What Everyone Should Know About Deaf Culture
Know the Difference
Hard of Hearing: some or partial hearing
Deaf: None, or complete loss of hearing.
Debunking the “Deaf and Dumb” Myth
Just because someone is deaf does not mean they are dumb! Deaf people start to think us hearing folk have lost all our brain cells when we rationalize like this. Deaf people are extremely smart, oftentimes more adept at picking up information because without hearing their other senses are heightened.
As my ASL courses progressed, I had another deaf professor- this one just as insightful and lovely. He shared with us his childhood growing up with eight brothers and sisters, all hearing except for him. His parents never took the time to learn sign language or find alternate forms of communication. The best thing they ever did for him was enroll him at a school for the deaf, here he was able to find his place in this world.
How to Act Around a Deaf Person
Just as with any language, American Sign language is an entire culture. It’s not too often we meet a deaf person and usually when we do, we can’t communicate with them so we rarely get the chance to understand deaf culture first hand. Because of this disconnect, most people know absolutely nothing about the death community.
One of the greatest professors I had in college was hard-of-hearing. He told us a story about his non-deaf brother who had a bit of a drinking problem. One night, nearly home and with more than a few drinks in him, a cop flashed her lights and beckoned for him to pull over. Not wanting to breath alcohol in the officers’ face, he simply signed that he was deaf. The cop let him go without further questioning. This same light-hearted professor called out a possible reason for this: the officer didn't know how to interact with a deaf person so she chose not to.
Understanding other cultures helps us navigate the world in a more conscious and respectful manner. All too often those in the deaf community end up offended by the behaviors of the hearing or simply left out all together. In order to ensure you’re not one of these ‘offensive’ individuals read on.
Never say Sorry
First thing's first: being deaf is not considered a handicap.
In fact, when given the option of hearing aids, many opt out- preferring their world of uninterrupted silence. They feel comfortable in the world they know. As there are plenty of disabled and dumb people who can hear, sound is not a determining factor for much of anything! By apologizing or even sympathizing, you could be in danger of offending. Imagine if someone came up to you and started saying sorry about the birthmark you’ve always had on your check, the one you’ve grown to love.
If two people are signing, make sure not to walk between them! It happens more often than you think and perhaps you have even done it before. If you are not paying attention and you don’t hear any chatter, you might just continue walking! So pay attention, walk around or try to duck beneath their hands if you must.
Don’t be offended if your new deaf friend tells you that you look heavy today or that you paid too much for your car. In the deaf community, hiding these things seems rather silly and so they just come right out with it! Because of this honesty policy, they might ask questions you don’t feel comfortable answering- such as the amount you paid for your house. Understanding that in their culture this is a very normal and polite, might help you prepare a more polite answer yourself.
After touring a school for the deaf in Riverside, California I learned about the life many deaf kids are left to live. I assumed that all parents would go the extra mile if their child were born deaf, this is not always the case. Some parents feel helpless and don't know what to do and so they send their children off to these deaf schools each week, only returning them home by plane, bus, or car on the weekends and some holidays. The facility I toured was built to government standards; in other words it looks like a prison full of pink blankets and DIsney figurines. To some kids, this is the best opportunity because at home they can’t communicate and feel shut out from their own family.
But it's important to be aware that not all deaf children are given the same life hearing kids are. If you, or someone you know, is the parent of a deaf child make sure that they are getting the most resources and support. All kids deserve to grow up under the love of a family. Sending a kid off to school to learn everything will not make them feel loved and could lead to problems later. Of course, it's important to mention that some children attend these schools and also have amazingly supportive parents and families back home. It's very possible for parents to learn how to properly communicate with their deaf children, allowing them the best of both worlds!
Not all the Same
There are many deaf communities, languages, cultures, and ideologies worldwide and even in your own city! Never assume all deaf people are the same.
While most of us learn our cultures from our parents, deaf children most often do not have deaf family members. Therefore their cultures are a mix, some learned through the deaf community and others taken from their hearing families. The deaf are multicultural and fascinating individuals; they understand the culture of the hearing and I believe we should also work to understand theirs.