Home      Discussion      Topics      Dictionary      Almanac
Signup       Login
Deaf culture

Deaf culture

Overview
Deaf culture describes the social beliefs, behaviors, art, literary traditions, history, values and shared institutions of communities that are affected by deafness and which use sign language
Sign language
A sign language is a language which, instead of acoustically conveyed sound patterns, uses visually transmitted sign patterns to convey meaning—simultaneously combining hand shapes, orientation and movement of the hands, arms or body, and facial expressions to fluidly express a speaker's...

s as the main means of communication. When used as a cultural label, the word deaf is often written with a capital D, and referred to as "big D Deaf" in speech and sign. When used as a label for the audiological condition, it is written with a lower case d.

Members of the Deaf community tend to view deafness as a difference in human experience rather than a disability
Disability
A disability may be physical, cognitive, mental, sensory, emotional, developmental or some combination of these.Many people would rather be referred to as a person with a disability instead of handicapped...

.

The community may include family members of deaf people and sign-language interpreters who identify with Deaf culture and does not automatically include all people who are deaf or hard of hearing.
Discussion
Ask a question about 'Deaf culture'
Start a new discussion about 'Deaf culture'
Answer questions from other users
Full Discussion Forum
 
Unanswered Questions
Encyclopedia
Deaf culture describes the social beliefs, behaviors, art, literary traditions, history, values and shared institutions of communities that are affected by deafness and which use sign language
Sign language
A sign language is a language which, instead of acoustically conveyed sound patterns, uses visually transmitted sign patterns to convey meaning—simultaneously combining hand shapes, orientation and movement of the hands, arms or body, and facial expressions to fluidly express a speaker's...

s as the main means of communication. When used as a cultural label, the word deaf is often written with a capital D, and referred to as "big D Deaf" in speech and sign. When used as a label for the audiological condition, it is written with a lower case d.

Members of the Deaf community tend to view deafness as a difference in human experience rather than a disability
Disability
A disability may be physical, cognitive, mental, sensory, emotional, developmental or some combination of these.Many people would rather be referred to as a person with a disability instead of handicapped...

.

The community may include family members of deaf people and sign-language interpreters who identify with Deaf culture and does not automatically include all people who are deaf or hard of hearing. According to Anna Mindess, "it is not the extent of hearing loss that defines a member of the Deaf community but the individual's own sense of identity and resultant actions." As with all social groups that a person chooses to belong to, a person is a member of the Deaf community if he or she "identifies him/herself as a member of the Deaf community, and other members accept that person as a part of the community."

Deaf culture is recognised under article 30, paragraph 4 of the United Nations
United Nations
The United Nations is an international organization whose stated aims are facilitating cooperation in international law, international security, economic development, social progress, human rights, and achievement of world peace...

 Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is an international human rights instrument of the United Nations intended to protect the rights and dignity 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."

Acquisition of Deaf culture



Historically, Deaf culture has often been acquired within schools for the deaf and within Deaf social clubs, both of which unite deaf people into communities with which they can identify. Becoming Deaf culturally can occur at different times for different people, depending on the circumstances of one's life. A small proportion of deaf individuals acquire sign language and Deaf culture in infancy from Deaf parents, others acquire it through attendance at schools, and yet others may not be exposed to sign language and Deaf culture until college or a time after that.

Although up to fifty percent of deafness has genetic causes, less than five percent of deaf people have a Deaf parent, so Deaf communities are unusual among cultural groups in that most members do not acquire their cultural identities from parents.

Diversity within Deaf culture


Anna Mindess notes that there is "not just one homogenous Deaf culture." There are many distinct Deaf communities around the world, which communicate using different sign languages and exhibit different cultural norms. Deaf identity also intersects with other kinds of cultural identity
Cultural identity
Cultural identity is the identity of a group or culture, or of an individual as far as one is influenced by one's belonging to a group or culture. Cultural identity is similar to and has overlaps with, but is not synonymous with, identity politics....

. Deaf culture intersects with nationality, education, race, ethnicity, gender, class, sexual orientation, and other identity markers, leading to a culture that is at once quite small and also tremendously diverse. The extent to which people identify primarily with their Deaf identity rather than their membership in other intersecting cultural groups also varies. Mindess notes a 1989 study, which "found that 87 percent of black Deaf people polled identified with their Black culture first."

