Deaf Culture, a Starting Point?

on April 29, 2010

Several years ago I heard a story of two men who were returning home, and while on the plane, the conversation turned from common ground in business, to whether or not God was real. I know, typically when traveling religion, politics, and race are topics to avoid — especially considering there is no where to hide if things turn ugly. But the conversation in this case was cordial and concluded, when the individual who did not believe in “spiritual notions” suggested that it was impossible for anyone to really “know” of such things. The other passenger then asked an odd question: “Well then, have you ever tasted salt?” To which he responded “of course.” The believer then stated: “I don’t believe that you have ever tasted such a thing, describe it to me – prove it.” Needless to say, describing “the taste experience” of salt to one who claimed to have never tasted it, presented a challenge. The message from the story to me was clear. Some principles and concepts are, by definition experiential, and have to be lived or “tasted” to be understood.
Although “understanding” may always begin with wanting to understand something different, it’s obviously not guaranteed. On a grander scale, another’s culture, may present similar challenges. I think it can be hard for those, who are not part of the deaf culture to navigate successfully across the cultural divide. Having acknowledged some of the challenges, I thought it best to try, and share some ideas outlined by members of the deaf community in several resources below:
“Many hearing people have ideas about 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 unique from the hearing culture.
The deaf culture is the art, politics, attitudes, shared language, and common activities of the deaf community. Some deaf culture facts can provide insight into what it really means to be deaf.
Some hearing people believe that people who are deaf would like to hear if they could. This is not necessarily true. Some deaf people do seek medical treatment for their hearing loss. Some receive cochlear implants. But, many deaf people have no desire to be hearing.” http://www.mydeafness.com/deaf-culture-facts/
Another excellent resource is www.nad.org (the National Association of the Deaf) website, where the following was obtained:
“Culture. We value the right of deaf and hard of hearing Americans to share similar beliefs, sense of belonging, and experiences as a signing community.
Language. We value the acquisition, usage, and preservation of American Sign Language
Linguistic Rights. We believe that American Sign Language must be preserved, protected, and promoted.
Human Rights. We believe that acquisition and use of American Sign Language is an essential human right
Civil Rights. We believe in equality, dignity, and justice for all deaf and hard of hearing Americans.”
Another suggestion for AbilityNews readers
for more information is a website called
http://www.alldeaf.com as one can chat online with those with various opinions and positions on many topics. The fact is, no culture has a monolithic viewpoint. So the best starting point may be one of respect, and a willingness to learn something new.

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