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Deaf Culture: Being a Deaf Person is Still Being a Person

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Also see: Study Guide

Jessie Griffin

06 April 2012


Being a Deaf Person Is Still Being a Person

     Being Deaf involves living in a silent world that is different from the Hearing world, but a Deaf person can still enjoy a very productive and independent life. To a Hearing person the thought of being Deaf and never hearing a sound in a world full of sounds may be a scary thing. However, to a Deaf person the opposite can be true. Growing up Deaf, a person may miss the sounds that a Hearing person has around them all the time, but many have a sense of quiet and peace that a Hearing person will never have. Deaf people have their own culture, language, and can function independently by attending school and by working, just like anyone else. Both Deaf and Hearing people need to learn to accept the differences in each other while understanding that these differences do not make the other strange. Instead, each can learn to communicate with the other and care for each other.

     Deaf Culture may seem strange to a Hearing person. Each ethnic and religious group has its own culture. A culture is when a group of people come together because they have the same beliefs, thoughts, and behavior patterns. Much of what has developed as Deaf Culture has developed just as many cultural norms develop. It simply happens because people in a specific group have likenesses that bring them together in special ways. At schools for the Deaf, because students are surrounded by other students who are Deaf and culturally like them they naturally form a special bond. "The cultural is neither here nor there, but is born through history, made anew by the circumstances of the present." (Padden) An example of this is that Deaf people tend to be extremely physical. They like to hug and touch each other. When they come up to each other, they tend to hug. To a Hearing person this can be considered an invasion of their space. This is an example of a time that each need to understand the others cultural norms and attempt to show respect for each other. Other times a Deaf person may need to rely on their sense of touch, maybe when they feel to see if their car is running, if they have a vibrating alarm clock, or if a person comes up to them and needs to tap them on the shoulder to get their attention. Overall, a Deaf person will be blunt in what he/she says then a Hearing person. This may be viewed as "tactless" to a Hearing person. Deaf people do not see being blunt as being rude. They are simply seeking to understand and trying to gain more information. In asking students at the NCSD about their views of how they differ from Hearing people, they stated that they observed that Hearing people were very closed about expressing their feelings. They expressed that they feel that Deaf people are more open with their feelings and more open about being willing to hug friends and meet new people. They also do not tend to see Deafness as a condition that needs to be fixed. They simply see it as how they are and they see themselves as able to make a life for themselves. In Deaf Culture, the Deaf tend to be extremely expressive when trying to communicate. Facial expressions can show if a person is happy, sad, or questioning something that is going on. Basically, a culture of any kind can be defined as " a set of learned behaviors of a group of people that share a language, values, rules for behavior, and traditions." (Padden)

     Language is how people learn to communicate with each other. Every culture has its own language. Many times even twins will develop their own language. Babies are born with no language at all, but they learn their language by being around their parents and having people teach them the names of objects around them. For Deaf people many use ASL as their main form of communication "American Sign Language (ASL) is a complete, complex language that employs signs made by moving the hands combined with facial expressions and postures of the body." (NIH Publication) It is believed that one of the biggest influences on the development of sign language in America was Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet. He was a minister. His neighbor's daughter was Deaf and he was interested in helping her find a way to communicate. He went to Europe because they had many schools to help the Deaf communicate. While he was there he met Laurent Clerc who not only taught him about Deaf education methods, but who also returned to America to help start schools in America for Deaf students.

     It is very important for children to learn language at an early age. Learning ASL helps Deaf children because they learn to visualize and put meaning to objects. Many people see ASL as a type of pantomiming words. However, it does help Deaf people communicate. ASL does not use grammar like spoken English. An example of this would be that in spoken English a person may say, "I am going to the store tomorrow" however ASL would sign "tomorrow, I go store." This is not because Deaf people are dumb or illiterate. It is because they are speaking their own language. American Sign Language is a language of its very own. It has its own way of getting meaning across to others. In ASL the thing that is considered the most important is stated first and other information follows. When using American Sign Language, it is important that the person signing use facial expressions to also show what is being said. For example, if a person is asking a question they would not be smiling, instead they would have a puzzled look on their face along with signing the question. By doing this the Deaf person gets the message two ways and finds it easier to communicate. This can be hard for Hearing people to understand while Deaf people may not completely understand grammar in spoken English, both Users of American Sign Language and oral communication can learn to communicate with each other.

     Because American Sign Language is a language of its own and has its own grammar and ways of expressing meaning and thought, in 2007 North Carolina approved ASL to be taken as a foreign language. At least 28 states accept ASL in high school to meet the foreign language requirement. Many colleges are even offering follow-up work for students who took ASL in high school. The Deaf world sees this as a victory; because it will help people from the Hearing world not only be able to communicate with them, it should also help them better understand the world of the Deaf. It is not that hard if both sides simply accept that they have differences and those differences are what make us special and unique.

     Many Deaf people can read lips. They learn to do this because as some people sign they also say the word. Because of this they can learn to read the lips of others they come in contact with. If a Hearing person will attempt to talk to a Deaf person they are often able to communicate. Deaf people listen with their eyes so when a person tries to talk to them they need to look them in the eyes and let them see their facial expressions and their lips. Often, the Deaf person can get their point across by pointing to things or making motions. Also, both can try writing notes to each other.

