Deaf Culture #15

Deaf people use a videophone more often than seeing each other in person?

This is true.  While the Deaf community is close knit, it is also spread nationwide.  You may meet a friend at a Deaf retreat, a convention, or simply on vacation that you may not see again in person for a decade or more.  Aside from how widespread the Deaf community is, there are often other factors that stop people from meeting face to face.  One of the most common questions is “Can Deaf people drive a car?”  The answer is a resounding YES! Often, Deaf drivers are better drivers than hearing people because they are not distracted by listening to the radio or talking on the phone.  Even so, many Deaf are either unemployed or underemployed.  This can be due to anything from being hindered by additional impairments to local business owners being under educated on what a deaf individual can bring to their business.  Whatever the reason, lack of employment stops many Deaf from having transportation, which means they are stuck at home.  There are a myriad of reasons why a Deaf person may use a V.P. more often than an in person visit, but, like everyone else, most wish that they could see their friends more often!

It is important for deaf children to have deaf role models?

This is true, and extremely important.  Every child needs a role model and the closer that role model is to the advantages and limitations of the child, the more the child will identify with the role model.  Another important reason for a deaf child to have a deaf role model is for language acquisition.  Hearing children are surrounded by examples, both good and bad, of the English language.  Deaf children are not as lucky, and must rely on Deaf adults to provide this important learning experience.  Not only will they learn language, they will also learn how to identify, and many times overcome their limitations.

Most deaf people don’t go out in public because of the difficulty communicating with hearing people?

This is false.  Deaf people have become very accustomed to making themselves understood.  Sometimes with pen and paper, sometimes through gesture, and sometimes through the spoken word depending on the individual.  However they decide to communicate, they are most certainly not staying at home!

Deaf people appreciate those who try and communicate with them in ASL?

Regardless of your skill level, any attempt to communicate in a person’s native language is appreciated.  Members of the Deaf Community are especially patient with newcomers as they realize that there are limited resources for those interested to gain exposure to the language.  That being said, there is always a time and a place to try out your new skill, and times when you should let the opportunity pass.  A doctor’s office waiting room while the Deaf mother struggles with a toddler and a screaming infant is probably not the best time, while a local Deaf social event is a wonderful opportunity.  Use your discretion and remember that as eager as you are to learn, Deaf are people first.

The Deaf Community is very unique?

Like any small niche community, this is true.  Not only is the Deaf Community unique as a whole, but they are unique depending on their region as well.  One community may be very focused on religion, while another on art, and still another on volunteerism.  What is important to remember is that there is something to be learned, and many things to be valued in each and every community, Deaf or otherwise, and it is never a waste of time to acquaint yourself with those around you.

Deaf Culture #9

Deaf people should wear contrasting colors in order for people to see their signs?

Not necessarily.  In general, this rule applies to an interpreter, or a Deaf individual that will be giving a presentation to a large crowd.  As you can guess, it is usually easier to see signs with a solid, contrasting background when watching from a distance.  Those times, however, are somewhat rare, and normal clothes are perfectly fine for everyday interactions.

How do people become deaf?

There are lots of ways that a person can become deaf, and the most common ways are illness and injury.  Because neither illness nor injury has any effect on your genetic material, you can imagine that heredity is the least common way for a person to become deaf.  As previously discussed, 90% of deaf children have hearing parents.  The remaining 10% are deaf children that were born to deaf parents, and most are deaf due to a genetic abnormality.  This being the case, there is a fair chance that they will pass their deafness on to their own children.  This type of hereditary deafness is somewhat of a legacy in the Deaf Community.  Those involved in multi-generational deafness are seen as a “dynasty” and regarded as superior.  This hierarchy is much like the “old money” families in the South.

How do people learn American Sign Language? (From other deaf, from a book, from

The easiest, and by far the best way to learn ASL is from, of course!  Learning ASL from other Deaf is also quite effective, and learning ASL from a book is possible, but much more difficult.  ASL is a 3 dimensional language, and it is difficult to get a feel for the movements of the language from the pages of a book.  It is also nearly impossible to start to understand someone else that is signing without seeing them physically use the language.  Learning from other deaf is a wonderful way to learn, as you gain exposure to both the language, and the culture.  However, in our busy day-to-day lives, is the best of both worlds.  It offers the ease and accessibility of a book, as well as the exposure and culture of language interaction.

