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Deaf by accretion:

by William G. Vicars, EdD

I am Deaf.


I became Deaf by accretion.

Accretion isn't the cause of my being Deaf -- it was the process.

The word "accretion" means "the process of growth or increase, typically by the gradual accumulation of additional layers" (Source: Oxford).


I was born hard of hearing and over time I became more and more physically deaf and culturally Deaf (spelled with a "big D"). I learned sign language. I developed Deaf friends. I married a Deaf woman. I earned a doctorate in Deaf Education / Deaf Studies. I fathered a Deaf child who attended the Utah School for the Deaf pre-school program. I set up a Deaf-focused non-profit (501c 3). I directed an interpreter training program. I researched, thought about, and answered over 20,000* ASL or Deaf-related emails over a period of 20 years. I presented sign language pedagogy (teaching skills) and visual-language linguistics workshops internationally. I set up an ASL-focused YouTube channel that grew to hundreds of thousands of subscribers. 


Cultural Deafness is a set of learned or acquired attitudes and behaviors. 

Cultural self-"identity" is how a person categorizes themselves culturally.

For many years I felt like a "slash" person.  I felt the need to add a "slash" to my identity as in: Deaf "slash" Hard-of-hearing (or "Deaf/hh" for short).

I still occasionally feel that way but as time passed -- the "HH" tag became no longer accurate -- and not just because of the continued physical loss of hearing. 

To help understand why, compare identity-labeling choices to how we label the vehicles commonly known as "trucks."

While there are many types of trucks, you can boil it down to two main kinds of consumer trucks: two-wheel drives and four-wheel-drives (4x4's).  There are indeed differences between the two-wheel-drive trucks and four-wheel-drive trucks -- however, for everyday purposes we refer to them all as trucks. For example, when we announce that a neighbor is moving, we ask people to show up with their trucks to help with the move.

It would seem weird to announce:  "Bring your two-wheel-drive trucks and/or your four-wheel-drive trucks."   Instead you would just use the term "trucks."

The only people who go out of their way to be granular (specific) about the label "two-wheel-drive" truck vs "four-wheel-drive truck" -- are typically those who drive 4x4's and are trying to make themselves feel better by engaging in one-upmanship comparisons (and who wonder why they don't get invited to more get-togethers).


The fact is, the vast majority of members of the Deaf community joined the community via accretion.  This is because around 9 out of 10 Deaf people had Hearing parents (Mitchell & Karchmer 2004).  In other words, 9 out of 10 Deaf people were born into the Hearing culture and had to learn how to be Deaf over time.

In general you become welcome in a community -- any community -- to the extent that you adopt and exhibit the norms, mores**, and values of that community and establish yourself as a humble, contributing member of the community. Your acceptance is also partially based on the perception of others in the community as to whether you are a short-term visitor (as in a cultural "tourist") or if you plan on buying property and staying. The community also wants to know if you are there simply to "take" or if you are there to "give" and/or your ratio of taking and giving.

Do not expect to be "welcomed" into the Deaf community based only on becoming physically HH or deaf. That would be like expecting to be accepted into an ethnic community based solely on the color of your skin.

If you want to be fully accepted into the Deaf community it is going to require a process of accretion.  It will happen in layers.  You must become increasingly aware of and identify with Deaf culture. You must become an increasingly good signer. If you attempt to attach the "culturally Deaf" label to yourself without engaging in those processes (awareness and signing skill) you will (probably) have a less than ideal transition into the Deaf community.

Compare it to a novice swimmer diving into rough water or water with an undertow. It isn't the water's fault. The novice swimmer needs to start at the kiddie pool or the shallows and work their way up. The novice entrant into the Deaf Community needs to start by showing up, paying attention, studying, taking classes, hiring (and paying) a Deaf tutor, watching Deaf newscasters, reading books on Deaf culture, attending ASL socials and doing more watching than signing (at first). Then as their experience increases they can start going to more intimate gatherings -- typically by invitation of Deaf who might need one more player on game night (Settlers of Catan anyone?) or similar invitation-only events.

At that point the emerging Deaf person's knowledge, skills, and abilities will advance quickly and they will be well on their way to becoming a member of the Deaf community.



This article was updated: 2020



Oxford (2020) Definition of "accretion" -- see

Mitchell RE, Karchmer MA. (2004) Chasing the mythical ten percent: Parental hearing status of deaf and hard of hearing students in the United States. Sign Language Studies. 2004;4(2):138-163. See:


* 20,000 emails on the topic of ASL and/or Deaf Studies is not exaggeration, I tend to answer numerous emails a day. If you multiply just 3 emails a day x 365 days a year for 20 years you get "21,900."  I actually have most of them still in my old mail folders.

** "Mores" (Not "more" but rather "mores.")
Definition: "Mores" are the essential or characteristic customs and conventions of a community. (Source: Oxford)


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