American Sign Language/Deaf Culture


Deaf vs. hard of hearing vs. hearing-impairedEdit

Deaf generally implies complete lack of ability to hear; someone with a partial inability to hear is more likely to be referred to as hard of hearing or the qualified partially legally deaf. People with varying degrees of hearing loss have also been referred to as hearing-impaired.

The term "hearing impaired" may be used to describe all degrees of hearing loss, up to and including total deafness. In the case of profound deafness this may be political correctness, a euphemism for the simpler and accurate "deaf." Interestingly, this is seen as a euphemism only from the side of the mainstream - the Deaf community sees it as a potentially pathological label.

Total deafness is quite rare - most deaf people can hear a little.[1] However, since hearing loss is generally frequency-based rather than amplitude-based, a deaf person's hearing may not be usable if the normal frequencies of speech lie in the impaired range.

People with a moderate hearing loss, of about 36–50 dB,[2] generally describe themselves as "partially deaf." Others who were born hearing, but who have partially lost their hearing through illness or injury are "deafened." Those with a slight hearing loss (eg. about 16–35 dB hearing loss),[2] or have lost some of their hearing in old age may prefer an informal term such as "hard of hearing" or "hearing-impaired".

Those with some functional hearing generally do not take part in the Deaf community, and typically work and socialize with hearing people to the best of their ability. People with all degrees of hearing impairment may encounter discrimination when looking for work, while at their jobs, or when socializing with hearing people.

Deaf CultureEdit

Deaf community and Deaf culture are two phrases used to refer to cultures comprised of people who are culturally Deaf as opposed to those who are deaf from the medical/audiological/pathological perspective. When used in the cultural sense, the word deaf is very often capitalized in writing, and referred to as "big D Deaf".

Big D Deaf communities do not automatically include all those who are clinically or legally deaf, nor do they exclude every hearing person. According to Baker and Padden, a person is Deaf if he or she "identifies him/herself as a member of the Deaf community, and other members accept that person as a part of the community." Deaf culture may include those who attended deaf schools, children of deaf parents, and some sign language interpreters.

The primary languages of those who identify themselves as Deaf are signed. Deaf communities also often possess social and cultural norms that are distinct from those of surrounding hearing communities.


The use of the cultural label of being Deaf can be a declaration of personal identity rather than an indicator of hearing ability. Indeed, many people who self-identify as Deaf from a cultural perspective may have 'better' hearing than those who don't.

Deaf culture commonly perceives the term hearing impaired as insulting or misleading. The primary reason is that Deaf people feel the word "impaired" carries too much negativity. Some Deaf people also do not feel the terms "hard-of-hearing" and "Deaf" are synonymous or should be put in the same category.

Deaf communities provide a sense of belonging for deaf people, who might otherwise feel excluded from the dominant hearing culture. As deafness is a relatively rare condition, relationships within a Deaf community can extend over great distances to bring people together. Deaf culture emphasizes community and interdependency but the main characteristic of Deaf culture is the use of signed languages. Signed languages are distinct from local spoken and written languages. Although some spoken words may have a corresponding sign, the usage, inflections, and grammar (and even the rate of communication) of signed languages can differ greatly from speech.

Distinction between clinical deafness and Deaf cultureEdit

The word 'deaf' can be used both to refer to individuals who are clinically deaf and individuals who are members of a cultural group consisting mostly of people who are clinically deaf. The label of the cultural group is conventionally distinguished in writing by using an upper case D. The distinction between 'deaf' and 'Deaf' individuals is not simply a matter of perspective since there are deaf people who do not consider themselves part of Deaf culture and hearing people who do, but in practice the groups have a very similar membership.

Acceptance within Deaf culture can depend on the age at which a person became deaf, attendance at a residential school or college for the deaf, and especially the ability to sign. While children of deaf adults and interpreters may be considered "honorary Deaf", hearing people are not generally accepted as members of the Deaf community.

Common beliefs and values in Deaf cultureEdit

The affinity that Deaf people have for one another does not derive from the same source as cultural groups that are based around ethnicity since Deaf people do not necessarily share common ancestry or a common language. They don't share common ancestry since the majority of Deaf people come from hearing families and Deaf people from around the world are as divided by language barriers as hearing people. In the United Kingdom the dominant sign language is British Sign Language, in the United States, it is American Sign Language, in Australia, it is Auslan and so on. Each of these languages has a distinct grammar and vocabulary that makes them mutually unintelligible in exactly the same way that spoken languages such as English and Chinese are mutually unintelligible.

In many respects it may be more accurate to speak of many distinct Deaf cultures that are specific to particular geographic regions and the specific sign languages that are used in them. There is however a general affinity between Deaf peoples from around the world that is associated with the common physical and cultural obstacles that they face. International events that reinforce this identity include the Deaflympics which has been staged every four years since 1924, though it is not sufficient for athletes to self-identify as members of Deaf culture to participate in this event since qualification is based on clinical deafness.

