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Deaf Culture (Study Guide)
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Deaf Culture Notes:

Evolution of terminology:  Terminology changes over time with varying levels of acceptance from different factions of society at any one time. As of the time of this writing (early 21st century) the word Deaf has been accepted by the culturally Deaf community and major organizations representing Deaf people (such as the National Association of the Deaf and the World Federation of the Deaf) as an acceptable and proper term to use when discussing Deaf people.

Capitalization: Some people feel the word Deaf should always be capitalized for ethnic reasons. (The term "ethnic" refers to large groups of people classed according to shared cultural, linguistic, racial, tribal, religious, or national origins or backgrounds.)  Other people prefer to use the lowercase word "deaf" to refer to the physical condition of being deaf and use the capitalized word "Deaf" when referring to being culturally Deaf.

Writing Style Choices: This guide may sometimes use the lowercase "deaf" to refer to the physical aspects of "not hearing." This guide will use the uppercase word Deaf to refer to Deaf people, culture, and organizations.  If you are a student and your local teacher prefers you to always capitalize the word Deaf then you should respect your instructor and follow his/her wishes.  If you are submitting a paper for inclusion in an academic journal then you should follow the submission guidelines for that journal and/or include in your article an early discussion of terminology and capitalization and your reasons for your capitalization choices.

Deaf: Culturally Deaf people prefer to be called Deaf. 

Deafness:  The term "deafness" is still quite common in blogs and writings -- even by Deaf people who are active in the Deaf Community. However you should know that there are growing numbers of people within Deaf Community that frown upon the word "deafness" because it has traditionally been a label applied to Deaf people by Hearing people in the context of "disability." Many Deaf consider the term "deafness" to embody primarily negative aspects of being Deaf.  Conversely, when discussing ourselves, our personal journeys, our level of self-acceptance, and our progress toward self-actualization as a person who is Deaf we use the term "Deafhood." So, please realize that while many people still use the term "deafness" and you will still often see it online and in older writings this is a situation of language evolution away from one term and toward another. The term "deafness" has its uses and may persist indefinitely but you should at least be aware that "some" bloggers and activists are actively denouncing the term.

Hard-of-hearing:  The phrase "hard-of-hearing" refers to people who have some degree of hearing loss but who can still function in the hearing world. Some hard-of-hearing people choose to learn sign language, form relationships with other Deaf, join Deaf organizations, attend Deaf events, embrace their Deafhood, and call themselves Deaf.  It is acceptable for culturally Deaf hard-of-hearing individuals to simply refer to themselves as Deaf. 

Deaf/HH:  Culturally Deaf people who are able to use hearing aids, speechread, and talk with their voice may choose to label themselves as Deaf in general and hard-of-hearing in specific so as to not overstate their status.  For example, sometimes during introductions or explanations a person will sign, "I/me DEAF" and then will add the sign for "hard-of-hearing (HH) immediately afterward as a way of stating that he/she is considers himself to be Deaf but with the caveat that he/she can hear to some extent.

Just Deaf: In the Deaf community you rarely see the phrase "Culturally Deaf."  Rather we simply use the term "Deaf." We are Deaf. Some of us are stone deaf and can't hear an oncoming train. Some of us have quite a bit of residual hearing and can talk to our mom's on the phone (but would rather sign to her).  Deaf people have varying levels of residual hearing.  What makes us Deaf isn't our residual hearing level but rather our preference to be a part of the Deaf Community.  We do not need to add the word "culturally" to the uppercase word "Deaf."  The phrase "culturally Deaf" is redundant because the uppercase spelling of the term "Deaf" already includes the concept of "culture."

Self-exclusion: There are many physically-deaf or hard-of-hearing people who are not a part of the Deaf Community.  Such individuals are part of the greater Deaf World but they choose to not "commune with" Deaf people, to not learn our language, and are thus not part of the Deaf Community.

