Inclusive Language Series: Deaf Culture

In honor of April being National Deaf History Month, in this week’s edition of our Inclusive Language Series we will be learning a few basics about the Deaf community and Deaf Culture.

First and foremost, there are a few things we must understand. While many hearing people consider hearing impairment to be a disability, many within the Deaf community consider Deafness to be another aspect of human diversity. You may have noticed in the previous sentence, even the language that folks within the Deaf community use is different than those outside of the community may use. “Hearing impaired” tends to imply a deficit, which comes from the medicalized model of disability. The Deaf community refers to their Deafness the way anyone may refer to any other trait, as a part of who they are.

Deaf community also has a few distinguishing characteristics. Probably the most frequently assumed characteristic is the use of Sign Language, which in America would be American Sign Language or ASL. While much of the Deaf community in America does use ASL, for a variety of complicated reasons, this is not universal. Many Deaf people read lips and use visual communication, such as gesturing, texting, or writing on a notepad. One should never assume what form of communication a Deaf person may prefer to use and should follow the lead of the Deaf person. An important thing to note—the Deaf community has largely been adamant that if someone wants to learn ASL they should stick to learning from Deaf teachers. ASL is its own language with its own vocabulary, syntax, and other nuances that can only really be taught by those within the community.

That said, you may be wondering, “who exactly is the Deaf community?” Physically, hearing and Deafness exist on a spectrum. One person may only be able to hear certain frequencies, another person may not be able to hear at all, and yet another may have hearing in one ear and not another. Some Deaf people use hearing aids or cochlear implants, which are medical devices used to provide some level of hearing to Deaf individuals; however, these devices are imperfect and may not work for a Deaf individual depending on the reason for their Deafness.

Furthermore, some folks may be born Deaf while others may become Deaf throughout their lifetime. There are entire families of Deaf people going back generations and there are folks that are the only Deaf person in their family. Some Deaf folks go to schools for the Deaf, and some are “mainstreamed,” or kept in traditional schools. Hearing children of Deaf adults are referred to as CODAs and are considered members of the Deaf community even though they themselves are not Deaf. As with any identity-based community, there is a greater diversity of lived experience within the community than between it and other communities.

While there is much to learn about the Deaf community and this article barely scratches the surface, perhaps most important to this entire discussion is to remember that Deaf people are people. Like anyone else, Deaf people wish to be understood, respected, and valued for who they are. Showing up for Deaf people may take a little time, education, practice, and a willingness to adjust when we mess up, but in the end it helps to create a community that is more welcoming to all.

Resources to Learn More

Upcoming Holidays & Observances

  • Arab American Heritage Month
  • Genocide Awareness Month
  • Autism Acceptance Month
  • Deaf History Month
  • April 23–30: Passover/Pesach (Jewish) — The eight-day “Feast of Unleavened Bread” celebrates Israel’s deliverance from Egyptian bondage. (April 23-4, April 29-30)
  • April 23: St. George’s Day (Christian) — the feast day of St. George celebrated by various Christian churches.
  • April 24: Theravada New Year (Buddhist) — In Theravada countries the New Year is celebrated on the first full moon day in April.
  • April 24: Armenian Martyrs’ Day — Memorializes the genocide of approximately 1.5 million Armenians between 1915 and 1923 in Turkey.
  • April 27: Lazarus Saturday (Eastern Orthodox Christian) — a day celebrated by the Eastern Orthodox Church and Oriental Orthodoxy to commemorate the raising from the dead of Lazarus of Bethany.
  • April 29: Palm Sunday (Eastern Orthodox Christian) — Observed the Sunday before Pascha to commemorate the entry of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem.
  • April 28–29: Ninth Day of Ridvan (Bahá’í) — a festival of joy and unity in the Bahá’í faith to commemorate the reunification of Bahá’u’lláh’s family and by extension the unity of the entire human family the Bahá’í faith calls for.