Sign languages


Members of Deaf cultures communicate via sign language
Sign language
A sign language is a language which, instead of acoustically conveyed sound patterns, uses visually transmitted sign patterns to convey meaning—simultaneously combining hand shapes, orientation and movement of the hands, arms or body, and facial expressions to fluidly express a speaker's...

s. There are over 200 distinct, naturally-occurring sign languages in the world. Although the United Kingdom
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 and the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 share English
English language
English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria...

 as the most common spoken language, the sign languages used in these countries differ markedly. Due to the origins of deaf education in the United States, American Sign Language
American Sign Language
American Sign Language, or ASL, for a time also called Ameslan, is the dominant sign language of Deaf Americans, including deaf communities in the United States, in the English-speaking parts of Canada, and in some regions of Mexico...

 is most closely related to French Sign Language
French Sign Language
French Sign Language is the sign language of the deaf in the nation of France. According to Ethnologue, it has 50,000 to 100,000 native signers....

.

Apart from using sign languages, Deaf culture has typical beliefs, values, and arts that help to define it.

Values and beliefs

  • A positive attitude toward being deaf is typical in Deaf cultural groups. Deafness is not generally considered a condition that needs to be fixed.
  • The use of a sign language is central to Deaf cultural identity. Oralist approaches to educating deaf children thereby pose a threat to the continued existence of Deaf culture. Members of Deaf communities may also oppose technological innovations like cochlear implant
    Cochlear implant
    A cochlear implant is a surgically implanted electronic device that provides a sense of sound to a person who is profoundly deaf or severely hard of hearing...

    s and hearing aids for the same reason.
  • Culturally Deaf people value the use of natural sign languages that exhibit their own grammatical conventions, such as American Sign Language
    American Sign Language
    American Sign Language, or ASL, for a time also called Ameslan, is the dominant sign language of Deaf Americans, including deaf communities in the United States, in the English-speaking parts of Canada, and in some regions of Mexico...

     and British Sign Language
    British Sign Language
    British Sign Language is the sign language used in the United Kingdom , and is the first or preferred language of some deaf people in the UK; there are 125,000 deaf adults in the UK who use BSL plus an estimated 20,000 children. The language makes use of space and involves movement of the hands,...

    , over signed versions of English or other spoken languages. Note that spoken English, written English and signed English
    Signing Exact English
    Signing Exact English is a system of manual communication that strives to be an exact representation of English vocabulary and grammar...

     are three different symbolic systems for expressing the same language.
  • Deaf communities strongly oppose discrimination against deaf people.
  • Deaf culture in the United States tends to be collectivist rather than individualist; culturally Deaf people value the group.

Behavioral norms

  • Culturally Deaf people have rules of etiquette for getting attention, walking through signed conversations, leave-taking, and otherwise politely negotiating a signing environment.
  • Deaf people also keep each other informed of what is going on in one's environment. It is common to provide detailed information when leaving early or arriving late; withholding such information may be considered rude.
  • Deaf people may be more direct or blunt than their hearing counterparts.
  • When giving introductions, Deaf people typically try to find common ground; since the Deaf community is relatively small, Deaf people usually know some other Deaf people in common. "The search for connections is the search for connectedness."
  • Deaf people may also consider time differently. Showing up early to large scale events, such as lectures, is typical. This may be motivated by the need to get a seat that provides the best visual clarity for the deaf person. Deaf people may also be late to social events. However, at Deaf social events such as parties, it is common for Deaf people to stay for elongated amounts of time, for the solidarity and conversations at social gatherings are valued by Deaf people.

Literary traditions and arts


A strong tradition of poetry and storytelling exists in American Sign Language and other signed languages. Some prominent performers in the U.S. include Clayton Valli
Clayton Valli
Clayton Valli was a prominent deaf linguist and American Sign Language poet whose work helped further to legitimize ASL and introduce people to the richness of American Sign Language literature....

, Benjamin Bahan, Ella Mae Lentz, Manny Hernandez, C.J. Jones, Debbie Rennie, Patrick Graybill, Peter Cook, and many others. Their works are now increasingly available on video.

Culturally Deaf people have also represented themselves in the dominant written languages of their nations.

