Deaf Culture Essay

1556 words - 6 pages

Deaf Culture

In mainstream American society, we tend to approach deafness as a defect. Helen Keller is alleged to have said, "Blindness cuts people off from things; deafness cuts people off from people." (rnib.org) This seems a very accurate description of what Keller's world must have been. We as hearing people tend to pity deaf people, or, if they succeed in the hearing world, admire them for overcoming a severe handicap. We tend to look at signing as an inferior substitute for "real" communication. We assume that all deaf people will try to lip-read and we applaud deaf people who use their voices to show us how far they have come from the grips of their disability. Given this climate, many hearing people are surprised, as I was at first, to learn of the existence of Deaf culture. To me deafness is not a defect but a source of connection. Imagine yourself deaf, growing up with a beautiful language, visual literature, humor, and theater. Imagine taking pride in your identity without any desire to become a member of the majority culture. For many deaf people, their community is a comforting relief from the isolation and condescension of the hearing world. However the Deaf community is far more than a support group for people who share a physical characteristic. Members of the Deaf community may have hearing levels that range from profoundly deaf to slightly hard-of-hearing. But no members of the Deaf community are "hearing impaired." Inside this community, deaf people become Deaf, proudly capitalizing their culture. Hearing people suddenly find that they are handicapped: "Deaf-impaired."

From a deafness-as-defect mindset, many well-meaning hearing doctors, audiologists, and teachers work passionately to make deaf children speak; to make these children "un-deaf." They try hearing aids, lip-reading, speech coaches, and surgical implants. In the meantime, many deaf children grow out of the crucial language acquisition phase. They become disabled by people who are anxious to make them "normal." Their lack of language, not of hearing, becomes their most severe handicap. While I support any method that works to give a child a richer life, I think a system which focuses on abilities rather than deficiencies is far more valuable. Deaf people have taught me that a lack of hearing need not be disabling. In fact, it shouldn?t be considered a lack at all. As a hearing allies I feel we should have an obligation to follow the suggestions of deaf adults and work for both the use of American Sign Language and a positive portrayal of Deaf culture in the classroom. Deaf children are entitled to know that they are heirs to an amazing culture, not a pitiful defect. In order to follow through on that obligation, one of the best things I feel we can do is try to educate other hearing people about the realities of American Sign Language and Deaf culture. Language is one of the most critical aspects of most cultures, and one which sets deafness aside from other...

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