforded to those who must use means other than verbal language. The idea is that deaf individuals have more meaningful and intentional connection because they cannot hear. 

Tough choices

Meghan Watt, author of CD’s Ear Blog, lost her hearing after contracting HIB meningitis at the age of two. A conversation with a middle high school teacher piqued her interest in cochlear implant surgery, even though she admits she wasn’t always keen on the idea. Today, she has bilateral cochlear implants.

Meghan is aware there is controversy among certain factions of the Deaf community regarding cochlear implants and is comfortable with the choices she’s made. “Some don’t approve of CIs and that’s that,” she explained matter-of-factly. “If they’re happy being Deaf, that’s great. That’s their decision. I like being able to hear what’s going on around me.”

Some members of the Deaf community are opposed to cochlear implant surgery -- especially for infants who are born without hearing. They believe every individual deserves the right to choose for themselves whether they want to remain Deaf and encourage parents to begin teaching ASL as the baby’s first language. Some activists believe learning language and cognitive development through ASL is a basic human right that should be protected and that choosing cochlear implants steers families away from learning ASL and embracing Deaf culture.

The controversy

Nine out of 10 Deaf infants are born to hearing parents. Many of those parents choose cochlear implant surgery as soon as they are medically able because it helps their child with speech development.

But the Deaf culture believes mainstream hearing America puts too much emphasis on the spoken word. They maintain ASL is a complete language, even though they don’t produce words with their mouths and voices.

Deaf people do not see lack of hearing as a disability, and they do not want to be "fixed."

Some activists talk about audism -- an attitude of superiority based on an ability to hear -- and oralism -- advocacy or use of the oral method of teaching Deaf students to speak. Audism and oralism, activists maintain, degrade ASL and interfere with the Deaf person’s ability to develop speech and listening skills.

“Deaf culture is important because it allows individuals to be who they are,” O’Banion explained, “and live in a way that is unique to them. There’s more to a person than whether or not they can hear, so don’t just focus on their ears.”

American Sign Language (ASL)

According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), ASL is a complete, complex language consisting of signs made by the hands, facial expressions and body language. The National Association of the Deaf (NAD) calls ASL the “backbone of the American Deaf culture.”

“Many who are not familiar with ASL think it’s English and hand gestures,” O’Banion said. “It’s not. Signing is different between countries and regions, much like the spoken word is different between countries and regions.”

While the origins of sign language are not clear, most agree that it began almost 200 years ago and has been evolving ever since. Like modern language, sign language has different accents, rhythms, rules for pronunciation, word order and grammar. The language is so complex, some members of Deaf culture say they can identify when a person learned ASL simply by observing the way they sign.

How to communicate with a Deaf person

Fortunately, you don’t need to know ASL in order to communicate with a Deaf person. According to a tip sheet developed by the Rochester Institute of Technology, one of the country’s premiere learning institutions for the Deaf, there are five guidelines to remember when communicating with the Deaf.

  1. Acknowledge the fact that your first attempts to communicate will feel awkward and uncomfortable. This will pass as your interaction progresses.
  2. It’s ok to use paper and pen. In fact, the Deaf person will appreciate your efforts even more if you use a combination of communication methods, such as hand gestures, facial expressions and the written word.
  3. Take the time to communicate and connect. Deaf people consider communication an investment of time and effort. Slow down, take your time and ask for clarification if you need it.
  4. Understand that Deaf people listen with their eyes. Vision is the most useful tool they have to communicate and receive information. For this reason, only speak when you have eye contact, even if they are using an interpreter. Maintaining eye contact is a sign of respect.
  5. Use the beginning and ending of a conversation as an opportunity to make physical and visual contact with the Deaf person, especially if they have been using an interpreter during your conversation. Smile, shake hands, touch their arm (if appropriate) and make eye contact.  
Debbie Clason, staff writer, Healthy Hearing

Debbie Clason holds a master's degree from Indiana University. Her impressive client list includes financial institutions, real estate developers, physicians, pharmacists and nonprofit organizations. Read more about Debbie.

