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Deaf Culture (9)

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by Erin Simon
November 2, 2006

Deaf Culture and the "Great Divide"

Culture is a people's way of life.  Members of the same culture share similar language, values, rules of behavior, traditions, common grounds and ways of living.  The community and culture that one belongs to forms the basis of that person's social life, emotional wellbeing and sense of self (Deaf Culture, 2006).

 There is a "great divide" between how the hearing world views deaf culture and how members of Deaf culture view themselves.  Many hearing people view being deaf as a major disadvantage.  They focus on the disability and see only the hearing impairment (Deaf Culture, 2005).  They see it as a disadvantage that greatly diminishes the value of life.  They are continually looking to the deficits that deaf people possess.  They focus on the high demand of the English language for surviving in today's society.  It is from this view that technological advances such as the cochlear implant come about.  It is the hearing culture's attempt to "fix" what is "broken" so that deaf people can live and function in the same world as the hearing (Deaf Culture, 2005).  

            Members of the Deaf culture do not view being deaf as a disability, but rather as a different way of life (Deaf Culture, 2005).  They hold great pride in their culture and view their community with a sense of shared unity- sharing language, behaviors, ways of thinking and ways of life.  Deaf identity is highly valued.  Research shows that about 9 out of 10 members of the American Deaf community marry other members within this cultural group (Deaf Culture, 2006).  Also, many Deaf couples wish for deaf children so that they will be able to pass down this rich heritage, culture and pride (Deaf Culture, 2006).  Members of the Deaf community are happy with being deaf and, if given a choice, most would chose to be a member of this community (Deaf Culture, 2006). 

            Members of the Deaf community agree that hearing individuals can never really understand or become a part of this culture that is so different from their own (Deaf Culture, 2006).  However, more than 90% of deaf children are born into hearing families.  Because of this, they are often raised from the point of view that they are at a disadvantage and are different from everyone else.  They grow up with experiences of isolation, loneliness, invisibility and oppression- even within their own families (Deaf Culture, 2005).  Many deaf children learn how to "act" like a hearing child and socialize with the hearing community to the best of their ability.  Parents wanting "the best" for their children do not want their children to be "different."  Therefore, they send their children to speech pathologists and mainstreamed schools to make him or her as "normal" as possible (Deaf Culture, 2005).

            While researching, I came across a series of articles written by Mark "Deffman" Drolsbaugh.  It was enlightening to read about his experiences and his points of view.  He said that his life "sucked" when he was trying to fit in with hearing people.  He spent a good deal of his life in social situations exclusively with hearing people.  He always felt limited- because he was.  He could never interact and participate in ways like the other people around him.  He would play on sports teams and he was good, but he never really felt a part of the team.  Then, he joined deaf baseball and softball teams.  Not only was he a part of the comrade and conversations, but for the first time he was a leader in situations!  And as he built strong ties, relationships and memories he gained self- esteem and a whole new positive outlook on life.  There was a time after being a member of this Deaf culture when he had gone back to the hearing team and there was no comparison to the quality of socialization and positive experiences.  The only difference was, he now knew what he was missing (Drolsbaugh, 1996). 

            It is so sad to think that there are deaf children who are not given this opportunity to know what they are missing.  Mark "Deffman" Drolsbaugh posed the question to hearing parents of deaf children "would you rather shield a deaf child from the deaf community so that he/she doesn't know what he/she is missing, and is more likely to tolerate the hearing world?  Or, would you rather let him/her go have a great time in the deaf world, collecting many valuable experiences and cherished memories…at the risk that he/she may feel that the hearing world isn't as much fun anymore? (Drolsbaugh, 1996)"       

After reading this article I found it hard to understand how parents can set up this boundary between their deaf child and his or her world.   Forcing a child to interact solely in the hearing world when they are not hearing is a major disservice to the child.  I believe that parents probably fear that their deaf child will identify with the Deaf culture, and this will create a division between their child and themselves.  Their remedy is to best suit their non-hearing child for the hearing world, but at the expense of the child.  It is so important for a person to identify with a culture and a community.  As stated before, it is the community and culture that one belongs that is the basis of that person's social life, emotional well being and sense of self (Deaf Culture, 2006).  By not introducing the Deaf culture to a deaf child, one is risking the loss of all of these elements.

Having a deaf child provides parents with the opportunity to learn about and become a member of a wonderful culture that is different than their own.  Once they understand Deaf culture, they will understand the immeasurable benefits that their child, and themselves, will receive by allowing their child to be him/herself- and be proud of it!    

As a special education major, I have learned that all children are different.  Every student has individual strengths and weaknesses.  It is our job to use their strengths to overcome their weaknesses.  By having a deaf child learn to live and get by in a hearing world, we are not allowing him or her to notice his or her strengths, gain self dignity and develop self worth.            It is imperative that deaf children are engulfed in this Deaf culture and language.  Socialization is essential to a child's growth and, for this, a common language is needed (Deaf Culture, 2006).  Instead of trying to mask "disabilities" we must celebrate differences.  Children must understand that it is ok that they are different from their parents or family members and they must be given the chance to be proud of who they are.  They must understand that everyone is unique and different in one way or another and this is what makes everyone special.  They must understand that they are not alone and that there is a whole community of Deaf people that they can be a part of.  By letting go of the "norm" and joining Deaf culture, deaf children can develop rich experiences and relationships that will define who they are, and allow them to develop self pride and value.          

            After reading about Deaf culture and the "great divide," I have come to realize that the unfavorable biases and stereotypes towards deaf culture is nothing more than the hearing imposing their culture and their point of view.  A point of view that, I believe, can be altered with an understanding of the Deaf culture; and a point of view that can be changed once the Deaf culture is experienced.


 Drolsbaugh, Mark (1996).  A Deaf Man Emphasizes Self-Esteem.  Retrieved October 11, 2006, from

  (2005).  Deaf Culture. Retrieved October 11, 2006 from 

  (2006).  Deaf Culture.  Retrieved October11, 2006 from

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