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Deaf community and Deaf culture are two phrases used to refer to persons who are culturally Deaf as opposed to those who are deaf from the medical/audiological/pathological perspective. When used in the cultural sense, the word deaf is very often capitalized.
Being unable to hear is only a part of being Deaf. In fact, when the word is used in the cultural sense, hearing is one of the least important criteria used to delineate group membership. Many persons that are labeled hearing or hard-of-hearing from the medical perspective are labeled or would label themselves as Deaf from the cultural perspective. Similarly, a person who self-identifies as Deaf may in fact have much more hearing than one who self-identifies as either hearing or hard-of-hearing. The use of the cultural label is a declaration of personal identity much more than an explanation of hearing ability.
For the above reason, culturally Deaf people do not look on deafness as a disability. Deaf people view deafness as an asset in much the same way it is an asset to be a Navajo within the Navajo tribe or to be a Korean within the community of Koreans in Los Angeles. It is a manner of viewing the world and a matter of semantics. Most Deaf see deafness as the norm and thus do not see hearing as something they lack, even though the significant majority of the population has hearing. One would not define Navajos or Koreans as lacking the ability to be something other than Navajo or Korean. They, and the culturally Deaf, define themselves by what they are instead of what they are not. They consider what they are to be a positive trait, because it is tightly connected to their culture.
As an example of how thoroughly deafness is seen as a positive attribute, many Deaf individuals wish for their children to be born deaf. This can be hard or even impossible for hearing people to understand, but there is an explanation for this when one considers how difficult it can be for hearing parents to raise deaf children: It can be equally difficult for deaf parents to raise hearing children. Both hearing and deaf parents who have children unlike them understand how much simpler life is when they fully understand the needs of their children and can easily communicate with and relate to their child's experience in the world. As hearing parents seek out resources to help them in the nurturing and education of their deaf children so too must deaf parents take extraordinary steps to ensure their hearing children, whose mother tongue might be a sign language, are exposed to hearing people and culture. Furthermore, Deaf parents know firsthand that Deaf people are able to live productive, fulfilling, and rewarding lives. So, taking all this into consideration, it comes as no surprise that as with hearing parents, some deaf parents see their abilities and skills best utilized on children who cannot hear.
Those who view deafness as a disability -- known as a pathological perspective of deafness -- can be met with hostility by individuals in the Deaf community. Such hostility may represent a reaction to the suspicion and hostility that many deaf people encounter during their lives.
People without hearing loss can and do participate in the Deaf community. For example, hearing children of deaf adults (commonly called "CODAs") can experience full acceptance within the Deaf-World, a term some deaf Americans use to describe their social network. Acceptance into this world may extend to anyone who appreciates the flow of communication within the group and upholds the values, history, mores, and dignity of deaf people. Other people that are often accepted as full or partial members of Deaf culture are sign language interpreters, family members, and service professionals that help Deaf individuals.
Validity as a culture
Culture is expressed by the interrelated and interdependent characteristics, behavior patterns, arts, beliefs, institutions, values, mores, history, and, typically, language of a group. The determination of one's membership in a particular cultural group is not determined by vote or election by its constituent members, but by individual choice to embrace the core values of the group. In this regard, the community of Deaf people, because they have a language and history that binds them, have the conceptual framework to be viewed as a culture. Well known cultural groups such as women, gays and lesbians, African-Americans and indigenous peoples such as the Inuit tribe of Alaska represent minority cultures that are embedded within a larger majority. Each group has culturally devised behaviors, beliefs and values that serve as markers for who does or does not embrace the general worldview of the group. When comparing the community of Deaf people with these groups, the commonalities are consistent between them all. In one respect, minority cultures can be described as groups which are bound together because they are disadvantaged by the beliefs and practices of the majority culture in which they are embedded. This is true of language minorities such as Deaf people and Hispanic-Americans, ethnic and racial minorities such as Turkish Armenians, religious minorities such as Jews and Jehovah's Witnesses, and sexual minorities such as gays and lesbians.
As with any other culture, there exists a set of shared experiences, attitudes and cultural norms that serve to identify and bring together members of the Deaf community while simultaneously excluding outsiders from entering the core group. To be fully included in the Deaf community, one must at least have the following attributes and possibly others not mentioned.
- Fluency in a sign language and a positive attitude toward the language. Sign language is the centralmost valued aspect of Deaf culture and having a shared language sets up a powerful affinity among the Deaf as it does in hearing cultures. Language is often a central, indeed required, component of a culture. In hearing cultures foreigners are expected to learn the language of the land of their residence in order to successfully assimilate into the culture. Use of the majority language is desirable, but the grave difficulty of acquiring spoken language for the prelingually deaf has been balanced by the community's genius in creating original, indigenous sign languages that are truly "of" the nation that nurtures the signing deaf as citizens, embodying both their national culture and the culture of the deaf community itself.
- Knowledge and respect for the cultural norms of the Deaf community. For example, the Deaf community has attention-getting behaviors: waving a hand or creating a vibration with an object to gain attention; pointing at people is not considered rude behavior. Direct eye contact is insisted on to glean meaning. There are Deaf culture norms for introductions and leave-taking, which are prolonged and physical with much contact. Many other cultural norms are different from those of the hearing culture within which Deaf culture is embedded.