Essay on Deaf Culture and Deaf Language

Deaf people mostly are regarded as individuals who cannot hear due to their lacking auditory capability. They have specific deficiencies in hearing system and cannot communicate either by hearing or speaking. Deaf people are different from other peoples of society forming separate social groups, speak own language, mostly attend different universities, have own magazines, and special sports events including Olympics. With the help of modern developments in deaf language, deaf people can communicate with more ease and express their viewpoint comfortably. Therefore, they are satisfied with their lifestyle, how they spend their days, eventually leading a happy life. However, they are isolated from hearing cultures, in everyday life, in hotels, restaurants, banks, etc. In other words, their culture is different from others and distinctive from the cultural values exhibited by the hearing people.

Deaf Culture - Distinctive and Isolated

Traditionally, deaf people were taught through different oral methods focusing on developing speaking skills of deaf people. This approach was later on replaced by modern views that require developing communication abilities in infants long before they are able to speak. They are taught deaf language known as sign language from childhood to communicate easily when they are grown. Throughout the world, distinctive yet exclusive language has been developed for the deaf people to become a part of common culture. (Padden, 2003)

Similar to any other cultural or linguistic group, deaf people share common values and communicate in their own sign language. Deaf people, nowadays, are found at every level of public or private level within communities and successful as other hearing people. The second language of deaf people is English with sign language as the first one. However, due to a general attitude, deaf people are isolated and have formed minority groups living in their own culture, speaking their own language, communicating through their own way.

It is pertinent to mention that deafness is more than just a medical condition, rather it is a way of life with own language, traditions, behavior, and overall distinctive culture. Due to biased attitude of hearing people, deaf community has developed distrust because they are viewed as disable or sick people needing medication. Similar to other groups, deaf community also has a feeling of self-respect or self-esteem. In other words members of deaf culture share a common sense of pride. They strive to remove their inability of not speaking or hearing with the help of sign language. Deaf language, therefore, is playing a vital role in formation and support of deaf culture uniting deaf people in one community.

Hearing people should not try to avoid deaf people and treat them as an isolated group. With the development and advancements in genetic technologies deaf people are playing their due role in the community. For supporting deaf community, it is ethical for hearing people to embrace deaf culture and accept them as a normal linguistic as well as cultural community. Deafness, in fact, is not a disability and societies should treat them just like any other social group. People in deaf community, nowadays, live a normal life, driving, cooking, caring for others, paying their bills, and working like other normal people.

Deaf Communities

The term deafness is used to describe people having inability to hear. Deafness is a cultural and social phenomenon existing in every country and society of the world. People in deaf communities share a common perception creating a distinctive social, cultural, and linguistic community. The main feature of deaf culture is their language that distinguishes them from other hearing persons.

It is pertinent to highlight that deaf culture and hearing cultures are the two extremes existing in the society. Both groups have different set of cultural, linguistics, and social values. They have different beliefs, norms, and attitudes. Hearing culture and deaf cultures, therefore, belong to different worlds. Both communities do not interact socially with each other and remain in their own boundary lines. Deaf communities belong to a culture in which different social and linguistic aspects are exhibited in comparison with people belonging to hearing cultures. Deaf communities include people with hearing impairments, however, isolated from normal social and cultural groups comprising hearing people.

There are different problems existing in the deaf cultures. Deaf people generally have less access to communicate with hearing people and sharing information with them. Many deaf persons face serious problems in the ordinary life, like visiting a doctor, getting medical treatments, interacting with lawyers, engineers, insurance companies etc. They also have low access to different sports as well as religious events. They cannot view most of the programs shown on televisions as no interpretation facility is available so they could understand it.

Deaf people have low access to information and education compared with other hearing people. The main method of teaching is the oral sign language and no written way of education available to deaf people. Their chances of studying at high level, for example at university level, are quite low. In other words, educational facilities, especially at the highest level are limited for the people in deaf communities. Deaf culture has high limitations as deaf people are mostly ignorant of their cultural heritage and different other social events. Studies have shown that most of the deaf children are born in families having deaf parents. Since both cultures- hearing and deaf- are separate and significantly different with each other, the integration of both communities is considered an impossible factor. (Padden, 1990)

Everyday and Routine Life of Deaf People

Deaf culture comprises people with own habits, patterns, customs, language and values. Deaf people consider them a minority group and not as individuals having disabilities. As a different minority and a separate culture they regard each other as a family feeling closer to each other and one community throughout the world. Due to common language, communication, and a separate culture, deaf people prefer spending time with other, marrying their own kind, and choosing their own kinds as mate or friend. (Lane, 1996)

