The Deaf Culture: Is it Really a Culture at All
Carol Padden has defined Culture as a set of learned behaviors of a group of people who have their own language, values, rules of behavior, and traditions. (1988)
Culture results from a group of people coming together to form a community around shared experience, common interests, shared norms of behavior, and shared survival techniques. Such groups as the deaf seek each other out for social interaction and emotional support.
The essential link to Deaf Culture among the American deaf community is American Sign Language. This community shares a common sense of pride in their Culture and language. There exists a rich heritage and pride in the ability to overcome adversity as individuals and as a group. Deaf power hit the World in 1988 at Gallaudet University, an event known as the “Deaf President Now” (DPN) Movement. The protest has made a mark in history and proves that Deaf Culture is Pride and that Pride is Power.
Mastery of ASL and skillful storytelling are highly valued in Deaf Culture. Through ASL Literature, one generation passes on to the next its wisdom, values, and its pride and thus reinforces the bonds that unite the younger generation.
Another feature of this Culture is the role of marriage. It is estimated that 9 out of 10 members of the American Deaf community marry other members of their cultural group. Many D/deaf couples also wish for a deaf child so that they may pass on their heritage and Culture, it is not just the language but the values; the same values that hearing parents want to instill in their children.
Carol Padden says Deaf identity itself is highly valued; members of the deaf community seem to agree that hearing individuals can never fully acquire that identity and become a full-fledged member of the deaf community. Even with deaf parents and a native command of ASL the hearing person will have missed the experience of growing up deaf, including residential school. For many members of the deaf community, speech and thinking like a hearing person are negatively valued in Deaf Culture.
As Harlan Lane states in his book Mask of Bivalence there is a fierce group loyalty, and this may extend to protectively withholding information about the community’s language and Culture.
Going back to residential schools, these schools provide a vital link in the transmission of Deaf Culture and Language. Children here are able to communicate in a language readily understood by each other. Deaf children are able to partake in social clubs, sports and importantly enough, to be around deaf role models. It is important for deaf children to be encouraged to further their education and to learn that deafness does not mean you cannot grow up to be successful and happy (success of course being at each persons own perspective on what success and happiness means to them individually.) This is not to say that mainstream education is iniquitous for deaf children, but we must keep in mind that socialization is essential to a child’s growth and without a common language socialization is limited.
Aside from Deaf Culture, there is a shared unity within the deaf community. That unity is the use of assistive devices that help the deaf individual know when the phone is ringing or when someone is at the door. Deaf people can talk to other members of the deaf community as well as to hearing people, through a device called the TTY or TDD. This is a small Teletype writer that looks like a mini Word processor. How it works is·1.) the deaf person will dial the number 2)place the receiver on TTY 3) once the person answers, they type messages back and forth. (kind of like chatting on the internet) Of course the other person must have a TTY also but if they don’t then they can call through a relay service. An operator will type messages to the deaf person and voice to the hearing person. (Florida Relay Service Numbers 1-800-955-8770 Voice, 1-800-955-8771 TDD)
How does a deaf person know when they are receiving a call??? There is a device called a Visual Ring Signaler (VRS), that is hooked up to the phone and to a lamp, when the phone rings the lamp will blink alerting the deaf person that the phone is ringing. The same goes for the doorbell, when someone rings the bell it will signal a light to flash on and off. There is also a device called a baby cry signaler, again it works the same way, there is a device in the baby’s room and one in the parents room, when the baby cries it sends a signal to the lamp in the parents room which causes it to flash on and off. There are different variations of how the lamps will blink so that it is not confusing to the deaf person… is it the phone, or the door? One may blink on and off real fast, the other may flash on and off in a short rhythmic pattern, or they can be hooked up to different lamps in different areas of the house.
Because there is a deaf community with its own language and Culture, there is a cultural frame in which to be deaf is not to be disabled. Quite the contrary, it is as we have seen an asset in Deaf Culture to be deaf in behavior, values, knowledge, and fluency in ASL. Deafness is not a disability but rather a different way of being. However, it must be noted that not all members of the deaf community share the same values of those deaf who support Deaf Culture.
Although a deaf person may sign, that alone does not mean they follow Deaf Culture or the beliefs of that Culture, remember that Deaf Culture is an identity. Each D/deaf individual is unique and opinions may differ. This may be due to; setting of education, language, whether their parents were deaf or hearing and if they signed or not, which language the deaf person uses and so forth. Along with that·. there are many Hard of Hearing individuals who prefer Deaf Culture over Hearing Culture and Vice-Versa.
There are different levels of self-pride when it comes to Deaf Culture and how strong a person supports that Culture. Some members do not like Hard of Hearing or hearing people, where other members of Deaf Culture are accepting. Although my page is directed to ASL and Deaf Culture, it is important for you to know ALL aspects of deafness, Culture and so forth. I feel it is important for anyone who is learning ASL to have a full understanding of Deaf Culture, deafness in its pathological view (defining deafness as a handicap), ASL and knowledge of the various forms of sign systems.
There is much more to Deaf Culture than explained here but it gives you insight to the American Deaf Community. It is important for you to socialize and interact within the deaf community for many reasons. Of course it will help improve your signing and receptive skills, but it teaches you something so much more valuable experience· their experience. You will see that I say through out my Web site that the D/deaf community will be your greatest teacher, not until you fully understand the pathological view of deafness and the oppression of the deaf community can you fully accept Deaf Culture and be accepted into the deaf community.
**** D/d also known as Big D and little d. Big D refers to a deaf individual who follows Deaf Culture whereas little d refers to the physical nature of deafness.