Deaf Culture

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Yet again, this week’s Therapy Thursday is brought to you by the letter H.
Aka, “House“.
Aka, Professor X’s alter-ego.

In this week’s episode, a young teenager (who is deaf), his mother (who is hearing), and the medical team (who are all hearing) debate the validity and importance of deaf culture.

There can be a very strong sense of deaf pride amongst those who live, school, and work with others using American Sign Language. Deafculture.com states, “Deaf people who claim a culturally “Deaf” identity compare themselves to members of other ethnic communities. “We have a language; we have a culture,” they say. Opponents of this view don’t see deaf people as members of an ethnic minority but simply as handicapped persons, people with a hearing loss, people with a hearing disability, audiological patients.”

I have always felt strongly that there is a deaf community and culture. In the ninth grade, I even wrote a report entitled, “Deaf Culture”, defining and explaining what this culture is and trying to describe the large deaf population and school close to where I lived. (As a side note, “deaf” and “death” are easily misinterpreted words. It made for an interesting conversation between adults and myself when they thought I was studying Gothic death ceremonies.”) My tween and young teen career aspiration was to become a teacher for deaf students. Obviously, I did not think my college choice through thoroughly when I enrolled in a school lacking in ASL classes.

In graduate school, one of my professors claimed that culture was defined by language. If you do not know a person’s language, you cannot experience their culture. For example, the Inuit Eskimos may have had many different words for snow, thus shaping their concept of what “snow” is. Some words in Chinese are inauspicious; for example, “four” sounds like “death” so when choosing dates for events, the 4th month and 4th days are avoided. Other words, such as “fish” have special symbolism because it sounds like “fortune”. On special occasions (such as teh New Year), fish is eaten to represent good fortune.

Any person who is deaf and uses American Sign Language as a primary language, is making and shaping his/her culture.

Where this gets interesting, however, is with today’s medical advances to help many gain or restore hearing through surgery, hearing aids, and cochlear implants.

Are medical advances helping or hurting quality of life?

I found it interesting that the ASL class in which my daughter attends is not the only preschool class for children who are hard of hearing. The city also has a class that is taught exclusively verbally. No ASL. That really ticks me off. It denies the child any choice into entering the culture. That child may never become fully verbal, but they have lost precious initial years in learning a language.

These issues weigh on my heart as I think of not only those who strongly identify with their Deaf Culture and ASL first language, but also of my student(s) who have gained a language thanks to hearing technology.

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15 Comments

  1. So many times I have told myself that I would take sign launguage. I really should do it. I have ALWAYS wanted to be able to sign. It is one of the languages I’ve always wanted to be fluent in.

  2. At such a young age, what influenced you to work with the deaf community. Obviously, you still have a passion for facilitating communication as an SLP…

    Just curious.

  3. I love your Therapy Thursday posts. You always give me some good food for thought.

    And, I am a huge House fan too!

  4. Wow … what a fascinating and informative post. I can’t believe what you said about the other ASL class in your community … I agree with you … that just seems wrong. Amazing … the paper you wrote when you were just in the 9th grade?! Talk about a calling! Hope you are all doing well … I know this must continue to be a rough time for you with the passing of your friend/colleague and her daughter still so fresh on your mind.

  5. It’s a complicated topic. I think every child should have a chance to learn sign language, as well as at least two spoken languages; the more modes of thought we have the better!

    But Deaf culture can be as exclusionary as any; I’ve had severalhard-of-hearing friends (seems a lot of former “special needs” grads gravitate towards the internet…what a surprise!:P) who refused to practice the sign language they knew because the fully Deaf children in their class harrassed them so much for being “not true Deaf” if they used their verbal abilities at all. I wonder if you’ve ever seen that in your classes, or if it might have been something the local programs subtly encouraged?

    Your posts are always so thoughtful– thanks!

  6. I don’t have any personal experience with this issue but I have known people who were deaf but raised to sign and speak and those that were deaf but were not taught to sign. It is interesting to see the choices people make.

  7. I have often heard about the deaf culture. I honestly do not know what I think. I am hearing impaired. Significantly. Not deaf, I do not speak ASL, I wear hearing aids and have always been a part of the hearing culture. It is by the grace of God that I learned language as well as I have, as it was fuzzy for a long time.
    I have mixed feelings about the deaf culture as I know the utter joy of hearing and wish that for everyone. I know what it is like to be given the gift of hearing at a young age and technology is not something I take for granted.
    I understand the desire of the deaf to have their own identity, but if my child were profoundly impaired I would do all I could to help them hear. I know how much this has shaped me.
    I think this is such a tricky topic. There are merits to both sides of the debate. I’m glad you have provided a forum for discussion and teaching on it.

  8. hi I take speech theaphy and I have a question. In speech we use a box for artic ( I have cp and I am preaty sure I have a seave speech delay I am 17 and a jr in high school) it has picuers of simple things like dog cat aligatior. they are good but old do u know where I could get a newer box like that for the summer time and next school year

  9. I am teaching my deaf child ASL with a book and help from the internet (the only option available right now, unfortunately). She is losing her hearing and now wears hearing aids, so is verbal and understands spoken language. The other tricky part is that she is blind. As a deaf-blind person, she is excluded from supports for deaf children, and from the support of blind programs. We are really on our own. The school for the deaf WILL NOT accept a blind child and the school for the blind can’t afford to accept deaf children.

    I am angry with the deaf school and the deaf community. They have made it clear that my child is unwelcome, in between, and not “really deaf.” She is alone and struggling and not once has anyone in the deaf community reached out to help. They should be ashamed.

    Aren’t they doing to others exactly what has been done to them by discriminating against people they see as not “really deaf?”

  10. I love this post. It is so rare that this point of view is taken. It makes me CRAZY when deaf children are not given the opportunity to sign. I love it even more that it is coming from an SLP — so very rare.

  11. I’ve always language was the key to another culture, but I didn’t really think of deaf people as having their own culture. It makes perfet sense, though, when the thought process is brought to its logical conclusion.

    (I remember seeing a TV show once where the deaf mum and dad were quarrelling about whether their deaf baby should have a cochlear implant. Mum wanted him to be able to hear and speak normall, but dad was against it, I guess due to ‘cultural’ reasons.)

  12. Thanks for this post that made me really think about hearing and it’s ramifications both medically and culturally.

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