It is pertinent to highlight that movement of accepting deaf as a separate cultural group and not disabled persons has become a part of human rights movement. To support their movement of acknowledging them as a cultural group, deaf language has supported their cause uniting them. Sign language has been accepted by different educational and governmental institutions equivalent to other foreign languages. This language, in most of the cases, is taught by deaf teachers to other deaf students. The way of teaching includes telling stories, singing songs, and narrating dramas. This increases chances of interaction between deaf people and proves as an effective way of interpreting and elucidating point-of-view.

Deaf Language

Through deaf language, deaf people can communicate with each other, expressing their thoughts, sharing their views, and describing their opinions or beliefs. The language has taken a modern perspective and commonly known as sign language, however, deaf language was born long before it was documented and recognized as a proper language and officially acknowledged by different educational and governmental institutions. (Humphries, 2004)

Sign language has strongly supported deaf communities, uniting them, understanding each other, and communicating in best possible way. Linguistically, sign language is similar to any other language facilitating deaf people to convey their thoughts or feelings through movement of hands, combining different hand shapes, and using facial expressions. The reason for developing this language is to support deaf people as they have different cultures separate from hearing people culture.

For centuries, a general conception prevailed that it is not easy or possible to teach deaf people. Deaf children generally did not attend schools. However, evidence suggests that there were schools for deaf children in the 17th and 18th centuries but they did not meet all the requirements, and a dire need initiated to develop a modern language through which deaf people can easily communicate especially with other deaf persons forming a community in which everybody understand others. American Sign Language is considered as a fully functional language meeting all criteria of a true language. It includes basic rules of linguistics, grammar, and different other necessary requirements of a quality language. (Humphries, 2004)

Use of Hands and Facial Expressions in Deaf Language

Hands are mainly used in sign language to express views with plain colored clothes regarded as the best background to convey meaning. However, in sign language hand movement is not the sole way of expressing rather entire movements of body as well as face are involved. This is a highly visible language as many signs and movements in this language are quick, with some humor and imagination. It is pertinent to mention that deaf people in different countries have different sign languages with standards and rules established as per their own areas. However, American Sign Language is considered as one of the most acceptable, comprehensive, with complete grammatical terms and the easiest of all sign languages in the world. Sign languages are exclusively developed in deaf cultures. People speaking sign language includes friends, family members, teachers, interpreters, and other people mostly deaf, sharing same characteristics.

Despite the fact that a common sign language exists in the deaf community, at times specific sign systems are developed in families having deaf child and hearing parents. In this case, signs different to the universal sign language are developed within family being informal sign system. These sign languages, developed at homes, are known as home sign language. However, whether sign language is developed at home with special symbols or a universally acceptable sign language is learnt, this language is comparatively complex and difficult compared to other languages. Yet for deaf people, with no other way of communication available, sign language is an effective way of communicating especially with other deaf people. It is, in fact, the most creative way to convey feelings, confront limitations, and living comfortably with much each in a community. This is due to the fact that people in deaf culture communicates through sign language, uses visual patterns to express their thoughts, mostly with movements of hands supported by facial expressions making it a highly expressive way of communication.

Conclusion

Efforts have been made in the paper to describe deaf culture and deaf language. Deaf people mostly are regarded as individuals who cannot hear due to their lacking auditory capability. Deaf people are different from hearing people forming separate social groups, speak own language, and are a distinctive group or culture. The paper has also discussed deaf language as a mean of communication by deaf people. The modern way of communication is sign language with American Sign Language considered as a fully functional language meeting all criteria of a true language; however, there are also other sign languages in the world.

References

Humphries, T (2004) Learning American Sign Language: Levels I & II- Beginning & Intermediate, Allyn & Bacon

Ladd, P (2003) Understanding Deaf Culture: In Search of Deafhood, Multilingual Matters

Lane, H (1996) A Journey Into the Deaf-World, DawnSignPress

Padden, L (2003) Understanding Deaf Culture: In Search of Deafhood, Multilingual Matters

Padden, C (1990) Deaf in America: Voices from a Culture, Harvard University Press

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