Deaf World / Deaf Community:  The phrases "Deaf World" and "Deaf Community" overlap quite a bit in real world usage but some distinctions might be possible: The Deaf World includes all Deaf people as well as their families, friends, allies, employers, interpreters, teachers, priests, audiologists, and others with ties to the Deaf Community. The Deaf Community is made up of individuals that use sign language and are focused on living their lives rather than trying to change their status and live in the Hearing World.  Thus a preacher or parent who learns sign language might be a part of the Deaf Community but a cochlear implant doctor is not.  An interpreter who goes to Deaf events, has Deaf friends, and supports Deaf causes is a part of the Deaf Community.  But an interpreter who simply goes to a day job where they interpret for one Deaf client and then goes home and has little or no additional contact with Deaf people -- is not a member of the Deaf Community.  

Hearing Person:  A person who can hear and has the mindset of a person who can hear is a referred to as "Hearing person." The term "Hearing" can be capitalized to refer to being a member of the "Hearing" culture but many writers do not capitalize it. 

Hearing School:  A "hearing school" generally refers to a public (or private) school that is mainly attended by children who can hear and taught by educators who use speech.

Mainstreaming:  In the Deaf World, "mainstreaming" refers to the placement of a Deaf student in a hearing school with or without an interpreter.

01.  In the Deaf world the hearing children of Deaf parents are generally well accepted and considered to make good interpreters because of their familiarity with ASL and Deaf Culture. The special term that these children are called is: *CODA (Child of Deaf Adult)

02.  What is the philosophy of embracing two languages and cultures?  *BIBI (Bilingual-Bicultural)

03.   What is the world's oldest Deaf advocacy organization? *National Association of the Deaf (NAD)

04.  At what university did the "Deaf President Now" event take place? *Gallaudet University

05.  What is the name of government program that provides regular paychecks to help some Deaf people pay for basic living expenses? *Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

06.   What is the name of the Deaf man who came to America in 1817 from France and helped Thomas H. Gallaudet and establish the first American school for the Deaf? *Laurent Clerc

07.  What service uses communication assistants or interpreters to allow hearing people to call Deaf people, and vice versa? *Relay Service

08.  What is the government agency that helps provide training and employment assistance to many Deaf people? *Vocational Rehabilitation (VR)

09.   In ASL Linguistics what do we call facial expressions and body movements that are used to inflect signs? *Non-manual markers (NMMs)

10.  What do we call text or subtitles that are embedded in a video signal which can be displayed on demand? *Closed Captions (CC)

11.  What do we call a state-run residential education institution for individuals who are Deaf? *Deaf School

12.  What do we call or what signs do we use to refer to a typical public school? *Hearing School

13. What do we call signs which use handshapes that can be used to represent categories of things that share the same general characteristics? *Classifiers

14.  What is the common syndrome that affects many interpreters and Deaf people and causes numbness and/or pain in the wrists? *Carpal Tunnel

15.  What was the protest that took place the week of March 6, 1988 at Gallaudet University in Washington D.C. and became an international Deaf movement? *Deaf President Now (DPN)

16.  What phrase is considered "politically correct" by many Hearing people but is considered inappropriate and/or offensive by many culturally Deaf people? *Hearing Impaired

17.  What term refers to a philosophy of encouraging (forcing) Deaf to speak and read lips rather than use sign language? *Oral / Oralism

18.  What do we call "non-Deaf" people who can hear and who do not use sign language? *Hearing

19.  Signing and voicing at the same time is frowned upon by many Deaf academics and Deaf community leaders. What do we call signing and voicing at the same time? *Simcom

20. What do we call the phone system used by many Deaf people that let's them see and be seen by the person on the other end of the call? *Video Phone (VP)

21. This law originally passed in 1990 has had a profound beneficial impact on the lives of Deaf people. *"Americans with Disabilities Act." (ADA)

22. This person, who's initials are AGB, is held in low esteem by many in the Deaf community because of his efforts to suppress the use of sign language in favor of oralism. *Alexander Graham Bell.

