Deaf culture

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Deaf culture is a term applied to the social movement that holds deafness to be a difference in human experience rather than a disability.[1] When used in the cultural sense, the word deaf is very often capitalized in writing, and referred to as "big D Deaf" in speech.

Big D Deaf communities do not automatically include all those who are clinically or legally deaf, nor do they exclude all hearing people. 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."[2] 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."[3]

The Deaf community typically includes individuals who communicate via signed languages, individuals who attended schools for the deaf, children of deaf parents, and sign language interpreters. Deaf communities also often possess social and cultural norms that are distinct from those of surrounding hearing communities.


[edit] Membership of Deaf communities

Merikartano school for deaf students in Oulu, Finland (February 2006).

Deaf communities are composed mostly, but not exclusively, of deaf individuals. The causes of deafness are rarely heritable, so these communities are unusual among cultural groups in that "only 10 percent of the Deaf population acquires [their culture] from their Deaf families."[4]

Deaf culture is often acquired within schools for the deaf and within Deaf social clubs, both of which unite deaf people into communities with which they can identify.[1] Becoming Deaf culturally can occur at different times for different people, depending on the circumstances of one's life. A small proportion of individuals acquire their culture in infancy from Deaf parents, others acquire it through attendance at schools, and yet others may not be exposed to Deaf culture until college or a time after that.[2]

[edit] Children of deaf adults

Children of deaf adults (CODAs) with normal hearing ability may consider themselves, and be considered, culturally Deaf or as members of the Deaf community. In some cases they may need speech therapy due to limited exposure to spoken language. An organization, also called CODA, was established in 1983 and now holds annual conferences. There are also support groups for Deaf parents who may be concerned about raising their hearing children, as well as support groups for adult CODAs.

There are also several camps established for CODAs, such as the one at Camp Mark Seven which hosts two separate 2-week programs for CODAs, one from age 9 to 12 and one for CODAs from age 13 to 16 and it usually occurs during the summer, from the last week of June to mid-August.

Students at a school for the deaf in Baghdad, Iraq (April 2004).

[edit] Diversity within Deaf culture

Anna Mindess notes that there is "not just one homogenous Deaf culture."[2] 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. Within American Deaf culture for instance, there is African American Deaf culture, Gay and Lesbian Deaf culture, Deaf Women culture, Latino American Deaf culture, American Indian Deaf culture, among many others. The extent to which individuals identify primarily with their Deafness rather than their membership of 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."[2]

[edit] Characteristics of Deaf culture

[edit] Sign Languages

Members of Deaf communities typically communicate via sign languages with distinct sign languages being used in different parts of the world. For instance, despite the fact that the United Kingdom, the United States and Australia share English as an official spoken language, the sign languages used in each of these countries differs. In the United Kingdom, the dominant sign language is British Sign Language, in the United States it is American Sign Language and in Australia, Auslan. Each of these sign languages has a distinct grammar and vocabulary making them mutually unintelligible.

[edit] Norms

Apart from using sign languages, Deaf culture has typical behaviors and manners that define its social norms.

[edit] Norms of American Deaf Culture

  • The use of American Sign Language (ASL) is favoured over other manual languages such as Signed Exact English (SEE). ASL is a separate language from English and the Deaf community rejects English-like signing.
  • It is important to maintain a high awareness of all that is going on in one's environment and to help keep others similarly informed because "deaf people do not have access to the noises that clue us in to what others are doing when out of view".[2] It is common to provide detailed information when leaving early or arriving late and withholding such information is considered rude.[2]
  • Introductions are an important aspect of Deaf culture. This exhibits the effort to find common ground. "The search for connections is the search for connectedness."[2] Because the Deaf community is considered a family, it is important to draw connects, interweaving all its members together into a close knit group.
  • Time is also considered in a different light for the Deaf community. Showing up early to large scale events, such as lectures, is typical. This is motivated by the need to get a seat that provides the best visual clarity for the Deaf person. 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 for the Deaf are valued by Deaf culture. This can be explained by the fact that the Deaf community stretches throughout the entire country, so to gather means that a lot of 'catching up' is necessary.
  • A positive attitude toward deafness is also expected within the Deaf community. In Deaf culture, deafness is not considered a condition that needs to be fixed. One must also realize the importance of ASL to the Deaf community. ASL represents the liberation of language minority, oppressed for many years by the turmoil of oralist teachings. That is why the language is so precious to the identity of the Deaf community.[2]

[edit] Beliefs

[edit] Rejection of cochlear implants

Within Deaf communities, there is strong opposition to the use of cochlear implants and sometimes also hearing aids and similar technologies. This is often justified in terms of a rejection of the view that deafness, as a condition, is something that needs to be 'fixed'.

Others argue that this technology also threatens the continued existence of Deaf culture, but Kathryn Woodcock argues that it is a greater threat to Deaf culture "to reject prospective members just because they used to hear, because their parents chose an implant for them, because they find environmental sound useful, etc."[5] Cochlear implants may improve the perception of sound for suitable implantees, but they do not reverse deafness completely.

[edit] Rejection of oralism as a teaching method

There is strong opposition within Deaf communities to the oralist method of teaching deaf children to speak and lip read 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 is also central to Deaf identity and attempts to limit its use are viewed as an attack.

