So what sets the deaf culture apart from the majority? It is based on the visual and spatial relationship which deaf and hard of hearing people share with each other. Naturally this is influenced by hearing loss (of any range) which allows adaptation to take place. Our cultural rules allow us to acquire information visually, and adapt traditions and values to fit such. Our literature is visual (you can say it is "oral" based on anthropological terminology), spatial, and manual and is increasingly recorded through video means. This culture often clashes with the hearing culture because of the rigid perspective that the spatial and manual activity is the taboo.
Deaf culture got its definition through studies of Carol Padden (deaf of deaf), Tom Humphries (deaf), and Harlan Lane (hearing) to name a few.
Deaf jokes, classifiers, and stories are often misunderstood by those who have not lived in the deaf community, just like deaf people misunderstand hearing culture's jokes, stories, and idioms. If one believes that deaf people do not have etiquette, they are sorely mistaken. There are rules that apply to how one gets another person's attention and when is the appropriate time to do so, with tapping the most frequent to yelling the least frequent (ironic, is it not?). We have what we call 'DST' Deaf Standard Time, which is either being early or late to an event or, almost always, staying for a long time after the event. The most popular place for a gathering at a house is the kitchen due to its natural brightness.
Oftentimes, I hear the phrase, “It's a deaf culture thing.” Sometimes that is appropriate, but most of the time it is not. This phrase is overused and abused because of the lack of understanding what rules apply to culture and of course, 90 to 95% of deaf people come from hearing families where the rules for culture are different. What may be appropriate in hearing culture may not be appropriate in deaf culture. For those who blend both cultures every day, it is a struggle to ensure that you are presenting yourself to both cultures in a manner that is pleasing to both. It sometimes leaves the individual starved for true connections. Yelling is not a deaf culture thing. It is actually frowned upon in the deaf culture. Being rude to hearing people is not a deaf culture thing, it is a personal approach to life based on one's experiences.
As nature intended, different deaf communities across the world do not share all the qualities of American Deaf culture. While the cultures are visual-spatial too, the individual communities are also influenced by their local cultures; for instance, British Deaf culture, German, South African, Peru, etc. Even within America, we have Deaf American Indian and Black Deaf cultures. You will see that even in the Black Deaf culture, they consider themselves Black first not Deaf first. I would rather someone who is Black Deaf to explain that themselves.
This culture is composed of different layers as it is natural to do. It is not limited to deaf people only. Offspring of deaf parents who are hearing are called K/CODAs (Kids/Children of Deaf Adults). There are also hearing people who have been immersed with the deaf community since they were either children (neighbors, siblings/relatives, friends) or as late deafened adults. When we apply the Venn diagram, what we have is an overlap of the culture itself. The core of the culture is deaf people who were born or early deafened and raised with sign language. The outer layers are K/CODAs, and NERDAs (Not Even Related to Deaf Adults for those who are immersed with the communities). The next layer is those who are involved in some fashion, briefly touching bases with the culture. This includes those with awareness that are not fully immersed in the cultural experience.
With the advent of technology, deaf culture is changing, but it is not the only culture changing. There is a rally cry in the mainstream that deaf culture is changing, not by our own communities but those who are outside of it. A theme supported by oral organizations is "doing deaf differently". Technology has opened communication avenues previously not utilized such as videophones, quality hearing aids, email, documentations, and so forth. Again, it is not only the deaf culture that is changing, it is every culture.
I think next week I will cover diversity within and why we still fight against diversity when we want recognition as a culture.
To Be Whole
Currently I am an ASL teacher at a local college and at an high school. I received my Masters in Sign Language Education from Gallaudet University. At home, I am an activist within the community, Northwest Indiana. My son is in first grade and my daughter goes to E.C.L.I.P.S.E. ASL Preschool. Change begins with you and change is effective with a team.