23. What is the language of choice of Culturally Deaf people in America, parts of Canada, and many other areas in the world? *American Sign Language

24. This organization was set up in 1967 and has chapters all over the U.S. Their purpose is to provide support, encouragement, and information to families raising children who are Deaf or hard of hearing. (For more information, see: *American Society for Deaf Children (ASDC)

25. This national organization is dedicated specifically to the improvement and expansion of the teaching of ASL and Deaf Studies. *American Sign Language Teachers Association (ASLTA)

26. This is a philosophy of embracing two languages and cultures. *"bilingual/bicultural" (BiBi)

27. This signed language is used in England and other areas of the world. One of its distinguishing features is that it uses a two-handed manual alphabet. *British Sign Language (BSL)

28. A highly esteemed liberal arts university in Washington D.C. for Deaf and hard-of hearing students. *Gallaudet University

29. This refers to captions, text, or subtitles that are embedded (hidden) in a video signal and can be turned on or off (displayed on demand). In the past these captions used to require a special decoder device to be seen. In the "old days" this decoder was a box that sat on top of your TV. Now the decoder is commonly included in TV circuitry and is not a separate device. These captions are turned on or off using your TV' or video player's configuration menu. Internet-based streaming video players (if they support captioning) tend to have a symbol or button labeled "CC" that can be used to turn captioning on or off. *"closed captioning" (CC)

30. Many Deaf couples hope for this: *A deaf baby

31. Signs that are used to represent general categories of things. They can be used to describe the size and shape of an object (or person). They can be used to represent the object itself, or the way the object moves or interacts with other objects (or people). Another definition is: "A set of handshapes that represent classes of things that share similar characteristics." *Classifiers (or "depictive verbs")

32.  This Deaf man was born south of Lyons, France, in 1785. He became deaf due to an accident when he was very young. He enrolled at age 12 at the National Institute for the Deaf in Paris and graduated eight years later and became a tutor for the Institute. He journeyed to America at the request of Thomas H. Gallaudet in 1817 and helped establish the first American school for the Deaf. He retired at age 73. *Laurent Clerc

33. An obsolete term that refers to all people who have a hearing loss. This term is considered offensive by some Deaf. *Hearing Impaired

34.  In 1966 R. Orin Cornett at Gallaudet University in Washington D.C. developed this visual communication method that used eight handshapes in four different positions along with the natural mouth movements that occur during speech. *Cued Speech

35. People who feel that being Deaf is about language and connection to other Deaf people subscribe to what model or view of thinking about the Deaf? *Cultural

•  Culture:  Deaf Culture consists of the norms, beliefs, values, and mores shared by members of the Deaf Community.
[Note: The word "mores" is pronounced "mawrays" and is a noun that means "the essential or characteristic customs and conventions of a community. "Mores" include the customs, conventions, ways, way of life, traditions, practices, and habits of a people. - (Google Definitions)]

•  Deaf with a Capital "D":  Refers to being culturally Deaf.  Embracing the cultural norms and values of the Deaf Community. 

•  deaf with a lowercase "d": Refers to being physically deaf, (not culturally Deaf). Physical "deafness" refers to a level of hearing below which a person is unlikely to understand speech for everyday communication purposes. For example, a person's hearing is not sufficient use the phone.

•  Deaf Community:  In general, the "Deaf Community" consists of those Deaf people throughout the world who use sign language and share in Deaf culture.

•  Deaf School:  A "Deaf School" is a state-run residential education institution. State residential schools for the Deaf are important institutions in the Deaf community.  A "Deaf School" specifically refers to a state residential school. This is different from a "Deaf program" or a "day program" where students do not live on campus.

