This past summer, Abby, a 15-year-old homeschooled student with a passion for learning new things, decided to take an accelerated 8-week American Sign Language (ASL) class at her local community college. Abby quickly immersed herself in the world of ASL, and she was amazed by the beauty and expressiveness of the language. She also learned a lot about the deaf community, their unique culture and traditions, and the challenges they face in a hearing world.
In her closing statement for the course's final assignment, Abby wrote:
"Overall, the deaf community makes their way through daily life interacting with the hearing. As a cultural minority group, they have traditions, beliefs, values, and a language they practice in their everyday life. As a member of the hearing community, having been made aware of the challenges the deaf experience in their everyday lives, I feel challenged to find practical ways to assist and acknowledge the needs of the deaf community. Making a commitment to learn and use ASL is a step in the right direction. Another step is encouraging other hearing individuals to do the same."
Abby's story gives us a glimpse into the silent world of the deaf. We encourage you to read her paper. It might be the moment of enlightenment that leads you to become a champion for this minority group, which can be found in every nation of the world.
The following is Abby's final assignment paper, a reflection on her experiences in the ASL class and her commitment to supporting the deaf community.
When you think of culture you typically think of the way of life in places such as China or Brazil, because they have their own food and beliefs specific to them. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, culture is the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterize an institution or organization. The deaf community is considered a culture since they have values, characteristics, and traditions. Their culture is considered a minority because their characteristics are fewer in number than the rest of the world, which does not have those characteristics. The deaf culture has unique aspects.
Five percent of the world's population, which is 360 million, are either deaf or hard of hearing. Three point five percent of the US population is deaf or hard of hearing. The deaf culture is a close-knit cultural group as they understand each other and the struggles they may go through. They look at their hearing loss as part of their identity and don't regard it as a disability or defect. Dr. Barbara Kannapel created a definition of the American Deaf culture which states a set of learned behaviors of a group of people who are deaf and who have their own language (ASL), values, rules, and traditions. Sign Language has 300 different forms spread throughout the world, American Sign Language is used in the USA and Canada.
Many people think the deaf are more unable than they really are. The deaf still do normal tasks, for example, driving, having children, going to school, or playing sports. Because driving is such a visual task you really don't need to hear, instead be hyper, visually aware of your surroundings. Some people even question if the deaf can have children, the answer is yes. Children born to deaf parents typically learn sign language, then English. The Children of Deaf Adults are even given a special term, which is CODA. It stands for Child of Deaf Adult, but children who are born deaf are considered special in the deaf community. Going to school for the deaf is completely normal, there are deaf schools that they can attend as well. Some of these schools are residential, meaning you can live there. The first school for the deaf was in France founded in the 1960s. The deaf can play nearly any sport. At the schools for the deaf, they have sports teams for their students to play and play against hearing teams, which they do. Gallaudet, a deaf university in Florida, is known for its football team in the 1920s to huddle and sign their next play so the other team could not see. This is used to this day by football teams all over to talk about their game plan in private. There are many successful deaf athletes in the world.
The hearing's spoken language and the deaf’s gesture and facial-driven language make it hard for the two groups to communicate. You may be wondering how Deaf individuals communicate or function with the hearing. There are many ways they can communicate with each other, for example hearing people who learn to sign, sign language is their way of communicating to the deaf. The deaf can typically read lips so they can understand when a hearing person is talking, and respond by talking. Writing messages down on paper back and forth is another way the two can communicate or now through text messaging.
The hearing community provides help for the deaf such as closed captions and subtitles, but the sad part of closed captions is that a majority of the deaf cannot read as fast as the hearing can talk. This means that in TV shows or movies when closed captions are on and a deaf person is trying to read it is hard to keep up because of the speed of talking. Although closed captions and subtitles are not the easiest to keep up with they still give the deaf community a way to watch media.
Associations such as the DCMP, and the NAD have been helping the deaf minority group for years. The NAD stands for National Association of the Deaf. This Association is of, by, and for the deaf community. The nonprofit organization fights for the civil rights of the deaf for the nation. They have been around since 1880. Their site is filled with information about the deaf culture, and videos for seniors to learn to sign. So far the NAD has made “advancements in education, employment, health care, technology, telecommunications, youth leadership, and more” for the deaf. (Celio 24) The DCMP is the Described and Captioned Media Program. This Program provides the services to support deaf students to succeed in their academics. On their website, it provides videos with subtitles talking about various school topics. The captions and subtitles on these videos are edited to a lower word-per-minute rate so that those with different reading levels can learn from the closed captions or subtitles on the videos. These types of associations and programs are some ways the hearing community is helping the deaf.
The deaf community has its own cultural norms like any other culture. The community tends to be more direct and as some would say without a filter. The hearing community tends to put “fluff” around sensitive questions, where the deaf culture asks the question straight up. Some hearing individuals can see this as offensive because it is so abrupt, but that is just how they communicate. For the deaf body language and facial expressions are conscious in communication, where for the hearing it is unconscious. Waving a hand in front of a deaf person's face or switching lights on and off is like putting your hand in front of the mouth of a hearing person. This would be considered rude. Eye Contact is needed for lip reading and seeing signs, no eye contact would have an impact or quality on communication. In the hearing community, they can look away from a conversation and still hear the spoken word and can still speak in the dark.
The values of deaf culture are clear communication for all, meaning that their expressions and comprehension are clear. Expressions when signing are half of how it makes sense, and that is why they need to be clear to understand. The natural social interaction that happens at Deaf residential schools and Deaf clubs is valued by the community. Deaf literature, deaf art, and deaf heritage are also all valued by the deaf community. The deaf community is brought together by their art. Deaf art is art that explains physical or cultural deaf experience using typical art materials. Deaf literature is “A collection of English and American Sign Language, such as printed writings, and video published text such as poetry, stories, essays, and plays that reflect a Deaf culture and Deaf experience.” according to ASL Content Standards. Deaf heritage is the history or development of the deaf community. These values are part of what makes the deaf culture.
A culture consists of traditions for the next generations to carry on. Deaf traditions can include social activities such as Deaf clubs, athletic events, organizational involvement, and school reunions. Music and poetry are also traditions in the culture. Deaf poetry like deaf literature and art is poetry about the experience of deafness. Music for the deaf is enjoyed by the vibrations they can feel. In an article from 2016 about a man named Albert Wong, he explains how when he is in the car he turns the music to a high volume so he can feel the vibrations of the bass.
Overall the deaf community makes their way through daily life interacting with the hearing, and as a cultural minority group has traditions, beliefs, values, and a language they practice in their everyday life. As a member of the hearing community, having been made aware of the challenges the deaf experience in their everyday lives, I feel challenged to find practical ways to assist and acknowledge the needs of the deaf community. Making a commitment to learn and use ASL I feel is a step in the right direction. Another step is encouraging other hearing individuals to do the same.