[edit] Terminology

[edit] The word "deaf"

The word "deaf" has different meanings in different contexts.

[edit] Clinical and legal definitions

In a clinical context, the term "deaf" (written with a lower case d) refers to a physical condition characterized by a lack of auditory sensitivity to sound.[1] Within the law, deafness is categorised by the degree of hearing loss. These degrees include profound or total deafness (90 dB - 120 dB or more of hearing loss), severe deafness (60 dB - 90 dB), moderate deafness (30 dB - 60 dB), and mild deafness (10 dB - 30 dB).[citation needed]

[edit] Cultural definition

In a cultural context, the term "Deaf" (written with an upper case D) refers to cultural membership within a group that is composed mainly, but not exclusively, of individuals who are clinically deaf, who possess social norms which are distinct from those of the surrounding hearing community.

[edit] Other meanings

The term "deaf" is also used in a metaphorical sense to refer to a recalcitrant individual or someone unwilling to listen, obey or acknowledge an authority or partner. The third line of Shakespeare's Sonnet 29 provides an example:

When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,

The phrase "tone deaf" refers to someone who lacks relative pitch, or the ability to distinguish between musical notes.

[edit] "Deaf", "partially deaf", "hard of hearing" and "hearing-impaired"

The term "deaf" generally implies a profound loss of hearing. Individuals with either severe or moderate deafness are commonly described as "partially deaf" or "hard of hearing", while those with mild deafness are commonly described as "hard of hearing." People with varying degrees of hearing loss are also commonly described as "hearing-impaired."

The term "hard of hearing" may be used to describe all degrees of hearing loss up to and including total deafness. It is more likely to be used by individuals who have acquired deafness in adulthood rather than by those who have grown up deaf. In the case of profound deafness, this may be political correctness, a euphemism for the simpler and more accurate "deaf." Interestingly, this is seen as a euphemism only from the side of the mainstream. Members of the Deaf community do not generally aspire to be hearing and reject labels such as "hard of hearing" and "hearing-impaired" on the basis that they reflect the mindset that deafness is a pathological condition.

Total deafness is quite rare. Most deaf people can hear sounds at at least some frequencies,[6] but a person's hearing may not be useful for spoken communication if he or she lacks sensitivity in the frequency range that is typical for speech.

Those with some functional hearing generally do not associate with the Deaf community, and typically work and socialize with hearing people to the best of their ability. People with all degrees of hearing may encounter discrimination when looking for work, while at their jobs, or when socializing with hearing people.[citation needed]

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  1. ^ a b c Ladd, Paddy (2003). Understanding Deaf Culture: In Search of Deafhood.. Multilingual Matters. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Mindess, Anna (2006). Reading Between the Signs: Intercultural Communication for Sign Language Interpreters. 
  3. ^ Baker, Charlotte; Carol Padden (1978). American Sign Language: A look at its story, structure and community. 
  4. ^ Bauman, L. (2008). Open your eyes: Deaf studies talking. 
  5. ^ Woodcock, Kathryn (1992). Cochlear Implants vs. Deaf Culture? In Mervin Garretson (ed.), Viewpoints on Deafness: A Deaf American Monograph. Silver Spring, MD: National Association for the Deaf. 
  6. ^ Holt, Judith; Hotto, Sue; Cole, Kevin (1994). "Demographic aspects of hearing impairment: Questions and answers". Center for Assessment and Demographic Studies, Gallaudet University. Retrieved on 2009-02-05. 

[edit] Further reading

  • Barnard, Henry (1852), "Tribute to Gallaudet--A Discourse in Commemoration of the Life, Character and Services, of the Rev. Thomas H. Gallaudet, LL.D.--Delivered Before the Citizens of Hartford, Jan. 7th, 1852. With an Appendix, Containing History of Deaf-Mute Instruction and Institutions, and other Documents." (Download book:
  • Kyle, J. & Woll, B. (1985). Sign Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Ladd, P. (2003). Understanding Deaf Culture. In Search of Deafhood. Toronto: Multilingual Matters.
  • Lane, Harlan (1993). The Mask of Benevolence. New York: Random House.
  • Lane, Harlan, Hoffmeister, Robert, & Bahan, Ben (1996). A Journey into the Deaf-World. San Diego, CA: Dawn Sign Press.
  • When the Mind Hears - (Hardcover ISBN 0-394-50878-5, Publisher - Random House // Paperback ISBN 0-679-72023-5, Publisher - Vintage) (Download Chapter 1, "My New Family":
  • Luczak, Raymond (1993). Eyes of Desire: A Deaf Gay & Lesbian Reader, ISBN 1-55583-204-0.
  • 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, ISBN 0-9634016-3-7.
  • 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.
  • Pizzo, Rose (2001). "Growing Up Deaf: Issues of Communication in a Hearing World", ISBN 1-4010-2887-X
  • Sacks, Oliver W. (1989). Seeing Voices; A Journey Into The World Of The Deaf, ISBN 0-520-06083-0.
  • Van Cleve, John Vickrey & Crouch, Barry A. (1989). A Place of Their Own: Creating the Deaf Community in America, ISBN 0-930323-49-1.

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