•  Disability Group:  Deaf people do not view themselves as a disability group.  Instead we see ourselves as a linguistic and cultural minority.  We are an ethnic group with a shared culture and bonded together by a common language.   (That doesn't mean that there aren't physically deaf people in the U.S. who consider themselves disabled. There are indeed many such individuals, but they are generally not fluent in ASL, did not attend state residential schools for the Deaf, are not married to a Deaf person, did not attend Gallaudet or a university with a strong Deaf program, and cannot realistically be considered culturally Deaf, therefore they are not members of the cultural "Deaf Community." 

•  Dominant Hand: The hand you do most of your signing with.

•  DPN stands for Deaf President Now.  DPN was both a campus protest and an international Deaf movement.  It took place the week of March 6, 1988 at Gallaudet University in Washington D.C.  Elizabeth Zinser, a hearing woman, had been newly elected president of Gallaudent University.  The students and international Deaf Community demanded and received a Deaf president: I. King Jordan.

•  Fingerspelling is also sometimes called "The American Manual Alphabet."  It consists of 22 handshapes that--when held in certain positions and/or are produced with certain movements-- represent the 26 letters of the American alphabet.

•  Fonts, ASL: There is a type font that resembles fingerspelling. It is called Gallaudet (TrueType) and is available for download from the net.

•  GA means Go Ahead. This is an abbreviation commonly used while typing on a TTY (teletype).  It means you are done with your turn and it is the other person's turn to go ahead and type.

•  Gallaudet, Edward Miner:  The youngest Son of Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet. Dr. Edward Miner Gallaudet was the founder and the first president of the Columbia Institution for the Deaf and the Dumb (Renamed Gallaudet College in 1893 and renamed again in 1986, Gallaudet University upon receiving university status) in 1857 in Washington, D.C. He served as a president from 1864 to 1910.  (Source:

•  Gallaudet, Thomas Hopkins: Born December 10, 1787 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  He entered Yale University at age 14. He graduated from Yale first in his class three years later, and decided to join the ministry.  Reverend Gallaudet met Dr. Mason Cogswell and his Deaf daughter Alice.  Dr. Cogswell persuaded Mr. Gallaudet to travel to England to study their methods of teaching Deaf students. There Gallaudet met a Deaf educator, Laurent Clerc, and convinced him to come back to America and help establish the first American school for the Deaf.

•  Handedness:  Left-handed people sign left-hand dominant--a mirror image of right handed signers. Left-handed people also fingerspell with their left hand.

•  Hearing Impaired:  The term "Hearing Impaired" is not used by Deaf people to describe ourselves.  We refer to ourselves as being Deaf.  When referring to all people with a hearing loss we tend to use the phrase, "Deaf and hard of hearing." Sample of outdated usage:  The Regional Center for the Hearing Impaired."  A sample of a current, appropriate usage:  The Regional Center for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing."  While at one time the phrase "hearing impaired" was considered to be politically correct, it was an external label applied to Deaf people by Hearing people.  The phase Hearing Impaired was never embraced by the Deaf Community.

•  Hearing:  (Hearing People or Hearies): Non-Deaf people. Specifically hearing people who are unfamiliar with Deaf Culture, but can include all hearing people.

•  Hearing School:  The term "Hearing School" refers to any typical public school. In ASL we sign "HEARING"-culturally SCHOOL to mean "public school." A "Hearing School" is one at which the main mode of communication is "speaking." 

•  HoH stands for Hard of Hearing.  Also "HH."  HoH people have some hearing loss but can generally use the phone with amplification and can understand spoken speech depending on a number of factors including: distance, volume, facial hair, lighting, familiarity with topic, situational cues, accents, and noise. Thus the environment has a big impact on whether a HoH functions as a hearing person or a Deaf person. 

•  Hugs:  Deaf people tend to hug more than Hearing (American) people.

•  IEP stands for Individualized Education Program.  Deaf children are entitled to an IEP.

•  Interpreter for the Deaf:  In the Deaf Community we refer to terps as "interpreters" not "translators."  Also, interpreter is spelled with "er" not "or." In ASL class discussions, the phrase "interpret" means to go from spoken English to ASL or from ASL to spoken English.