Deaf artists such as Betty G. Miller and Chuck Baird have produced visual artwork that conveys a Deaf worldview.

History


Deaf people who sign are intensely proud of their history. In the United States, they recount the story of Laurent Clerc, a Deaf educator, coming to the United States from France in 1816 to help found the first permanent school for deaf children in the country.

Another well-known event is the 1880 Second International Congress on Education of the Deaf in Milan, Italy, where hearing educators voted to embrace oral education and remove sign language from the classroom. This effort resulted in strong opposition within Deaf cultures today to the oralist
Oralism
Oralism is the education of deaf students through spoken language by using lip reading, speech, and mimicking the mouth shapes and breathing patterns of speech instead of using sign language within the classroom...

 method of teaching deaf children to speak and lip read
Lip reading
Lip reading, also known as lipreading or speechreading, is a technique of understanding speech by visually interpreting the movements of the lips, face and tongue with information provided by the context, language, and any residual hearing....

 with limited or no use of sign language in the classroom. The method is intended to make it easier for deaf children to integrate into hearing communities, but the benefits of learning in such an environment are disputed. The use of sign language
Sign language
A sign language is a language which, instead of acoustically conveyed sound patterns, uses visually transmitted sign patterns to convey meaning—simultaneously combining hand shapes, orientation and movement of the hands, arms or body, and facial expressions to fluidly express a speaker's...

 is central to Deaf identity
Cultural identity
Cultural identity is the identity of a group or culture, or of an individual as far as one is influenced by one's belonging to a group or culture. Cultural identity is similar to and has overlaps with, but is not synonymous with, identity politics....

 and attempts to limit its use are viewed as an attack.

Shared institutions



Deaf culture revolves around such institutions as residential schools for deaf students, universities for deaf students (including Gallaudet University
Gallaudet University
Gallaudet University is a federally-chartered university for the education of the deaf and hard of hearing, located in the District of Columbia, U.S...

, South West Collegiate Institute for the Deaf, and the National Technical Institute for the Deaf
National Technical Institute for the Deaf
The National Technical Institute for the Deaf is the first and largest technological college in the world for students who are deaf or hard of hearing...

), Deaf clubs, Deaf athletic leagues, Deaf social organizations (such as the Deaf Professional Happy Hour), Deaf religious groups, and an array of conferences and festivals, such as the Deaf Way II Conference and Festival and the World Federation of the Deaf
World Federation of the Deaf
The World Federation of the Deaf is an international non-governmental organization that acts as a peak body for national associations of Deaf people, with a focus on Deaf people who use sign language and their family and friends...

 conferences.

Deaf clubs, popular in the 1940s and 1950s, were also an important part of Deaf culture. During this time there were very few places that the Deaf could call their own; places run by Deaf people for Deaf people. Deaf clubs were the solution to this need. Money was made by selling alcohol and hosting card games. Sometimes these ventures were so successful that the building used by the club was able to be purchased. However, the main attraction of these clubs was that they provided a place that Deaf people could go to be around other Deaf people, sometimes sharing stories, hosting parties, comedians, and plays. Many of today’s common ABC stories were first seen at Deaf clubs. The clubs were found in all of the major cities, New York City being home to at least 12. These clubs were an important break from their usually solitary day spent at factory jobs.

In the 1960s, Deaf clubs began their quick and drastic decline. Today there are only a few spread out deaf clubs found in America and their attendance is commonly small with a tendency to the elderly. This sudden decline is often attributed to the rise of technology like the TTY and closed captioning for personal TVs. With other options available for entertainment and communication, the need for Deaf clubs grew smaller. It was no longer the only option for getting in touch with other members of the Deaf community.

However, others attribute the decline of Deaf clubs to the end of WWII and a change of the job market. During WWII there was high demand for factory laborers and a promise of high pay. Many Deaf Americans left their homes to move to bigger cities with the hope of a factory job. This huge influx of workers into new cities created the need for Deaf clubs. When WWII ended and the civil rights movement progressed, the federal government started offering more jobs to Deaf men and women. People began switching from manufacturing jobs to service jobs, moving away from solitary work with set hours. Today, Deaf clubs are rare, but Deaf advocacy centers and other Deaf organizations have become widespread and popular.