Text messaging is a popular way to communicate among the deaf?

Text messaging is the single greatest advantage that has come to the Deaf community in recent memory.  Now, with texting being so prevalent, Deaf individuals can do everything from conversing with friends and colleagues, to talking to their child’s teacher, to scheduling a doctor’s appointment.  Video phone is wonderful for a long chat with a friend, or something that cannot be completed via text or in person, but is often inaccessible outside of the home.  This was a distinct disadvantage to the Deaf community until the implementation and widespread use of texting.  Now, members of the Deaf Community are equally as accessible as those in the Hearing Community.

The term, “Deaf and Dumb” is not acceptable?

This is true.  The terms “Deaf and Dumb”, “Deaf-Mute”, or referring to someone as a “Mute” are all unacceptable by today’s standards.  Most people prefer being simply “Deaf”, or depending on their hearing loss, “Hard of Hearing”.  If you have a hard time remembering the correct term, simply ask yourself if you would like to be referred to as “dumb”.  The answer, most likely, is no.

Careers of the Deaf

So far recent blogs have briefly highlighted the origins of deafness and touched on family dynamics. Yet, what about where most of us spend the bulk of our time? Work. For hearing people reading this, it is important to remember that deaf people can do anything anyone else can do, except hear. Which means, deaf people can be and ARE lawyers, doctors, veterinarians, engineers, teachers, plumbers, mechanics… you name it! Although that may seem obvious to those who care enough to keep up with ASLdeafined, learn American Sign Language and take the time to follow this blog, we cannot stop stressing this enough.

That basic understanding is at the root of overcoming the unfortunately broad misunderstandings of many who see the deaf experience as more limiting than it truly is in reality. The only thing a deaf person cannot do? Answer a “hearing” phone in the traditional sense. Otherwise? The sky is the limit (yes, they can be pilots), as it is with all of us. So why not stretch our own limits and catch up with the Deaf Community sooner rather than later by tackling that next vocabulary lesson!

Family Dynamics for the Deaf

We at ASLdeafined would not presume to know the ins and outs of the family lives of those in the Deaf Community, as it is as varied as anyone’s family structure and experience. Yet, we felt it important to note some of the potentially unique situations that present themselves for the deaf. For example, it is said that 90% of deaf children are born to hearing families, and within that percentage, 75% of the hearing parents do not sign with their deaf child. Additionally, many siblings and extended family members (aunts, uncles and cousins) do not sign. As you can imagine, this would create an even more isolating situation for a child that is already set apart simply by the fact of their deafness.

Daily events like supper can leave such children feeling left out, as they may not know what is being discussed around the dinner table. Family reunions can be straining if the crowds overlook the challenges of the deaf relative. Although deaf students can alleviate this frustration some in a school with other deaf kids, this environment can also leave them feeling marginalized. One teacher for the deaf has shared that he sometimes had no knowledge of where the parents of his pupils worked or even what they did for a living. These are just a few thoughts, but it still leads us back to the bottom line… the more people to learn American Sign Language, the more likely deaf people can feel a connection in a world that is inherently isolating from the start. Will you do your part?

How Did All of This Get Started Anyway?

American Sign Language (ASL) would not exist if there were no need. Perhaps those of you outside the Deaf Community have sometimes wondered how people become deaf? Certainly there are a variety of conditions and situations that can lead to such things, but there are a few worth mentioning when answering that question. As you likely have guessed, genetics and heredity can play a complete or partial role in creating deafness in a person. The circumstances of birth can also be a factor, such as premature birth or birth defects. Some life experiences can result in deafness, whether accidents that involve trauma to the head, certain illnesses or disease (i.e. rubella, Scarlet Fever) or prolonged exposure to loud noises. Many are familiar with the natural loss of hearing over time, which can sometimes lead to deafness in old age. At times, as with anything, the root cause is simply unknown. Yet, whatever the reasons for its origins, it is more important to focus on the rich life of those in this special subculture… and one way you can do that? Learn American Sign Language of course (you knew that was coming)!