Although things have been slowly improving, there’s nevertheless a great deal of stigma around deafness. Deaf culture exists, at least in part, to counteract this. It’s an effort to cast off the label surrounding hearing impairment, to change the narrative from looking at deafness as a disability to seeing the Deaf as people who simply communicate differently. Let’s see what is deaf culture and why is it important.
But to say that’s all there is to Deaf culture would be inaccurate. It’s about more than redefining deafness relative to hearing individuals. It’s about experiencing the world differently and seeking out others with the same unique perspective.
It’s about embracing hearing loss not as a disability but as a part of one’s identity and about forming a community with like-minded individuals. It allows a Deaf person to be who they are without shame or stigma and live as their unique self in a community of their peers. As you might expect, this perspective makes the concept of hearing assistance devices — cochlear implants (CIs) especially — an extremely contentious one, even within the Deaf community.
Whether or not to use a hearing aid is a deeply personal choice; the decision to receive a surgical implant is even more so.
Some people will never approve of CIs, while others swear by them. Some parents pursue the surgery on behalf of their babies or young children, while others are against performing any such surgery on a child that cannot give informed consent. Some people view CI surgery as a betrayal of the Deaf community, while others believe everyone should be free to choose on their own.
It’s a complex issue, made only more complicated by the fact that children with congenital hearing loss are frequently born to hearing parents. Ultimately, there’s really no correct answer, save for one truth on which most agree. It is offensive to ask someone why they don’t have a hearing aid or suggest that they undergo CI surgery.
Communication is also tightly integrated into Deaf culture, with some advocates in the community believing that learning a regional sign language is a fundamental human right. They maintain that, in lieu of subjecting children to hearing aids or potentially hazardous surgical procedures, one should simply teach them sign language. It is, after all, as valid a means of communication as any other, and the more people that know sign language, the less alienated Deaf people will feel.
Consider, for instance, a medical emergency — a common scenario brought up by advocates of sign language. Imagine how harrowing it must be to face down a health crisis while unable to communicate with anyone. Imagine waiting for a sign language interpreter to arrive in a scenario where a fast response is crucial.
In light of this, one must acknowledge that these advocates do have a point. More widespread acceptance of sign language would be highly beneficial.
Ultimately, the best way to sum up Deaf culture is that it’s about acceptance and empowerment. About embracing, rather than denying the experiences of the Deaf through communication, art, and storytelling. About the belief that people are more than their ears, more than whether or not they can hear.
About the belief that deafness, rather than a disability, simply makes you different — and that’s not a bad thing.
About the Author:
Pauline Dinnauer is the VP of Audiological Care at Connect Hearing, which provides industry-leading hearing loss, hearing testing, and hearing aid consultation across the US.