Deaf Space


Initially known as visu-centric design. This concept began at Gallaudet University
Gallaudet University
Gallaudet University is a federally-chartered university for the education of the deaf and hard of hearing, located in the District of Columbia, U.S...

 with the Sorenson Language and Communication Center (SLCC) building. This was designed by the SmithGroup. "Designed in its entirety for the needs of the deaf and hard-of-hearing, this unique academic building establishes a new level of architectural accommodation." With soft corners, diffused lighting and wide circular pathways SLCC allows total visual access and connectivity. Automatic sliding doors compared to the traditional swinging doors allow continuous conversation, without unnecessary pauses. Metal railings can become visual obstructions, therefore are replaced by glass railings.

The SmithGroup has won the following recognitions for the Sorenson Language and Communication Center:
  • Section Award, Illuminating Engineering Society of North America (IESNA), 2009
  • Illumination Award of Merit, Illuminating Engineering Society of North America (IESNA), 2009
  • Silver Award/Educational/Institutional, International Interior Design Association (IIDA), Mid-Atlantic Chapter, 2009
  • Award of Excellence?Best Institutional Project, National Association of Industrial and Office Properties (NAIOP), Maryland/DC Chapter, 2009
  • Institutional Award of Merit (submitted by Heery International
    Heery International
    Heery International, Inc. is an architectural firm that was founded in 1952 by George T. Heery and his father C. Wilmer Heery, Jr., and is currently headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia...

    ), Mid-Atlantic Construction, 2008


"Eyeing the Future: Gallaudet University
Gallaudet University
Gallaudet University is a federally-chartered university for the education of the deaf and hard of hearing, located in the District of Columbia, U.S...

's new visu-centric facility promotes communication", Environmental Construction & Design, November 2008

"Gallaudet Eyes the Future with Visual Design", School Construction News, November 2008

"deafness" and "Deafness"


In a clinical context, the term deafness (written with a lower case d) refers to a physical condition characterized by a relative lack of auditory sensitivity to sound compared to the species norm. In a cultural context, the term "Deafness" (written with an upper case D) refers to cultural membership within a group that is composed mainly, but not exclusively, of people who are clinically deaf and who form a social community with an identity that revolves around deafness and the use of sign languages to communicate.

"hearing-impaired"


The term hearing impaired
Hearing impairment
-Definition:Deafness is the inability for the ear to interpret certain or all frequencies of sound.-Environmental Situations:Deafness can be caused by environmental situations such as noise, trauma, or other ear defections...

is more likely to be used by people with a less than severe hearing loss and people who have acquired deafness in adulthood than by those who have grown up deaf. By contrast, those who identify with the Deaf culture movement typically reject the label impaired and other labels that imply that deafness is a pathological condition, viewing it instead as a locus of pride.

See also


  • Deafhood
    Deafhood
    Deafhood is a term coined by Paddy Ladd in his book "Understanding Deaf Culture: In Search of Deafhood." While the precise meaning of the word remains deliberately vague—Ladd himself calls Deafhood a "process" rather than something finite and clear—it attempts to convey an affirmative and positive...

  • Audism
    Audism
    Audism is a term typically used to describe discrimination against deaf or hard of hearing people, although it could also be expanded to include anyone with a difference in hearing ability. This discrimination can occur in a number of forms in a range that includes both physical, cultural, and...

  • National Association of the Deaf
    National Association of the Deaf
    National Associations of the Deaf are national bodies that represent Deaf people and the Deaf community in their respective countries. They are usually members of the World Federation of the Deaf and advocate for sign language.-See also:...

  • American Sign Language Literature
    American Sign Language literature
    American Sign Language literature refers to stories, poetry, dramatic productions, folk tales, and even songs in American Sign Language. ASL literature can denote works translated from other literatures into ASL, like Patrick Graybill's translation of the poem "Not Waving, but Drowning", or more...

  • Canadian Deaf Theatre
    Canadian Deaf Theatre
    Canadian Deaf Theatre is currently Canada's only anglophone deaf professional theatre company. Its philosophy is "A belief in the interest and inherent natural ability of deaf people to act and entertain on a serious professional level and to offer something different from that of the...

