August 3, 2011

deafness vs. Deafness – Culture and Communication Tips

Parker,-Molly-NEWBy Dr. Molly Parker
Parker Audiology, PC

Those who have significant hearing loss but do not view their deafness as a disability are considered to be Deaf (with a Capital D). Being Deaf, hearing loss is a cultural status rather than a disability that should be corrected or cured, because language is not an issues. American Sign Language is usually the primary source of language. Often interpreters are used to communicate effectively with the hearing world, just as interpreters would be used for someone who speaks Spanish, French or Swahili. Deaf individuals usually learn other coping strategies to communicate with the hearing world.

A bit of history: Hundreds of years ago a few small communities had many families with inheritable deafness. These communities developed their own languages using pictures and hands. The best known include a community in France and a small community at Martha’s Vinyards in America. In 1817, Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet began a school which brought in French and American sign language teachers to teach Deaf individual. This was to provide families a way to communicate with their hearing impaired children. (British teachers apparently refused to share their communication methods with Gallaudet.) This is how American Sign Language came to share much of its structure with the French Sign Language compared to British Sign Language. Some time after 1955, ASL was officially recognized as a bonafide language.

For the Deaf Culture, hearing aids and/or cochlear implants may be used for awareness of sounds but not always. The choice to consistently use amplification and/or sign often distinguishes between someone who is deaf vs. Deaf. In contrast, deaf (hard of hearing) individuals places themselves in the hearing world, depending on hearing speech and communicating with the spoken language. Sometimes hearing devices are viewed with some hostility among the Deaf as it treats deafness as a disorder that must be fixed.

Suggestions for communication with a Deaf individual

1. Always speak directly with the Deaf individual and never to the interpretor; use eye contact and appropriate (but not exaggerated) facial expressions.
2. Speak naturally but clearly.
3. Do not hold private conversations with others in front of a Deaf person—it is rude!!
4. Writing a message is acceptable if there is a communication breakdown. When in doubt, follow the leader.
5. Just because someone wears hearing aids does not mean they know sign language or are Deaf.