Topic Card 9: On Being Deaf-A Cultural View


Related Terms:

Deaf Community; Deaf/Hard of Hearing; Hearing Impaired; Deaf Culture; American Sign Language; Deaf Role Models; Values; Social Interaction Rules


What is the Deaf Community?

Why are there so many different terms to describe deafness?

What is Deaf Culture?

What is it like being DEAF?

What effect have advances in communication technology had on the Deaf Community?

  • What is the Deaf Community?

A community is a group of people who share common interests and a common heritage. The Deaf Community is comprised of individuals, both deaf and hearing, who to varying degrees embrace particular community goals that come from Deaf cultural influences. This topic card is presented from a Deaf cultural and community perspective.

  • Why are there so many different terms to describe deafness?

The different terms reflect differing views of deafness. The preferred terms are Deaf and Hard of Hearing. Some professionals use the term, “Hearing Impaired,” to identify a child with a hearing loss. This is a medical or clinical term that implies a need to fix or change. Within the Deaf Community, people don’t consider themselves “impaired.” Members of the Deaf Community and hearing professionals, who share this view, use the terms Deaf or Hard of Hearing. Individuals who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing may have individual preferences. Their choices to use one term or the other may be based on many factors, including communication and culture

  • What is Deaf Culture?

A culture is generally defined as a system of values, beliefs, and standards that guide a peoples’ thoughts, feelings and behaviors. Deaf Culture is comprised of five areas which are: language, identity, values, rules of social interaction and traditions.

Language: American Sign Language (ASL) is a visual-gestural-spatial language in which the placement, movement, and expression of the hands and body are actually part of the language. ASL is considered by the Deaf Community to be the native language of people who are Deaf. ASL is a complete language, capable of conveying abstract thought, humor, and emotion; it has its own grammatical structure and linguistic principles.

Identity: It is important in any culture to know your identity. It is critical for a child who is deaf to haveDeafrole models, so he or she will have a better idea of the future and to understand that there are many people like him/her. It is equally important for a child who is deaf/hard of hearing to understand both Deaf and Hearing cultures and both languages (ASL and English) in order to succeed in a larger society. A lot of young children are exposed to more than one language and culture and it is perfectly permissible for deaf/hard of hearing children to understand more about Deaf Culture and American Sign Language.

Values: Individuals who are Deaf want to have clear communication without any barriers. This is animportant and shared value. It is easy to understand why people who are Deaf feel comfortable using American Sign Language. They value their eyes because they can’t depend on their hearing ability. Eye contact is often used to carry on a conversation. Deaf individuals use their hands to communicate. There is not a high value placed on the use of speech as not all of deaf/hard of hearing are able to use their speech skills. As technology brings changes, the Deaf Community has accepted cochlear implants and those with speech abilities. American Sign Language remains the common communication mode. The Deaf World is really a small world. It’s easy to become friends with many Deaf people in many cities and countries because individuals share common values. Each country has its own native sign language.

Rules of Social Interaction: It is essential to know general rules of both cultures, so an individual can have an opportunity to function well in any setting. Here are a few rules of interaction in the Deaf Culture.

  • Maintaining eye contact, not staring
  • Using attention getting devices such as waving, tapping the shoulder, stamping on the floor and turning the lights on and off
  • Being blunt, “telling it like it is”
  • Engaging in long departures from a social event •Hugging when greeting or leaving
  • Pointing is polite
  • Touching during conversations
  • Avoiding “excuse me” – when walking between two people who are signing, it is not necessary to say “excuse me”

 Deaf Traditions: There are many traditions that are an important part of the Deaf Culture. They include:

  • Storytelling using American Sign Language
  • Sharing folklore
  • Giving name signs that reflect something about the individual
  • Attending social gatherings including homecomings, tournaments, conferences and reunions
  • Belonging to local or national Deaf organizations


  • What is it like being DEAF?

Deaf people are NORMAL. Their typical day is like yours. They can do anything, except hear! Helping people who hear to understand these things is an ongoing education process. Deafness is an invisible handicap. You can’t know that someone is deaf by just looking at them. Hearing people may first realize someone is deaf or hard of hearing when that person uses sign language or asks for something just said to be repeated. People who are deaf often must fight for their rights. They want the same type of access that hearing people have. Access may mean having an interpreter when one is needed or being able to use the telephone through a public relay service or having a visual fire alarm system in a hotel. Advances in technology are improving access everyday. For example, hearing people have cell phones, and deaf/hard of hearing people have pagers with text. Open-captioned films are available in many cities, so deaf/hard of hearing people can watch a movie on a big screen. Despite all the improvements that have been made, people who hear continue to have more access to services than people who are deaf. The movement toward gaining equal access will continue.

  • What effect have advances in communication technology had on the Deaf Community?

Technology such as the videophone, computers, and wireless devices make personal contact with Deaf or Hearing much easier. Today’s deaf individual frequently stays in touch with others through webcams, videophones and instant messaging. Through technology more Deaf are informed of local events, state and national conferences. List-serves connect the deaf community across the nation and reach into the international deaf community. As a result, deaf people now have access to a variety of information. This ranges from social events (Deaf Coffee Chats, captioned movies and show times) to business and legal information disseminated by email “Digests” and “E-Zines.” Deaf Clubs, once the mainstay of the deaf community, are no longer the only option a deaf individual has to keep in touch with others.