- Adaptations to deafness. Deafness may present both liabilities and assets in the interaction of the Deaf with the surrounding world. While one cannot attract the attention of a deaf person by calling their name, deaf people can communicate freely where ambient noise prohibits communication, or even comfort, among the hearing. This is one reason deaf people are highly sought after as employees in large-scale manufacturing and publishing where the noise of machinery is a serious concern. Two deaf people can converse through a closed window or glass office wall, or across a space too large for a voice to carry, so long as they can see one another.
- Many Deaf do not see themselves as disabled. A hearing person may not understand why some deaf people express no sense of loss over being unable to experience sound. Since experiencing sound is something some deaf people never had, there may be no loss or associated emotions with not having it. Deaf people are aware of the things they cannot succeed in and may be adept at ferreting out the range of activities in which they can occupy or create an established niche. This may seem unusual to some hearing people because they are aware of the abundance of opportunities afforded to people who hear sounds. Hearing persons who are members of the Deaf community are aware of and share this Deaf-World view not so much because they are expected to, but because they have witnessed the common-sense practicality of deaf methods of problem solving.
Mainstream recognition of Deaf culture
For much of history deaf people were expected to adapt to hearing culture as best they were able or to be hidden or invisible. Recently, especially in the United States, the existence of a Deaf culture has been increasingly recognized.
Deaf President Now: The 1988 student strike at Gallaudet University was a watershed point in the awareness of Deaf culture by the dominant American hearing culture. DPN student organizers and allies forces the university serving an all-deaf and hearing-impaired population to select its first deaf president. The movement helped frame the struggles of deaf people within the context of a civil rights movement. For Deaf people, language as a basic human right, from birth, is essential.
In the UK a charity called the Dorothy Miles Cultural Centre (DMCC), based in Guildford, exists to bridge the gap between deaf and hearing people through social, cultural and educational activities. The Centre also offers courses in British Sign Language (BSL) which are accredited by the Council for the Advancement of Communication with Deaf People (CACDP). DMCC runs drama workshops involving professional actors and organises sporting events, including an annual cricket match. There is also widespread availability of BSL courses from other providers across the UK. Nearly all terrestrial television is closed captioned.
- Padden, Carol and Humphries, Tom (1988). Deaf in America: Voices from a Culture. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
- Lane, Harlan, Hoffmeister, Robert, and Bahan, Ben (1996). A Journey into the Deaf-World. San Diego, CA: Dawn Sign Press.
- Van Cleve, John Vickrey and Crouch, Barry A., A Place of Their Own: Creating the Deaf Community in America, 1989, ISBN 0-930323-49-1.
- Raymond Luczak, Eyes of Desire: A Deaf Gay & Lesbian Reader, 1993, ISBN 1-55583-204-0.
- Carol A. Padden, Tom L. Humphries, Inside Deaf Culture, 2005, ISBN 0-674-01506-1.
- Padden, Carol (1996). From the cultural to the bicultural: the modern Deaf community. in Parasnis I, ed. 1996. "Cultural and Language Diversity and the Deaf Experience." Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press
- Oliver W. Sacks, Seeing Voices; A Journey Into The World Of The Deaf, 1989, ISBN 0-520-06083-0.
- Pizzo, Rose, "Growing Up Deaf: Issues of Communication in a Hearing World", 2001, ISBN 1-4010-2887-X
- Moore, Matthew S. & Levitan, Linda (2003). For Hearing People Only, Answers to Some of the Most Commonly Asked Questions About the Deaf Community, its Culture, and the "Deaf Reality", Rochester, New York: Deaf Life Press, ISBN 0-9634016-3-7.
- Barnard, Henry (1852), "Tribute to Gallaudet--A Discourse in Commemoration of the Life, Character and Services, of the Rev. Thomas H. Gallaudet, LL.D.--Delivered Before the Citizens of Hartford, Jan. 7th, 1852. With an Appendix, Containing History of Deaf-Mute Instruction and Institutions, and other Documents." (Download book: http://www.gallyprotest.org/tribute_to_gallaudet.pdf)
- Cultura Sorda
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- Lane, H. 1993. The Mask of Benevolence. New York: Random House.
- Padden, C. 1980. The deaf community and the culture of Deaf people. En: C. Baker y R. Battison (eds.) Sign Language and the Deaf Community. Silver Spring(EEUU): National Association of the Deaf.
- Storch de Gracia y Asensio, J.G. (coord.)(2005), Estatuto jurídico de las lenguas de señas en el Derecho español (Aproximaciones), Madrid, Editorial universitaria Ramón Areces, Colección "Por más Señas, La Llave"
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- Storch de Gracia y Asensio, J.G. (2006), "Derecho a la información y discapacidad (Una reflexión aplicada a los lenguajes de los sordos)", en Revista General de Información y Documentación [Madrid-España], vol. 16, núm. 1, pp. 75-103 (accesible en Centro Hervás y Panduro).
- BID Services with Deaf People
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- [http://centroestudiosordera.blogspot.com/ CEBS Articulos breves sobre sordera, LSA y bilinguismo in spanish
- ASL and Deaf Culture Resource Site Free online library of articles related to Deaf Culture and American Sign Language.
- "Deafness is not a disability" (argumentum ad consequentiam) Article discussing the controversy.
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