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Rachel Pearce
April 10, 2007 

Deaf Culture and Advances

            For many years, Deaf people have grouped themselves together and have created a Deaf culture.  Deaf culture means having a sense of pride and community in a group where Deaf people can feel like they have things in common with others in their group.  Outside of the Deaf culture, many Deaf people often feel excluded by the hearing population.  This paper will discuss what it means to be part of a Deaf culture and the ways life has improved for the Deaf over the years.

            Being a part of Deaf culture means sharing a way to communicate.  Most people who are a part of this culture use American Sign Language (ASL).  Many people who are Deaf spend most of their lives around other people who do not know ASL.  If a person does not know ASL, communication can be difficult.  Good communication requires a person to speak directly to the Deaf person and maintain good eye contact.  Facial expression and body language are important parts of communication.  Touching is also an important way for people in the Deaf culture to greet each other, say goodbye, get attention and express emotion.  If hearing people do not use these methods, it can be very frustrating to those who are Deaf.  It is only when the Deaf are with other Deaf people that communication barriers are taken away and many in the Deaf community feel can communicate freely with others around them (Siple, 2004). 

Many Deaf people think of their deafness as a very important part of their lives and sometimes function entirely within this Deaf community.  Churches, clubs, theaters, and agencies have been created by Deaf people to form shared communities.  Deaf people take a lot of pride in their lack of hearing and do not think of themselves as disabled.  They instead see incorrect beliefs and practices that have been around for a long time as the biggest barriers that Deaf people have to face (Christiansen, 2005).  There are also different levels of acceptance and self-pride within the Deaf culture.  Some Deaf members support the Deaf culture very strongly and do not accept hard of hearing or hearing people as a part of their group.  It is estimated that 9 out of 10 members of the American Deaf community marry other Deaf members of their group to keep the culture strong in their lives. People within the community also take a lot of pride in passing down traditions and values to the next generation.  Many Deaf people hope that they have a Deaf child to which they can pass on their heritage and culture.   They feel that if their child is a hearing person, he will miss the experience of growing up Deaf.  For many, speaking and thinking like a hearing person are negatively valued in Deaf culture (ASL Info. 2006).

A lot of progress has been made over the past few decades to bring more rights to the Deaf.  The biggest event that has helped push rights of the Deaf forward was the protest that occurred in March, 1988 at Gallaudet University in Washington, DC.  A protest began when Gallaudet University trustees announced that a hearing person had been selected as Gallaudet's seventh president.  Two of the three finalists for the job were Deaf and were thought to be great candidates for president of the University.  However, when Elisabeth Zinser, the only hearing candidate was chosen, many students and others in the Deaf community were upset and decided to protest about the choice (Prickett, 1998).  This event came to be known as DPN, or Deaf President Now.  This protest received a lot of media attention, which mostly supported the protestors.  After eight days of protests, the board of trustees agreed to all of the protestor's demands, including Elisabeth Zinser resigning, allowing Deaf people to constitute a 51% majority on the Board and that no action would be taken against any student or employee involved in the protest (Prickett, 1998). 

The DPN protest greatly affected the Deaf community.  I. King Jordan, who became the first Deaf president of Gallaudet University has been very visible nationwide since then.  The Deaf community has also realized that they do have rights and only by letting themselves be heard can they obtain greater rights.  In addition, many hearing people were made more aware of the problems within the Deaf community.  Coalitions have been formed to represent groups concerned with Deaf and hard-of-hearing issues from all parts of the Deaf community.  The Consumer Action Network formed in 1993 became very important because many organizations had never been united before this time (Bragg, 2001).  The National Association of the Deaf (NAD) has also pushed harder since the DPN protest to push the rights of Deaf people.  The NAD has worked with the United Nations to recognize the linguistic rights of Deaf people worldwide.  This involves the rights of Deaf people worldwide to receive education and have access to information in sign language.  The NAD wants Deaf people to be able to use their native sign languages and have access to professional sign language interpreters.  They also want to promote the cultural and linguistic identity of the Deaf community within each nation and worldwide (NAD, 2006).

Finally, since the DPN protest, more books, videotapes, television ads, and movies and TV shows about Deaf people are seen.  Many more clubs and organizations devoted to the interests of Deaf people have been formed.  In addition, many hearing people are now interested in learning ASL and communicating better with Deaf people.  As stated by Sue Schwartz in relating what this progress has brought, "They tell us that it is alright to be Deaf.  That if young Deaf people have the ambition, the foresight, and the desire, they too can become whatever they want to be.  This is a knowledge, a heritage, and a culture we pass on to them" (Schwartz, 1996). 


ASL Info. (2007). Deaf Culture. Retrieved April 4, 2007.

Bragg, L. (2001). Deaf World. New York, NY:  New York University Press. 333-341.

Christiansen, J. (2005).  Deafness.  World Book Encyclopedia.  World Book, Inc.  57-60.

NAD. (2006). NAD Commends Adoption of UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities.  Retrieved April 5, 2007.

Prickett, R. (1998). Deaf President Now Anniversary.  Gallaudet Public Relations.  Retrieved April 5, 2007.

Schwartz, S. (1996).  Choices in Deafness. Bethesda, MD:  Woodbine House, Inc.  263-265.

Siple, L. (2004). Deaf Culture. NETAC.  Rochester Institute of Technology. Retrieved April 4, 2007.




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