Deaf is the term used to describe the loss of hearing or having severely impaired hearing. Many individuals in the United States are diagnosed with having little to know hearing, and this places a label on them that carries various meanings and perceptions. Although everyone has heard of deafness, few have any true knowledge of what deafness is really like as well as what culture is linked to this group of unique individuals. Deaf culture links many through a sense of marginality, pride, and activism that is rooted in the push to promote American Sign Language.
Through studying those in the United States who have hearing loss, it is found that the majority do not classify themselves as disabled. The term ‘disabled’ refers to someone who is hindered or restricted due to a severe physical impairment; whereas those who are deaf do not see themselves as impaired by any means because they are able to communicate, just not in the traditional and widely accepted sense. The traditional sense of communication refers to verbal and written communication which use hearing as the primary way of exchanging ideas. Those in the Deaf community see themselves as a marginalized ethnic group and more of a linguistic minority because of this (Dolnick 37). Instead of using a lower case ‘d’ in the spelling, individuals in the community choose to use a capital ‘D’ as a means of rebranding and labeling themselves. In this way, the Deaf community reclaims ownership of their identity.
Through taking ownership of their identity, the Deaf community creates a culture based on pushing for equal acknowledgement and preservation of their way of life, “Findings suggest that in general, identifying with Deaf culture is positively associated with self-esteem and sense of agency, and facilitates activism” (Hamill and Stein 390). In fact, those who are outside of this community are often shocked to find out that many refuse the opportunity to seek options for hearing. Deaf individuals acknowledge who they are and take pride in it, “Deaf culture represents not a denial but an affirmation” (Dolnick 43). Like any other group or community of individuals, the Deaf community has means of networking and supporting one another, and examples include the National Association of the Deaf, DeafBlogLand, DeafRead, and others.
These groups and blogs echo the messages of equality, value, and valuing sign language. Edward Dolnick writes in his article “Deafness as Culture” that the Deaf community often use their platforms to show that they are actually at odds with both the medical community and advocates of the disabled. Although these groups feel that they are creating assistance for those associated with Deaf culture, it is quite the opposite. This group wants to take ownership over how they live and communicate with other people.
It is proven that half a million individuals in the United States use American Sign Language on a daily basis as their primary means of communication. The Deaf community as this as their preferred means of communication because for them it is simple and not a forced means of linguistics. Unlike methods enforced upon them by the majority who are able to hear, ASL does not necessarily require the reading of lips or forced pronunciation of words that cannot be heard. Other methods of communication that have been developed in Deaf culture include cued speech and total communication. Cued speech involves spoken English combined with hand signals while total communication involves a combination of ASL, writing, finger spelling, and speech. Regardless of the method, the sole purpose of the Deaf community is to have control and input over their linguistic methods.
Overall, Deaf culture is something that is widely misunderstood in the United States because many Americans fail to see it as anything less than a handicap or affliction. Those in the Deaf community are found to identify themselves as a linguistic minority and ethnic group who seeks to reclaim their identity and ways that they linguistically communicate. This is done through advocating with social groups, blogs, and other means like any other group of likeminded individuals, and at the heart of it all, the push for the acceptance of ASL links everyone in this culture together. Education and time will allow others in the United States to see Deaf culture as one that is not to be shunned but embraced.
- Dolnick, Edward. “Deafness as Culture.” The Atlantic, vol. 272, no. 3, 1993, pp. 37-53. http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.464.6578&rep=rep1&type=pdf Accessed 15 May 2018.
- Hamill, Alexis C., and Catherine H. Stein. “Culture and Empowerment in the Deaf Community: An Analysis of Internet Weblogs.” Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology, vol. 21, no. 5, 2011, pp. 388-406. https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Catherine_Stein2/publication/216086902_Culture_and_Empowerment_in_the_Deaf_Community_An_Analysis_of_Internet_Weblogs/links/5a5b4a930f7e9b5fb389bd86/Culture-and-Empowerment-in-the-Deaf-Community-An-Analysis-of-Internet-Weblogs.pdf. Accessed 15 May 2018.