Deaf Culture

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Deaf Culture
Blindness cuts us off from things, but deafness cuts us off from people. (Helen Keller) Many hearing people have ideas of what it is like to be deaf. Hearing people may think it is only about not being able to hear. However, few hearing people realize that there is a deaf culture that is different from the hearing culture.

The deaf culture is art, politics, attitudes, shared language and common activities of the deaf community. People are social animals and above all else spoken language is what connects individuals to one another. Without the ability to hear, “deaf people are largely isolated from the mainstream of society” (Deafness and Hearing Impairment, Clay Farris Naff) There are exceptions of course. Composer Ludwig van Beethoven lost his hearing before completing his famous Ninth Symphony. Baseball player William Ellsworth Hoy hit the first grand slam in the American League. He is also credited with inventing the hand signals that umpires use for strikes and outs. Actress Marlee Matlin won an Academy award for Best Actress in 1986 film Children of a lesser God. Yet the fact remains the deaf and hearing-impaired people, though certainly hardworking and capable of achievement tend to be marginalized. Deaf culture and language are inseparable. They are intertwined and passed down through generations of deaf people. ASL (American Sign Language) is the third most popular language in the United States. ASL does have regional variations because in the late 1800’s through 1960 the use of sign language was forbidden in classrooms. This was because it was believed to impair speech development

in deaf children. In the early 1970’s and early 1980’s there was a major change in thinking as research showed the structure and rules of ASL. When manual communication reappeared in the classroom it was in the form of one of several artificial manual codes for spoken English. Since the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, the deaf community has been more adamant about receiving an education in their sign language (ASL) In some schools this struggle has been successful, and few schools have taken a bilingual ASL and English) and bicultural (Deaf and hearing cultures) approach.

It seems highly probable that the deaf have always signed with one another. “starting in the 1500’s, sign language began to be organized as a formal communication system” (Naff) Within a century the first manual alphabet was published. However, sign language was met with widespread suspicion and contempt. In some countries, such as Germany, sign language was legally banned. In the United States, the Reverend Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet became interested in sign language after meeting a young deaf girl on a trip to Europe. He also met a Frenchman named Laurent Clerc who was trying to develop sign language and convinced him to come to America. Together they started a school for the education and instruction of the deaf and dumb on April 15, 1817. The word spread about their teachings and became what we know now as ASL (American Sign Language).

However, just about the same time, a movement opposing sign language started. It was led by Alexander Graham Bell among others, held that teaching lip-reading and speech was important in the education of the deaf. His invention of the telephone was intended to be This became widespread and benefited the deaf since only some were educated with reading lips and speaking to communicate with the hearing. The use of sign language was condemned. “Even Congress got into the act with the incontestable superiority of speech over sign for integrating the deaf-mute society and giving him

better command over the language. Such attitudes guaranteed the deaf would remain second class –at best” (Naff)
Throughout the twentieth century this “Oralism” (The use of speech instead of sign language) dominated the deaf world of education. Fortunately that...
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