Shared experiences and similar backgrounds create bonds between us that form a culture. In fact, culture is defined by Oxford Languages as “the customs, arts, social institutions, and achievements of a particular nation, people, or other social group.” As a tight-knit social group with a unique language, it makes sense that the Deaf community would have a culture all its own.
The Language Component
American Sign Language (ASL) is a unique language with its own grammar, syntax, complexities, and nuances. One common sign language myth among people who do not have much experience with the community is that it translates directly into English.
While it is possible to interpret ASL into English and vice versa, the grammar and syntax of ASL are different than that of English – in fact, individuals in other English speaking countries, including the UK, use a different form of sign language altogether.
ASL relies heavily on the use of body language and facial expressions to convey tone and intention since the language is completely nonverbal. More people are becoming aware of this fact as public figures hire ASL interpreters to communicate critical COVID-19 safety information during briefings.
Deaf Culture Values
One of the most important elements of Deaf culture is the belief that deafness is not a disability but a different ability. The culture values deafness and the role it plays in shaping peoples’ lives. Deaf children are also strongly valued in the community since they represent the future of the culture.
Visual contact and physical contact are important values for Deaf culture as well. When having a conversation, it is considered impolite to break eye contact or sever visual connection while the other person is communicating. The person who is not communicating should also wait until the communicator indicates that they are finished, through a pause or facial expression, before responding.
Often, Deaf individuals get each other’s attention using physical contact if a person is not in their line of sight. Two of the most common ways to do this are with a soft tap on the shoulder or hand on the arm.
Arts and Entertainment in Deaf Culture
As with any modern culture, Deaf culture also includes art, literature, poetry, movies, and more. Much of this art focuses on the Deaf experience and how language and communication play a role in the lives of Deaf individuals.
One thing that surprises many hearing people is that Deaf individuals are also able to incorporate music. They do this by sensing vibrations in the same part of the brain that hearing people use to detect sound.
Additionally, more and more Deaf actors are beginning to play the roles of Deaf people in mainstream media. Full inclusion is a long way off, but representation is increasing in these roles.
Incorporating Deaf Culture
Being aware of Deaf culture and its complexities are important, especially if you work with Deaf individuals or regularly interact with them. They will appreciate your effort and feel more comfortable in their environment when you take the time to understand their background. If you or your organization could benefit from training in Deaf culture, call Applied Development today at 410.571.4016 or contact us online.