April 10, 2007
Deaf Culture and Advances
years, deaf people have grouped themselves together and have created a
deaf culture. Deaf culture means having a sense of pride and community
in a group where deaf people can feel like they have things in common
with others in their group. Outside of the deaf culture, many deaf
people often feel excluded by the hearing population. This paper will
discuss what it means to be part of a deaf culture and the ways life has
improved for the deaf over the years.
part of deaf culture means sharing a way to communicate. Most people
who are a part of this culture use American Sign Language (ASL). Many
people who are deaf spend most of their lives around other people who do
not know ASL. If a person does not know ASL, communication can be
difficult. Good communication requires a person to speak directly to
the deaf person and maintain good eye contact. Facial expression and
body language are important parts of communication. Touching is also an
important way for people in the deaf culture to greet each other, say
goodbye, get attention and express emotion. If hearing people do not
use these methods, it can be very frustrating to those who are deaf. It
is only when the deaf are with other deaf people that communication
barriers are taken away and many in the deaf community feel can
communicate freely with others around them (Siple, 2004).
Many deaf people think
of their deafness as a very important part of their lives and sometimes
function entirely within this deaf community. Churches, clubs,
theaters, and agencies have been created by deaf people to form shared
communities. Deaf people take a lot of pride in their lack of hearing
and do not think of themselves as disabled. They instead see incorrect
beliefs and practices that have been around for a long time as the
biggest barriers that deaf people have to face (Christiansen, 2005).
There are also different levels of acceptance and self-pride within the
deaf culture. Some deaf members support the deaf culture very strongly
and do not accept hard of hearing or hearing people as a part of their
group. It is estimated that 9 out of 10 members of the American Deaf
community marry other deaf members of their group to keep the culture
strong in their lives. People within the community also take a lot of
pride in passing down traditions and values to the next generation.
Many deaf people hope that they have a deaf child to which they can
pass on their heritage and culture. They feel that if their child is a
hearing person, he will miss the experience of growing up deaf. For
many, speaking and thinking like a hearing person are negatively valued
in deaf culture (ASL Info. 2006).
A lot of progress has
been made over the past few decades to bring more rights to the deaf.
The biggest event that has helped push rights of the deaf forward was
the protest that occurred in March, 1988 at Gallaudet University in
Washington, DC. A protest began when Gallaudet University trustees
announced that a hearing person had been selected as Gallaudet’s seventh
president. Two of the three finalists for the job were deaf and were
thought to be great candidates for president of the University.
However, when Elisabeth Zinser, the only hearing candidate was chosen,
many students and others in the deaf community were upset and decided to
protest about the choice (Prickett, 1998). This event came to be known
as DPN, or Deaf President Now. This protest received a lot of media
attention, which mostly supported the protestors. After eight days of
protests, the board of trustees agreed to all of the protestor’s
demands, including Elisabeth Zinser resigning, allowing deaf people to
constitute a 51% majority on the Board and that no action would be taken
against any student or employee involved in the protest (Prickett,
The DPN protest greatly
affected the deaf community. I. King Jordan, who became the first deaf
president of Gallaudet University has been very visible nationwide since
then. The deaf community has also realized that they do have rights and
only by letting themselves be heard can they obtain greater rights. In
addition, many hearing people were made more aware of the problems
within the deaf community. Coalitions have been formed to represent
groups concerned with deaf and hard-of-hearing issues from all parts of
the deaf community. The Consumer Action Network formed in 1993 became
very important because many organizations had never been united before
this time (Bragg, 2001). The National Association of the Deaf (NAD) has
also pushed harder since the DPN protest to push the rights of deaf
people. The NAD has worked with the United Nations to recognize the
linguistic rights of deaf people worldwide. This involves the rights of
deaf people worldwide to receive education and have access to
information in sign language. The NAD wants deaf people to be able to
use their native sign languages and have access to professional sign
language interpreters. They also want to promote the cultural and
linguistic identity of the deaf community within each nation and
worldwide (NAD, 2006).
Finally, since the DPN
protest, more books, videotapes, television ads, and movies and TV shows
about deaf people are seen. Many more clubs and organizations devoted
to the interests of deaf people have been formed. In addition, many
hearing people are now interested in learning ASL and communicating
better with deaf people. As stated by Sue Schwartz in relating what
this progress has brought, “They tell us that it is alright to be deaf.
That if young deaf people have the ambition, the foresight, and the
desire, they too can become whatever they want to be. This is a
knowledge, a heritage, and a culture we pass on to them” (Schwartz,
ASL Info. (2007). Deaf Culture.
Retrieved April 4, 2007.
Bragg, L. (2001). Deaf World. New
York, NY: New York University Press. 333-341.
Christiansen, J. (2005). Deafness.
World Book Encyclopedia. World Book, Inc. 57-60.
NAD. (2006). NAD Commends Adoption of
UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities. Retrieved
April 5, 2007.
Prickett, R. (1998). Deaf President Now
Anniversary. Gallaudet Public Relations. Retrieved April 5, 2007.
Schwartz, S. (1996). Choices in
Deafness. Bethesda, MD: Woodbine House, Inc. 263-265.
Siple, L. (2004). Deaf Culture.
NETAC. Rochester Institute of Technology. Retrieved April 4, 2007.