Deaf people, unlike members of other groups, have their own language, social groups, athletic clubs, theatre companies, universities, magazines, TV programmes and Olympics. Unless the parents are deaf, this culture is not passed on through them but comes formally and informally through schools for the deaf.
Is Deafness a Disability
Many deaf people do not consider themselves to be disabled. In fact, most of them are content as they are and live productive, happy lives. Their biggest problem is often interacting with a culture that is based on hearing.
Deafness in a Hearing World
The deaf community has come up with creative ways to manage the limitations imposed by their lack of hearing. Flashing lights warn of doorbells, and email and texting have made communication easier. Interpreters are available to help them in medical and legal situations.
Deaf people communicate largely through sign language and this means that deaf etiquette is different from hearing etiquette. In deaf culture it is rude to break eye contact while communicating. Throwing something at a person to get his attention is frowned upon and it is wrong to watch other people’s conversations. In signing, it is acceptable and even necessary to point and stare at faces.
Communicating through Sign Language
Sign language differs from country to country but the basic principles are similar. It is a visual language and the hand position and shape convey nuances of detail. Deaf and hearing people have different cultures and the difference in language can make communication difficult.
Deafness in a Hearing Culture
Hearing people often see deaf people in isolation. This may be in places such as a restaurant, a waiting room or on public transport. They commonly get a distorted impression of them, as deaf people often feel reluctant and uncertain in a gathering of hearing people. The language and culture are foreign to them and they fear being viewed as ignorant. Frustration is another common feeling which arises when they struggle to make themselves understood.
Communicate by Writing
English is normally a second language to deaf people with sign language being their first. When they need to communicate with a hearing person, writing is often the best way to do so. Although it works, it is a slow, limiting way to communicate and this is why the deaf segregate together and form their own cultural groups.
Because the world is largely hearing, deaf people have formed minority groups with their own individual culture and way of communicating. It is important for hearing people to understand this so that any interaction can be positive and meaningful to all concerned.