     Deaf people are able to attend schools. In 1817 the oldest permanent school for the Deaf in the United States was founded by Thomas Gallaudet and Laurent Clerc. After that many schools for Deaf students began opening. These schools gave students a chance to be educated while being with other Deaf people and developing a sense of community. This helped develop more of an identity. They had a place where they belonged. Also at these schools they learned about Deaf history and culture. There have been three schools for the Deaf in North Carolina. There is one School for the Deaf (NCSD) in Morganton. The reason NCSD does not have the "W" (Western) in front of the NCSD if because it was the first School for the Deaf in North Carolina. The school in Raleigh was for the blind as well. It recently closed. Much of the reason that it closed is due to recent technologies which make it possible for Deaf children to live at home and be mainstreamed into their community school. Another, change for the schools for the Deaf is that in the past more of the children started their school experience at the school for the Deaf and continued there through high school. Today, most students stay at home longer and start school in their local schools. Most do not attend the schools for the Deaf until middle and high school. These schools have been a huge benefit to the students needing their services. "They were no longer just individuals with an individual's plights or triumphs; they were a people with their own culture, like the Jews or the Welsh." (Sacks). Later the need was noticed for higher education for Deaf students, so Gallaudet University was created. It is still in operation today.

     However, since the Americans with Disabilities Act and Public Law 94-142 the Education for All handicapped Children Act in 1975, public schools were required to start providing education for Deaf and other handicapped children. Now, Deaf children have more options in their education. They can still choose to go to schools for the Deaf or they can go to public schools. If they are in public schools and need an interpreter to understand, one must be provided for them. Also in upper grades and in college, the schools may provide note takers to help the students, because a student cannot be expected to read lips and take notes in a class at the same time. They can go to Gallaudet University or public universities. If they go to a public university the school will either offer an interpreter or a note taker for them so Deaf children have the same options in education that that Hearing students have. Deaf and hard of hearing students have plans for the future and goals just like other students. Some at the School for the Deaf are already planning to be ASL Teachers, farmers carrying on their own family traditions, game designers, and photographers. One hopes to attend Gallaudet University and study the violin. Others, much like their Hearing peers, do not know what they will become but look to the future with great excitement. Some already have part-time jobs that will help them find their strengths and weaknesses.

     Just because someone is Deaf does not mean that a Hearing person cannot be friends with them. A Deaf person lives a lifestyle much the same as anyone else. Deaf people communicate with their friends, go out to eat, and go shopping. Deaf people communicate with each other through ASL. The Hearing can communicate with Deaf through an interpreter, lip reading, or learning ASL. Also, many carry a pad of paper and a pencil so a person can ask questions and communicate with them. Each person should accept others for their differences and learn from those differences. This can help both people grow and become a better person. Instead, of seeing someone who is "different" from them and deciding that they do not like them before they even try to get to know them.

     Most Deaf people can participate in any activity a Hearing person can. They can ride bikes, participate in sports, drive cars, and with the help of closed captioning watch and enjoy television. Deaf are able to use same office and home technologies that Hearing people do. These Examples of these would be computers, instant-messaging, E-mail, fax, and text pagers these are Even though these were not made just for Deaf people. They have been a huge benefit to the Deaf in helping them communicate with those around them. Deaf people can be employed doing almost any job that Hearing people can do.

     They get college educations. They also tend to be very visual and observant. Some employers say Deaf people make great employees because they are not as easily distracted. Deaf people have been successful at being writers, educators, actors, musicians and many others professions.
Marlee Matlin is a well-known Deaf actress in Hollywood who has steadily increased her name recognition in both the Deaf and Hearing worlds. A very famous person with a hearing loss in history is the inventor Thomas Alva Edison. Edison had had hearing problems from his childhood. He was technically Deaf by the time he was a teenager. In spite of his hearing loss he went on to develop the light bulb, phonograph, telegraph, and a camera for motion pictures. More recently, Heather Whitestone was crowned the first Miss America who was Deaf. She went on to become a voice for people with disabilities. Vinton Cerf is known as the father of the internet. It is interesting to know that because of his frustration of not being able to communicate with other researchers he developed internet communications protocols.

     There are "hearing dogs" that are trained to alert their owners to everyday household sounds by touching with a paw and leading the person to the source of the sound. These dogs are much like a seeing-eye dog and become a companion dog to the person they help. There are alarm clocks that shake the bed and lamps that turn off and on when the doorbell rings. Deaf people are even considered to be safer drivers because they are so visually attentive. The other senses seem to compensate for the sense that they have lost. 280 million people world-wide have moderate to profound hearing loss in both ears. 34 million Americans have significant hearing loss.

     With all of the people in the world who have some type of hearing loss and Deafness it would be in everyone's best interest to learn to accept the differences and not try to avoid people who are different from them. Also, to understand that we all do many of the same things even if we do them in different ways. All people are people even if they are different. "There is a final lesson from the history of Deaf people: Without the diversity of culture, language and different ways of understanding the world we would never have learned what we know about the different ways that humans live (Padden).  Differences have made us who we are as a culture. It does not make sense to decide we do not like people just because we need to communicate differently with them. We need to remember that everyone has something special we can learn from them. By getting to know people with differences and different interest each person is giving themselves a chance to grow.



Moore, S. Matthew, and Levitan, Linda. For Hearing people Only . Rochester, New York: Deaf

Life Press. 2003.

Paddon, Carol and Humphries, Tom. Inside Deaf Culture . Massachusetts: Harvard

University Press, 2005.

Sacks, Oliver. Seeing Voices New York: Random House Inc., 2000.

"Sound and Fury." PBS. 2011.



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