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What Everyone Should Know About Deaf Culture

Updated on March 9, 2013
"The Sign" by deaf artist, Chuck Baird
"The Sign" by deaf artist, Chuck Baird | Source

Know the Difference

Hard of Hearing: some or partial hearing

Deaf: None, or complete loss of hearing.

What do you think?
What do you think?
Can you finger spell the alphabet? It's not hard to learn (much easier than learning the entire language) and could make all the difference between you being able to communicate with someone that is deaf or hard-of-hearing!
Can you finger spell the alphabet? It's not hard to learn (much easier than learning the entire language) and could make all the difference between you being able to communicate with someone that is deaf or hard-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.

Deaf Awareness

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.

Don’t Interrupt!

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.

Honesty

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.

Deaf Kids

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.

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    • Becky Bruce profile imageAUTHOR

      Becky Bruce 

      6 years ago from San Diego, CA

      Hey rcrumple! Very good points you make here! Also we can be so afraid of making a mistake that we will avoid situations all together. Thanks :)

    • rcrumple profile image

      Rich 

      6 years ago from Kentucky

      Having been either in sales or training sales for a good portion of my life, there is a discovery I've made. Many individuals are so ashamed of their abilities to communicate with the deaf that they run the other direction at the first indication of signing. My ignorance also is shameful, but I've found that as with any person that speaks another language, common sense motions and understanding goes a long way to developing a good relationship on both sides of the table. It's simply a matter of attempting to communicate that makes both appreciative of the other, regardless of the differences. Great Hub! Voted Up!

    • Becky Bruce profile imageAUTHOR

      Becky Bruce 

      6 years ago from San Diego, CA

      B Lucy, thanks so much :) Glad you enjoyed!!!

    • B Lucy profile image

      B Lucy 

      6 years ago from Podunk, Virginia

      What an excellent hub. It's so refreshing to have a topic many may not understand discussed openly and explained so thoughtfully. Definitely voted UP!

    • Becky Bruce profile imageAUTHOR

      Becky Bruce 

      6 years ago from San Diego, CA

      Josh, hey! Don't be ashamed, we can't possibly think of everything, that's why I knew this would be a good topic to shine a light on. Since we don't often know people who are deaf we don't get a chance to think about it. Out of sight, out of mind! Anyway, thanks so much :)

    • josh3418 profile image

      Joshua Zerbini 

      6 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Becky,

      I really enjoyed this hub and in fact, have not considered a lot of thought towards it lately. But, that is shameful on my part. You bring out many good points which I will be thinking of from now on! I reallya ppreciate you writing this article! voted up, useful and interesting. And am sharing! Have a great day Becky!

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