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Deaf Culture (1)
Culture 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 |
Also see: Study Guide

By William Vicars, Ed.D.
Sept. 18, 2006

Deaf Culture consists of the norms, beliefs, values, and "mores"* shared by members of the Deaf Community.

Note: the term "mores" means: "The accepted traditional customs, moral attitudes, manners and ways of a particular social group." --

Culturally Deaf people in America use American Sign Language. We love to swap stories about Gallaudet University, and the various state residential schools for the Deaf. We value deaf children and our Deaf heritage. We hate the thought of anything that would destroy our Deaf world. We believe that it is fine to be Deaf.  If given the chance to become hearing, most of us would choose to remain Deaf.  We tend to congregate around the kitchen table rather than the living room sofa because the lighting is better in the kitchen. Our good-byes take nearly forever, and our hello's often consist of serious hugs. When two of us meet for the first time we tend to exchange detailed biographies and describe our social circles in considerable depth.

In general, the global  "Deaf Community" consists of those Deaf and hard of hearing people throughout the world who use sign language and share in Deaf culture.  Hearing family members, friends, interpreters, and others are also part of this community to the extent that they use sign language and share in the culture.

As used here in America, the term "Deaf Community" refers to Deaf  and hard-of-hearing people, (along with our families, friends, and others), who use ASL and who are culturally Deaf. Being culturally Deaf means sharing the beliefs, values, traditions, moral attitudes, manners, and ways of the Deaf community.

The Deaf World refers to all "d"eaf-(physically) and hard-of-hearing people and the people with whom we regularly interact. For example: teachers of the Deaf, interpreters, audiologists, social workers, religious workers, parents, siblings, etc. They are all part of the Deaf World but not necessarily members of the Deaf Community

Note: Even though I make a distinction here between the Deaf World and the Deaf Community you can be sure that there are many writers / bloggers who consider those two terms to be interchangeable.  Such individuals use the term "Deaf World" to refer to Deaf Community.  It is a non-issue really.  I'm simply striving to point out that a "community" involves a degree of sharing and interactivity that is more intimate than a "world."  Some people also use the term "Deaf World" to refer to "all things experienced by a person who is Deaf" or "the world as experienced by a Deaf person."

Members of the Deaf Community do not consider themselves to be disabled. They see themselves as a cultural group bonded together by common experiences and a common language. Members of this community don't want be be Hearing!  If given a choice the vast majority would choose to remain Deaf!

That doesn't mean that there aren't "d"eaf (physically not-able to hear) people in the U.S. who consider themselves disabled. There are indeed many such individuals, but they are generally not fluent in ASL and are not culturally Deaf, therefore they are not members of the "cultural Deaf Community."

People who feel that being Deaf is about language and culture subscribe to the "cultural view" of deafness (or Deafhood).

People who feel that deafness is problem to be solved subscribe to the "pathological model" or the "medical model" of deafness.


1. Name two models or ways of thinking about deafness:
2.  True or false, "In general, a member of the cultural Deaf Community would rather remain deaf than receive the ability to hear."


In a message dated 5/29/2007 8:14:00 P.M. Pacific Daylight Time, mom4ccbr@ writes:
Hello Bill,
I have been reading your section on Deaf culture and have a question.  It says that part of a Deaf person's world are the teachers, interpreters, parents etc and that these are not part of the Deaf community but yet it says that those in the Deaf community are the family and friends of those that are Deaf. That confused me, are the hearing members and friends of a Deaf person part of the Deaf community?
If you'll read it again, I think you'll note that I don't say they are "not a part" rather I use the phrase "not necessarily a part" of the Deaf Community.
Just because you have a Deaf brother or a Deaf student doesn't mean that you participate in his world. It doesn't mean that you have learned ASL well enough to hold engaging conversations. It doesn't mean that you attend Deaf events.  Being a part of a "community" has to do with experiences and connections.  If you share those experiences and connections then yes, you are part of the community. If you do not share those connections and experiences then no, you are not part of the community.  Walking through a neighborhood or being related to someone who lives in a neighborhood doesn't mean you are a part of the community.  But if you walk through the neighborhood regularly and know the names of people in the neighborhood and shop at the neighborhood store regularly -- then you are part of the community.
There is no perfect dividing line.  I think of it as a rock dropped in a pond of water. It creates a series of expanding circles. The strongest circles are in the middle and they fade out as you move away from the circle.  At the center of the circle are physically Deaf people who have Deaf parents and are native ASL users. From there you move outward. The Deaf World is larger than the Deaf Community.  The Hearing members of a Deaf person's family may or may not be part of the Deaf Community depending on if they choose to learn ASL and get involved. 
--Dr. Bill

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