For this week’s #LearningProject post, I decided to dig a little deeper into the Deaf culture rather than just learning the signs and forgetting about the history that goes with it. With the SignLanguage101 resource, each lesson gives you a brief look into the Deaf culture which I find to be very interesting and helpful to know. Language is not just language; it is heavily influenced by the culture you are in and engaging with. The first example that pops into my head is the Italian culture and language. The two are very connected and there are certain aspects of the language that rely on knowledge of the culture in order to understand.
One of the first things that I learned about the Deaf culture is that those who are a part of the Deaf community do not see their deafness as a disability or exceptionality. Instead, they just see it as a different way to experience the world. This NBC News article mentions how the Deaf community avoids the use of words such as “handicapped,” “hearing impaired,” or “mute.” It is a part of their identity, one which they are very proud of, in the same way that the hearing communities value their language as a part of their identity. The Deaf culture is made up of a set of values and beliefs, a language, art, music and movies, and stories that have been passed down through generations. The only way that the hearing culture is able to join the Deaf culture is through language.
Another thing that I think many people sometimes assume is that, if it is possible to increase your ability to hear through technological and medical advancements, people of the Deaf community would want to be a part of the hearing world. For example, the use of Cochlear implants is a surgically implanted electronic device that allows those who are severely hard of hearing or very deaf to hear sounds. I have seen videos come across my Facebook page from time to time where these implants are used and think to myself “Oh how wonderful! That woman can hear her husband speak for the first time!” or “Oh my gosh, that baby can finally hear it’s mom” however, after I practiced with SignLanguage101 Lesson #4, I have learned that not all Deaf people want implants. Deaf people do not need nor want to be “fixed” because they are not “broken.” Dr. Bridges says that when most hearing people encounter a Deaf person, the initial response is to speak louder in hopes that they will hear you, but that’s not always the case. As Dr. Bridges says in the video, “a hearing aid isn’t like glasses. When you put on your glasses, that corrects the problem…when I put in the hearing aid, it doesn’t correct the problem.” A hearing aid is only meant to assist with the hearing of sounds but does not magically work to allow someone to hear perfectly. Some people use the hearing aids, and others don’t. It is simply a personal choice that is made for many reasons.
I think the biggest thing that the hearing community, including myself, needs to understand is that being deaf does not make you “less than” and the goal of a Deaf person is not to be able to hear. The Deaf community is proud of their culture and heritage in the same way that we are. It deserves to be respected by those both within it and around it. If you are learning sign language or are interested in doing so, don’t forget that the language is just the tip of the iceberg and that there is so much more to be learned. I look forward to learning more about Deaf culture as I continue my #LearningProject.
For further investigation:
The Canadian Hearing Society‘s “Deaf Culture and Community” page provides you with fast facts about the Deaf culture if you are interested in learning more.
Gallaudet University, home of The Laurent Clerc National Deaf Education Center, has a page on “American Deaf Culture” as well as many other resources. Gallaudet University is a higher learning institution for deaf and hard-of-hearing students.
The Canadian Encylclopedia page “Deaf Culture” has some interesting information about the Deaf culture that developed in Canada as well as Deaf Education.
To check out others learning ASL: