Deafness is not a disability but a different way of being. “So the members of the American deaf community are not characteristically isolated, or uncommunicative, or unintelligent or childlike, or needy, or any of these things we imagine them to be,” stated Harlan Lane (269). The deaf produce their own culture and way of living. Knowing that, what is a culture, what are factors in their culture, and why is there negativity associated with the deaf community producing their own culture?
Culture is what individuals learn in life. Cultures are taught. Individuals learn their culture from people within their society. They learn language, acceptable behavior, beliefs, customs, and values to help them throughout life. Cultures can also be viewed as a standard of living and be used as a sense of belonging. There are many cultures in this world. They range from cultures of a particular country to cultures of a certain group. There are even cultures within a culture. The deaf community for example has more than one culture. The main culture they learn is the culture they are raised in, basically, what their countries’ cultures are, but they are also part of their own culture. Deaf individuals have their own language, needs, and customs along with the mainstream culture they live in.
In the deaf community, they have their own opportunities for their group of people. They have schools, social activities, jobs, and forms of communication to say the least. Deaf grade schools and colleges are all over the country. One of the better-known colleges is Gallaudet University. According to Oliver Sacks, “Gallaudet is the only liberal arts college for the deaf in the world and is, moreover, the core of the world’s deaf community” as of 1988 (236). Gallaudet is also known for a riot that took place in March of 1988. The riot was to protest against selection of a hearing president for the college. Currently there are many options for the deaf to choose for college in this generation. They are able to obtain any degree that they are willing to work for. There are even programs for them to receive their masters and doctorate. The deaf community has numerous deaf clubs and ministries throughout the United States. The majority of the clubs and ministries provide a social night for their members. There is even a Deaf Expo once a year in each region of the United States. “This year the Deaf Expo 2004 West was held in Sioux Falls, SD at the Anaheim Convention Center on Friday and Saturday, November 5-6” (Deaf Expo). The Deaf Expo is an opportunity for the deaf community to meet while products made for the deaf are examined and tested. Although jobs for the deaf community are hard to obtain, it is still a possibility. Laws have been passed banning discrimination against handicapped individuals when applying for jobs. The laws help provide protection for disabled employees from employers that believe disabled individuals are less of a person. Forms of communication have been developed for the deaf community. There is the American Sign Language (ASL), Auditory/Verbal, Auditory/Oral, and total communication, which are combining methods. The majority of deaf individuals in America know ASL. “Auditory/Verbal is developing listening skills maximizing residual hearing with the use of hearing aids and implants and Auditory/Oral is lip reading and aggressive hearing amplification” (Communication).
Even though the deaf community has developed their own culture they still are treated differently. “In the hearing society, deafness is stigmatized” proclaimed Harlan Lane (266). With the stigma, the deaf community still has pitfalls within their society. A number of the hearing community labels the deaf before they know anything about them. They are seen as lacking ability or no character. They are classified as being “deaf and dumb” (Lane 267). Some people in the deaf community try to learn how to be as “normal” as possible so the hearing community does not label them as an outsider. To accomplish the “normal” title, some of the deaf try to learn speech and the ability to hear. Hearing aids and implants are used for this. After receiving an implant there is a lot of therapy and training involved to try and master the ability. The drawback to doing that is some of the deaf community that does not try to learn to be oral look down on members that do try to be oral. The main reason people are labeled and looked down on is because people are afraid or uncomfortable with differences. There is always going to be a stigma on disabled individuals and groups.
Cultures are abundant throughout the world. It is the people that can adapt and are comfortable with the idea that not everybody is alike, that will have a better understanding of people. Still, members in the deaf community will always feel they are stigmatized and labeled by outside communities. Unfortunately, they probably always will be. As Harlan Lane suggested, “True representations of the members of another culture cannot be had without a change in frame of reference, which requires, at least understanding and empathy” (271).
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Development Associates. 2002. 14 Nov. 2004. http://www.disabilitytraining.com/codc.html.
Deaf Expo TM Targets Deaf Consumers, Sign Language Students, Family
Members and Professionals in the Field. CSD Headquarters. 2 Nov. 2004.
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Lane, Harlan. “Representations Of Deaf People The Infirmity and Cultural
Models.” Cultural Conversations The Presence of the Past. Ed. Stephen
Dilks, Regina Hansen, and Matthew Parfitt. Boston: Bedford, 2001. 262-271
Sacks, Oliver. “Protest at Gallaudet.” Cultural Conversations The Presence of
the Past. Stephen Dilks, Regina Hansen, and Matthew Parfitt. Boston Bedford, 2001. 235-261