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American Sign Language: "What am I?" 


In a message dated 9/7/2015 6:04:23 P.M. Pacific Daylight Time, a  friend (and a truly wonderful human being) named Lyn writes:

I was born with normal hearing in both ears.

33 years of age - head and other injuries incurred during an auto accident

The head injuries caused an immediate loss of hearing in both ears; it also caused post-traumatic Meniere's Disease.

Subsequent to the accident - a number of head/brain surgeries. Right inner ear was removed so I operate with only one-half of my balance system.

Another surgery: a vestibular nerve section; surgeons removed a section of my auditory nerve on the right side of my head.

I have a 100 percent hearing loss in the right ear. I have an 80 percent loss in the left ear.

So am I hard of hearing or deaf? I'm not sure which is the correct term for me.

I know I'm not Deaf.

My medical records say 'late deafened.' It doesn't really matter to me (deaf or hard of hearing) except that I am often asked, "Are you deaf or hard of hearing?" I'm unsure about the most accurate way to answer that question.

Does a 100 percent loss in one ear and a partial loss in the other ear mean the person is 'deaf' or 'hard of hearing?' What do you think?

My hearing loss is such that I rely on sign language for communication, however I do hear some sounds and occasionally hear people speak (although I cannot understand the words unless I am able to lipread them).


- Lyn





Dear Lyn,

You shared your background and asked what does that make you, (in terms of labels).

I think you are like me, -- one of those Deaf/hh types.

In specific you are Deaf/hh: A culturally Deaf individual with a significant hearing loss who can function in the Hearing world in limited circumstances.

Around Deaf-Nazis you are Deaf/hh for the sake of not wishing to over-state your Deafhood (either out of humility, or self-protection).

Around nice/normal Deaf people you are "Deaf."

Around Hearing people you are "HH."

Around speech-pathologists you are late-deafened.

In mixed environments you are ... "compromised."

Around family and friends you are ... "loved."

- Bill

Lyn writes:


The information you sent is very helpful. Thanks for taking time to offer the same.

Based on what some born-Deaf individuals advised years ago, I have always reserved the Deaf and Deaf/hh terms (with capital Ds) for those who were born with a significant hearing loss (or who acquired it before the age of two) and who are (or have always been) entrenched in the Deaf Community and Deaf culture.

I have always reserved the terms 'deaf' and 'deaf/hh' (lower case d) for late deafened people, such as myself, regardless their skill level with ASL and regardless their degree of involvement with the Deaf Community and Deaf culture.

In your explanation you said I could be referred to as 'Deaf/hh.' So perhaps I had been operating on some misinformation in never referring to myself with a capital D?

Now comes another question. I notice that many Deaf people use the terms 'Deaf Community' and "Deaf Culture' as if the terms were synonymous. I see a distinction between the terms - do you?

Perhaps, for general discussions, the distinctions between the terms 'community' and 'culture' are of small consequence?

- Lyn



Can Deaf Culture be taught? Answer: Yes.

Can Deaf Culture be learned? Answer Yes.

Since Deaf Culture can be learned it means a person who did not know Deaf Culture before can come to know Deaf Culture.

Once a person knows Deaf Culture he/she can then CHOOSE to practice Deaf Culture and incorporate it into his/her life. Acculturation becomes enculturation.  Once enculturation has completed and that person becomes active in the Deaf Community and is accepted by the Deaf Community then that person is officially a culturally Deaf member of the Deaf Community.

Think of it like a red cactus. Normally cacti do not grow red. However you can put red food coloring into the water supply of the cactus and it will become red. It is not an illusion. The cactus is not faking it. The cactus is RED. Ask a scientist what color that cactus is and he/she will tell you, "red."

Sure, that cactus could become green again if you stop putting red food coloring in its water. THAT IS THE POINT!

If a person is born deaf to Deaf parents and raised in the Deaf Community that person will grow up culturally Deaf. If that same person stops hanging out with Deaf people, gets a cochlear implant, learns how to talk, stops signing, starts promoting oralism and cochlear implantation of children, lobbies for the closure of Deaf schools and the mainstreaming of deaf children -- then I daresay he/she is no longer culturally Deaf and has instead become "Hearing in the head." He/she has become culturally Hearing. His or her new label would perhaps be a capital "D" with an overstrike followed by a lowercase "d"eaf.

Since it is possible for a Deaf person to become "d/Hearing" It is certainly possible for a "deaf" person to become d/Deaf. It is even possible for a hearing person to become h/Deaf. Or in the case of late-deafened hearing people: d/Deaf!

It it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck and has the DNA of a duck it is a duck!

If your first instinct when getting someone's attention is to wave (and not to voice their name) -- you are Deaf.
If you are lonely and want someone to chat with and your first inclination is to go be with other signers -- you are Deaf.
If you go into a restaurant with some friends and find yourself immediately moving the flowers from the middle of the table -- you are Deaf.

You my friend are "d/Deaf" and anyone who says contrary DOESN'T know what they are talking about. I stake my doctorate, my career, and more importantly -- my reputation on it.

The fact that you are "multi-cultural" (or at least bi-cultural) doesn't detract from the fact that you are now (and have been for many years) Deaf.
- Bill

p.s. You and I both know that Deaf Culture and Deaf Community are not the same thing. The Deaf Community is full of people who practice Deaf Culture.



Thank you for this excellent explanation of the use of the terms: deaf; deaf/hh; Deaf/hh etc.  

Perhaps you can consider posting my inquiry and your response on your web site?  I think that many people (hard of hearing, deaf, Deaf and hearing) would benefit from you clear explanation of the terms.
From now on and for the first time ever, I will refer to myself as Deaf/hh (with pride)!

- Lyn


Also see: "Labels in the Deaf Community"


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