The Deaf community in the United States utilizes a language that’s different from the rest of the Deaf communities in the world – the American Sign Language (ASL). It is what connects its members and also functions as a membership card into the linguistics of the American society that not everyone benefits from.
Losing The Stigma
Helping break the stigma doesn’t have to be verbal. One can do his part by distinguishing the Deaf culture through capitalizing the word ‘Deaf’ and backing that up by trying to change mainstream America’s outlook about it. The Deaf community and culture don’t want to use ‘disabled’ when describing themselves because it would only give the impression that they are ‘less than’ those who aren’t deaf. This could be true, but then this is also true for those hearing individuals who don’t do anything worthy for themselves and their community as well. Getting rid of the label gets rid of the stigma that is attached to it.
“If you’re a hearing person, you no doubt see deafness as a disability that needs to be corrected,” writes David Ludden Ph.D.
Additionally, advocates often speak about the term ‘Deaf gain.” This is described as a communication advantage provided to those who need other means to communicate besides verbal language. The concept is that deaf persons connect more meaningfully and with more heart because they are hearing-impaired.
“We have thus coined the term “Deaf Gain” in opposition to “hearing loss” in order to encompass the myraid ways in which both deaf people and society at large have benefited from the existence of deaf people and sign language throughout recorded human history,” writes Dirksen Bauman, Ph.D. and Joseph J. Murray, Ph.D.
Debate On Cochlear Implant Surgery
There are several members of the Deaf community that do not agree with the idea of cochlear implants, particularly for newborns who have hearing loss. They believe that each individual has the right to choose for himself whether he wants to stay deaf, thereby giving the parents the obligation (as it is indeed) to teach their child ASL as their first language. Activists also think that learning ASL and other cognitive skills is a right that must be protected and that opting for cochlear implant surgery drives families away from that right and losing heart to embrace the deaf culture fully.
There are nine out of ten Deaf babies that are born to hearing parents, and most of these parents opt for their baby to undergo cochlear implant surgery just as they are medically able to. This helps them learn how to speak.
However, the Deaf culture thinks that the hearing population is just so focused on the spoken word when the fact is that ASL is a comprehensive language even though they are not able to produce words with their voices.
“Recent research has shown the many advantages of allowing Deaf children to know and use both a sign language and an oral language. It is the optimal combination that will allow these children to meet their many needs, that is, communicate early with their parents (first in sign and then, with time, also in the oral language), develop their cognitive abilities, acquire knowledge of the world, communicate fully with the surrounding world, and acculturate into their two worlds,” writes Francois Grosjean Ph.D.
Ways To Communicate
Fortunately, ASL is not the only method where we can communicate with a Deaf person. Here are some guidelines to keep in mind when trying to communicate with the Deaf.
- Don’t be discouraged if your first attempts at communication are going to be difficult and uncomfortable. This will get easier as you progress.
- You can write if the barrier is still too strong. The Deaf person would be happy for your efforts. You can combine your communication methods, hand gestures, and writing to make the process easier and more effective.
- Take your time and be sincere in your efforts to communicate with the Deaf person. Slow down when the Deaf person is confused and feeling insecure about the whole process, especially if he’s not taking the lesson in right away. Let him feel that it’s fine and that you can always repeat the process.
- Do not talk to the Deaf person when you’re not looking at him. Eye contact is a vital tool for effective communication with the Deaf, as they listen and understand with their eyes. Show them that you respect them by looking into their eyes.
- Use the start and end of your conversation as a chance to visually and physically connect with the Deaf person, particularly if he has had an interpreter throughout the conversation. Smile at him, firmly shake his hand, and make eye contact.