  • Second International Congress on Education of the Deaf held in Milan, Italy in 1880.
  • Models of deafness
    Models of deafness
    Various models of deafness are rooted in either the social or biological sciences. These are the medical model, the social model, and the cultural model. The model used can affect how deaf persons are treated and their identity. In the medical model, deafness is viewed as an undesirable...

  • Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
    Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
    The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is an international human rights instrument of the United Nations intended to protect the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities...

  • Sign name
    Sign name
    In Deaf culture and sign language, a sign name is a special sign that is used to uniquely identify a person, just like a name. There are some special cultural rules around sign names; for example, they must be agreed upon by you and people in the Deaf community...

  • "Total Communication
    Total Communication
    Total Communication is an approach to deaf education that aims to make use of a number of modes of communication such as signed, oral, auditory, written and visual aids, depending on the particular needs and abilities of the child.-History:...

    "
  • Dorothy Miles
    Dorothy Miles
    Dorothy Miles 1931 - 1993. Poet and activist in the Deaf community. Throughout her life, she composed her poems in English, British Sign Language, and American Sign Language. Her work laid the foundations for modern sign language poetry in the US and UK...


Further reading

  • Berbrier, Mitch. "Being Deaf has little to do with one's ears": Boundary work in the Deaf culture movement. Perspectives on Social Problems, 10, 79-100.
  • Cartwright, Brenda E. Encounters with Reality: 1001 (Deaf) interpreters scenarios
  • Christiansen, John B. (2003) Deaf President Now! The 1988 Revolution at Gallaudet University Gallaudet University Press
  • Ladd, P
    Paddy Ladd
    Dr. Paddy Ladd is a scholar, author, activist and researcher of Deaf culture . He is currently a lecturer and MSC Coordinator at the Centre for Deaf Studies at the University of Bristol . He held the Powrie V. Doctor Chair in Deaf Studies at Gallaudet University, Washington DC . He completed his Ph.D...

    . (2003). Understanding Deaf Culture. In Search of Deafhood. Toronto: Multilingual Matters.
  • Lane, Harlan (1993). The Mask of Benevolence. New York: Random House.
  • Lane, Harlan. (1984) When the Mind Hears: A History of the Deaf. New York: Vintage.
  • Lane, Harlan, Hoffmeister, Robert, & Bahan, Ben (1996). A Journey into the Deaf-World. San Diego, CA: DawnSignPress.
  • Luczak, Raymond (1993). Eyes of Desire: A Deaf Gay & Lesbian Reader.
  • Moore, Matthew S. & Levitan, Linda (2003). For Hearing People Only, Answers to Some of the Most Commonly Asked Questions About the Deaf Community, its Culture, and the "Deaf Reality", Rochester, New York: Deaf Life Press.
  • Padden, Carol A. (1980). The deaf community and the culture of Deaf people. In: C. Baker & R. Battison (eds.) Sign Language and the Deaf Community. Silver Spring(EEUU): National Association of the Deaf.
  • Padden, Carol A. (1996). From the cultural to the bicultural: the modern Deaf community. in Parasnis I, ed. "Cultural and Language Diversity and the Deaf Experience." Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press
  • Padden, Carol A. & Humphries, Tom L. (1988). Deaf in America: Voices from a Culture. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  • Padden, Carol A. & Humphries, Tom L. (2005). Inside Deaf Culture, ISBN 0-674-01506-1.
  • Sacks, Oliver W
    Oliver Sacks
    Oliver Wolf Sacks, CBE , is a British neurologist and psychologist residing in New York City. He is a professor of neurology and psychiatry at Columbia University, where he also holds the position of Columbia Artist...

    . (1989). Seeing Voices: A Journey Into The World Of The Deaf
    Seeing Voices
    Seeing Voices: A Journey Into the World of the Deaf is a 1989 book by neurologist Oliver Sacks. The book covers a variety of topics in deaf studies, including sign language, the neurology of deafness, the history of the treatment of deaf Americans, and linguistic and social challenges facing the...

    , ISBN 0-520-06083-0.
  • Spradley, Thomas and Spradley, James (1985). Deaf Like Me Gallaudet University Press
  • Van Cleve, John Vickrey & Crouch, Barry A. (1989). A Place of Their Own: Creating the Deaf Community in America, ISBN 0-930323-49-1.

External links