An Introduction to the Hearing and Deaf Communities Relationship
Throughout history as a whole deaf people had no sense of self or identity, only in recent decades has this begun to change. This is due to a number of contributing factors. The chapter "Deaf-Mutes, The Strange, and the Modern Self" in The Deaf World is a collection of these factors.
The Theory of Self Proposed by Others
The deaf people believed they had no identity because hearing people believed it to be true, and let deaf people know it. Hearing people would refer to the deaf as incomplete beings or even deviations from the normal. This has led deaf peoples across history to identify as identity-less.
The Deaf-Mute and the Self
As individuals many deaf people are thrown into lives being considered by many to be disabled. For many deaf youths this idea that one is 'disabled' can reach far into adulthood. This however changed when the deaf community began to grow and they created a sense of self and of self worth. American Sign Language is a clear example of the development of the deaf self. They embraced the fact they were a bit different, they believed that was in fact what made them whole.
The Modern Deaf Self
Up until the 1990's hearing people still saw deaf people as flawed, but many things have changed. The deaf culture is finally receiving recognition in many different ways. These include the recognition of ASL in education, inclusion in the studies of anthropology as well as no longer being known as deaf-mutes or deaf and dumb, but as deaf people.
The viewpoint of each group still differ today. Many hearing view the deaf as being incomplete, while many deaf see themselves as different, but complete. As a separate being from hearing, they have all the life concepts of the hearing; community, language and culture, but just interact differently. These differenced had caused the deaf community to become distant and separate themselves from hearing people who have wanted to categorize them as incomplete.
Conflict and Coexistence
For a long time the deaf community has internalized their feelings of unhappiness with how they have been treated. Modern day deaf people, in contrast, have externalized their opinions of the subject. No longer scared to rise up and create a forum for discussion, no matter how uncomforted it was for the hearing. This has discussion however has created a place for conflict to occur. Some of the fundamental conflicts include:
- The identification of deaf people as 'deaf' or 'hard of hearing'
- Differing views on the ability to control deaf institutions
- Struggle over control of the lives of deaf children
- Inequality of ASL
- Discrimination and reverse discrimination
Through the use of ASL deaf people have found a way to bring their thoughts and feelings to the hearing community. Because of this however much strain can be put on an interpreter when the hearing person can not directly sign, because the interpreter does not only translate words, but culture as well. Guilt is noted as a factor in hearing peoples interactions with deaf people in modern times. This is in contrast to the way hearing people felt and how they treated the deaf before, thinking themselves as righteous.
A strong relationship needs to be made between the two communities.
This depends on; accepting differences, acceptance in the need to find
a new balance of power, control of cross-cultural relationships and
the deaf community viewing the hearing community as allies, not as
wanting to return them to the times of 'deaf and dumb'.
I am an ASL student pursuing a career as an interpreter, I am not deaf and my posts do not represent to views of the deaf community. This post is a summary of Ch. 49 of The Deaf World, a collection of writings concerning the deaf community.
Check out my other ASL related hubs!
- American Sign Language: ASL Alphabet
- American Sign Language: ASL numbers 1-10
- American Sign Language: ASL Colors
- American Sign Language:ASL Beginning and Basic Words 1
- American Sign Language: ASL Zombie Signs
- A Looking Backstory in ASL by Scott Spethman
- Gallaudet Story in ASL By Scott Spethman
- Deaf Characters in Literature