Cultural View of Deafness

Many people who are Deaf do not see themselves as "disabled" or "handicapped" in any way. They may even be offended if you imply that they are disabled. In fact, for this group of Deaf, the term, "hearing impaired" can be an insult. Why, you ask? Because of the word "impaired" in the term. That word implies that there is something wrong with them, and they don't feel that there is anything wrong. They simply speak a different language. They communicate differently, but there is nothing else that is different about them, so they shouldn't be called "impaired" or "handicapped".

I tend to think that most people would stop using the term "handicapped" if they knew it's origin. It comes from the idea of having a cap in hand begging. I would guess that most people with disabilities would prefer not to be thought of in those terms.

But...back to the Deaf. Many people who are Deaf, especially those who were born Deaf, tend to identify themselves as part of a seperate culture. They are perfectly content to be the way they are, and, in fact, prefer it. When offered the opportunity to hear, by having surgery, they won't even consider it. If they were able to hear, they would no longer feel a part of the Deaf Community that they have grown to know and love.

I realize this may be difficult for you to understand if you are not involved with the Deaf Community and have never experienced it's rich culture, but it's a fact. If you are one of the blessed ones, who has had the opportunity to peer into that culture, even from the fringes, you have probably begun to understand.

Deaf culture is rich and diverse. There are books written by Deaf authors, plays with Deaf producers and actors, amazing and varied artwork by Deaf artists, and more. There are events for the Deaf happening all over the country. From Deaf bowling leagues to huge conferences, there is always something going on where ASL is the means of communication, and the Deaf are surrounded by their friends.

Deaf people tend to be connected with other Deaf people. They seek ways to spend time together. In a country where most of our society is culturally individualistic, the Deaf community has a thriving collectivist culture. They see themselves as members of a large and flourishing group...the Deaf community.

Pathalogical View of Deafness

Those who are not familiar with Deaf Culture often have a pathalogical view of deafness. They see a person's deafness as a physical problem, or "impairment". The deaf person has something "wrong" with him. His hearing is "broken". They are certain that the deaf person would be better off if one could "fix" the problem. Their assumption is that anyone who is deaf and is a candidate for a cochlear implant should definitely have one. After all, the deaf person should be made as "normal" as possible.

Those who have this view tend to feel that the deaf person is at a disadvantage in the world. They feel sorry for him. How awful it must be not to hear! This deaf person is missing so much. If only they could help him...

There is often an assumption that the deaf person is less intelligent. This problem can be compounded by the hearing person's lack of understanding of ASL. If the Deaf person writes something with ASL sentence structure, the person with the pathological view of deafness assumes that the Deaf person has written in poor English...a sign of his lack of intelligence.

To complicate things further, there are many deaf people with a pathological view on deafness. Typically, these people were raised by hearing parents who had a pathological view on deafness and passed it on to their child. If the person has not had the opportunity to, or has chosen not to become a part of the Deaf Community, she will continue to have this view.

This person may be completely deaf and still call herself "hard-of-hearing". She may downplay her deafness, hide her hearing aids, or ask the interpreter to sit in a less than an ideal spot so that the interpreter will not be as noticeable, because she doesn't want the presence of an interpreter to call attention to her hearing loss.

Of course, this complicates things, because you, as a hearing person who meets a deaf person, have no way of knowing which category this deaf person fits into. Is the person Deaf or deaf? Does this person see himself as Culturally Deaf, in which case you would refer to him as Deaf and avoid the term "hearing impaired" or does this person see himself as pathologically deaf, and prefer to be called "hearing impaired" or "hard-of-hearing"?
For this reason, it's a good idea to be careful when first talking with a deaf person. If you can, ask if the person prefers to be referred to as "Deaf" or "Hearing Impaired". The answer to that question will tell you a lot. And, by all means, respect the person's wishes.

NOTE: In the church setting, people with a pathological view of deafness often approach the Deaf person to pray for his healing. Many times this has led to the Deaf person being offended, and sometimes has caused the Deaf person to avoid going to church at all. This is something to be aware of if you are starting a Deaf ministry.

Copyright Signing His Praises 2012