•  ITP stands for Interpreter Training Program

•  Jr.NAD stands for Junior National Association of the Deaf. This is the youth division of the National Association of the Deaf

•  Leave-taking:  Deaf leave-taking (good-byes) tend to be extended (take a long time).

•  Lighting:  Lighting and the ability to see each other is very important to Deaf people. One of the reasons Deaf people sometimes prefer to hang out in the kitchen is because the lighting is better.

•  LRE stands for Least Restrictive Environment.  The question is, what education environment is "least restrictive" for a Deaf child?  A residential school for the Deaf, a local school with an interpreter, a day program, an inclusive charter school, or some other education environment.

•  LSQ stands for Langue des Signes Quιbecois is a popular signed language used in Canada.  Many people in Canada also use ASL.

•  MCE stands for Manually Coded English.  There are several signing systems designed to portray English on the hands.  These various systems can be lumped under the term MCE, or Manual English, or "Signed English."

•  Meeting new people:  Upon meeting for the first time, Deaf people tend to exchange detailed biographical information and describe our social circles in considerable depth.

•  Movies involving Deaf Characters: Bridge to Silence, Love is never Silent, Children of a Lesser God, and others.

•  NAD stands for National Association of the Deaf the world's oldest Deaf advocacy organization.  See

•  NCI stands for National Captioning Institute.  The NCI was established in 1979 as a nonprofit corporation with the mission of ensuring that Deaf and hard of hearing people, as well as others who can benefit from the service, have access to television's entertainment and news through the technology of closed captioning.

•  NERDA stands for Not Even Related to a Deaf Adult.  A comical reference to Hearing people who don't have ties to the Deaf World.

•  NMM: Non-manual markers: Non-manual markers are facial expressions and body movements. Non-manual markers are used to inflect signs. That means to change, influence, or emphasize the meaning of a sign or signed phrase. For example, when asking a question that can be answered with a "yes" or "no" you raise your eyebrows a bit and tilt your head forward slightly.

•  NFSD: The (former) National Fraternal Society of the Deaf.  Offered insurance as well as fraternal and community service activities for Deaf people.

•  NTD stands for National Theater of the Deaf.  The NTD is a touring theater group composed of Deaf and hearing actors who entertain audiences worldwide through music, sign language, and the spoken word.

•  NTID stands for National Technical Institute for the Deaf.  NTID is located in Rochester New York and is a popular choice for Deaf students.

•  Oral / Oralism refers to a philosophy of encouraging (forcing) Deaf to speak and read lips rather than use sign language.

•  Pathological or Medical model:  People who feel that being deaf is a problem to be solved subscribe to the "pathological view" or the "medical model" of deafness.

•  View of Deafness: Pathological.  Pathology (in general) is the study of disease.  The pathological view of deafness is held by those people (typically in the medical profession) who view being deaf as a physical ailment or pathological condition that needs to be cured in order for the individual to enjoy a higher quality of life.  This is opposite the "cultural view of Deafness."

•  View of Deafness: Cultural.  Deaf people don't consider themselves to have a disease or problem that must be cured in order to have a good life.  I took a sign class with me to visit a Deaf party. Some of my students sat with me in the Deaf circle. I decided to ask if any of my friends would like to become "hearing." Suppose a magic pill could be taken and and they would wake up the next morning "hearing." Each Deaf person said (via signing) NO! My students were shocked. I explained in class the next day that Deaf people do not consider their condition pathological. To the Deaf, our deafness is cultural. We do not see it as "deafness" but rather "Deafhood."

•  Phrase:  "Deaf People Can Do Anything Except Hear."  This is a popular phrase in the Deaf world. Note: Actually, that phrase is not reflective of reality. The reality is there are many varying degrees of residual hearing amongst culturally Deaf people. From "profoundly" deaf, to hard of hearing.  (This is similar to the way blind people have varying degrees of sight. Some see no light at all, but many can see "quite a bit." Especially with glasses.) You could even argue that some people with "normal" hearing are culturally Deaf by virtue of having Deaf parents and having grown up in the Deaf community. I've even visited a charter school where hearing children were taught alongside Deaf children by Deaf instructors using ASL.