A belief commonly shared by Deaf people from around the world is that deafness should not be regarded as an impairment or disability. Deaf people are disadvantaged relative to hearing people, but much of this can be attributed to the fact that societies are structured almost exclusively around the concerns of the hearing. However, deaf people are also at a disadvantage simply by virtue of having a channel of information about their environment closed off to them and this is irrespective of how they are treated by the dominant hearing culture.

Mainstream recognition of Deaf cultureEdit

For much of history, deaf people were expected to adapt to hearing culture as best they were able or to be hidden or invisible. Recently, especially in the United States and the Nordic countries (Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland and Iceland), the existence of a Deaf culture has been increasingly recognized. (Charlotte Baker, 1980)

Deaf President Now: The 1988 student strike at Gallaudet University, in Washington, D.C., was a watershed moment in the awareness of Deaf culture by the dominant American hearing culture. Deaf President Now student organizers and allies forced the university, which, after all, served an all-deaf and hard of hearing population, to select its first deaf president. Perhaps more importantly, the movement helped frame the struggle of deaf people within the context of a civil rights movement. Having a leader who can fully understand and relate to this principle was considered vital to the Deaf population.

Cultural Centres: The Dorothy Miles Cultural Centre, based in Guildford, England, exists to bridge the gap between deaf and hearing people through social, cultural and educational activities. The Centre also offers courses in British Sign Language (BSL) which are accredited by the Council for the Advancement of Communication with Deaf People. DMCC runs drama workshops involving professional actors and organises sporting events, including an annual cricket match. There is also widespread availability of BSL courses from other providers across the UK. Nearly all terrestrial television is closed captioned.

The Deaf Culture Centre opened in 2006 in central Toronto. A project of the Canadian Cultural Society of the Deaf, it features a museum, art gallery, and gift shop. It also houses archives and provides facilities for research. Visitors can sample state-of-the-art visually rich technology highlighting Deaf historical artifacts and literature. There is also an ASL/LSQ interactive website/television and multimedia production studio.

Cultural BehaviorsEdit

Members of the Deaf culture tend to behave very differently from their hearing counterparts as the differences will be listed below:

  • Attention getting devices
    • Hearing: Shouting, "Hey!"
    • Deaf: Tapping firmly on the shoulder with the whole hand, flickering the lights (to gain the attention of a whole room), stomping the feet, and throwing things at the person.
  • Facial Expressions
    • Hearing: Extreme emotions are displayed.
    • Deaf: All emotions are displayed, as well as grammatical information (these expressions are non-optional markers of grammar).
  • Pointing to certain people/things
    • Hearing: pointing is often considered rude, though acceptable to give directions for example
    • Deaf: pointing is permitted in order to use pronouns in sign language, as well as giving directions, etc.
  • Settings of social gatherings
    • Hearing: choice of room might be based on what is quietest - no auditory distractions
    • Deaf: congregating in the kitchen where there is better lighting, in order to make it easier to see everyone signing
  • Introduction rituals
    • Hearing: "Nice to meet you"
    • Deaf: Long introduction rituals (i.e. Where are you from? Which schools are you going to? Who your parents are? and so on)
  • Manner how introduction rituals are completed
    • Hearing: shaking hands
    • Deaf: hugging after rituals (which is very common)
  • At the Table
    • Hearing: It is considered rude to talk with the mouth full of food
    • Deaf: Can "talk" (sign) with mouth full of food
  • Misbehaving children
    • Hearing: Hearing misbehaving children cover their ears when being scolded at
    • Deaf: Deaf misbehaving children cover their eyes when being scolded at

Deaf Cinema/TheatreEdit

There are several films that was produced by deaf, those films also included deaf actor/actress.

The company ASL Film has featured 3 films: "Forget Me Not", "Wrong Game" and finally a new feature-length film "The Legend of the Mountain Man". All of those films are in American Sign Language, with no audio, but with optional subtitles.

Children of deaf adultsEdit

Children of deaf adults (CODAs) with normal hearing ability may consider themselves, and be considered, culturally Deaf or as members of the deaf community. In some cases they may need speech therapy due to limited exposure to spoken language. An organization, also called CODA, was established in 1983 and now holds annual conferences. There are also support groups for Deaf parents who may be concerned about raising their hearing children, as well as support groups for adult CODAs.

There are also several camps established for CODAs, such as the one at Camp Mark Seven which hosts two separate 2-week programs for CODAs, one from age 9 to 12 and one for CODAs from age 13 to 16 and it usually occurs during the summer, from the last week of June to mid-August.


  1. Baker, C and Padden, C American Sign Language: A look at its Story Structure and Community, 1978
  2. Miller, R.H. Deaf Hearing Boy: A Memoir, published by bookclub@ket, 2005 [1]
  1. Gallaudet University: Demographics of Deafness
  2. a b Description of Degree of Hearing Loss Versus Potential Effects,,