•  PSE stands for Pidgin Signed English. Now referred to as "contact signing." Contact signing is often used when Deaf and hearing individuals need to communicate. One way to describe it is as a "middle ground" between artificially invented signed English systems and ASL. PSE follows English word order while using ASL signs.

•  Public Law 94-142: Passed in 1975. The goal was to promote a free and appropriate education for all children.

•  Relay Service: A relay service allows hearing people to call deaf, and vice versa. A communication assistant (CA) answers your call then relay information back and forth between you and a deaf

•  RID stands for Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf.  The RID is the worlds largest association of interpreters for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.  The RID conducts and promotes certification of interpreters for the Deaf.  See 

•  RSC stands for Reverse Skills Certificate.  This is a type of interpreter certification. This refers to the ability to understand and voice what is being signed.

•  School for the deaf, or "Deaf School." Refers to residential schools for the Deaf.  Culturally Deaf adults who attended a Deaf School are proud of that fact.

•  SEE stands for Signing Exact English. An invented sign system intended to represent English with the intent to assist deaf children in the acquisition of English.

•  SIMCOM stands for Simultaneous Communication. Simcom is when you sign and voice at the same time. Signing and voicing at the same time is frowned upon by many Deaf academics and Deaf community leaders. However, many Deaf individuals "do" use simcom quite a bit -- especially when in mixed Deaf/Hearing environments.

•  SK stands for Stop Keying.  It is used to end a TTY (teletype) conversation. It indicates that you are going to "hang up" or terminate the conversation.  SKSK (a double SK) is a response by the other person that he acknowledges that you are ending the conversation and that he or she is quitting too.

•  SSI stands for Supplementary Security Income.  People on SSI receive regular checks from the government to help pay for basic living expenses.

•  Stay Deaf:  Many, if not most, Culturally Deaf people if given the chance to become hearing would choose to remain deaf.

•  Storytelling:  The ability to skillfully tell a story is highly valued in Deaf Culture.

•  TC stands for Total Communication, a philosophy of Deaf Education that advocates using signing, voicing, writing, and other methods of communication.

•  TTY / TDD stands for "teletype" or Telecommunication Device for the Deaf.  These days it means the same thing as a TTY.  In the old days, a TTY was a huge clunker that required a wheelbarrow to move around. TTY's shrank in size and people began calling them TDDs or even Text Telephones but the Deaf Community continues to refer to the devices as TTYs.   Instant Messaging via the net has reduced the use of TTYs.

•  Uppercase Deaf / Lowercase deaf:  While the uppercase and lowercase spellings of Deaf and deaf have not yet become standardized in print media, in general the lowercase spelling refers to being physically deaf while the uppercase spelling refers to someone who has internalized  the language, beliefs, values, traditions, attitudes, manners, and ways of the Deaf community.

•  Voicing: Some deaf people never voice. Others voice as well as a typical Hearing person.  Others engage in "selective voicing." One place you will sometimes see such Deaf people using voice is with their kids. In the home parents often need to get their kids attention and voicing is an easy way to do it. Also the children get used to the voice and can understand it just fine. Deaf are much less likely to voice to a hearing stranger. With their kids they feel comfortable, but with strangers we feel very cautious (as any oppressed group would). We don't tend to voice when we are talking with another Deaf person. Why voice to other Deaf? Another reason is we can't use voicing and ASL grammar at the same time. (See Simcom).  It is not appropriate to ask a Deaf person if they can voice.

•  VP stands for video phone.

•  "Voc Rehab" stands for "vocational rehabilitation."  This is an important government agency because it helps provide training and employment assistance to many Deaf people. (As well as others who have one or more conditions that limit)

*  VRS stands for video relay service.

[End of Study Guide]


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