Source: Deaf Australia Inc
Culture is about the way we do things and the beliefs and values we hold. Deaf communities have many distinctive cultural characteristics, some of which are shared across different countries. Characteristics of Deaf culture include:
LanguageSign language is at the centre of Deaf culture and community and the single most unifying characteristic. In Australia , the Deaf community's language is known as Auslan (Australian Sign Language).
Anyone who does not value Auslan is unlikely to either feel comfortable within the Deaf culture, or to be accepted by it.
It is not necessary to be fully fluent in Auslan, but what is necessary is acceptance of Auslan as a language in its own right and respect for it. If a person can show that they understand Auslan's value for Deaf people, Deaf people will help them to learn it. Without this they are unlikely to receive a warm welcome into the community. At best, they will be treated politely, but as an interloper or a "tourist". This attitude is not unique to Deaf culture, it can be found in other language groups too.
ValuesSharing similar values is very important in any culture. In Deaf culture, some of the shared values are:
BehaviourWithin Deaf culture there are behaviours that are considered rude, but which are perfectly acceptable in hearing culture, and vice versa. Some examples are:
CustomsSome customs are common in the Deaf community. They include:
Technology/material thingsMost hearing people, when they think about technology for deaf people, think about hearing aids and cochlear implants. To Deaf people, this is a "hearing" way of thinking - i.e., looking for technology to make deaf people hear.
For most Deaf people, technology means things that will make living as a Deaf person in a predominantly hearing culture more comfortable and convenient, e.g., flashing lights for door and phone, vibrating alarm clocks, TTYs, videophones.
Throughout history, Deaf people have devised ways to live as Deaf people. Even before we had modern technology, Deaf people found ways to adapt household items to suit them.
Deaf people also prefer or select particular kinds of environments - they often prefer open-plan houses with good sight-lines, round tables rather than rectangular, and they always choose strong, even lighting rather than soft lamps, candles, or flickering lights.
HistoryDeaf people are very proud of their heritage, which includes:
Deaf people who grow up isolated from the Deaf community and later discover it, also discover this sense of historical identity and belonging and it becomes very valuable to them. In fact, this common experience of isolation from the Deaf community is part of Deaf history.
Art and humourDeaf theatre groups are popular in Deaf communities. In Australia the Australian Theatre of the Deaf is well known, but there are also amateur theatre groups.
Deaf artists often have a particularly "Deaf" style, for example the depiction of Deaf symbolism such as hands and signs. Film making is now becoming a popular art form in the Deaf community.
Deaf people tell jokes about the Deaf life, and about hearing people. Deaf communities often hold comedy nights where people tell jokes, funny stories, and true life anecdotes.
Why do Deaf people have a different culture?Cultures develop around people's self-identity, i.e., their experiences and ideas about themselves and their place in the world. It is a natural development when people who share similar experiences and identities come together. Cultures gather strength when they are passed down over generations and are enriched with historical knowledge.
Deaf people's interaction with other people and with the world around them is primarily visual. Deaf culture is based on this visual orientation.
Many people seem to believe that by isolating Deaf people from each other, this Deaf cultural identity would not develop. But people seem to have an innate need to congregate with others who are like them in some way and who accept them for who they are, and Deaf people are no different - sooner or later they seek each other out. Ironically, the experience of isolation from the Deaf community and the Deaf culture becomes for many Deaf people one of the commonly shared experiences and hence one of the culture's unifying factors.
A bilingual, bicultural peopleDeaf people who belong to the Deaf community are bilingual and bicultural. They use Auslan in the Deaf community and English in the hearing community to varying degrees of fluency. They live and work to varying degrees with hearing people in the hearing community and with Deaf people in the Deaf community. Although they often struggle with discrimination, prejudice and misunderstanding in the hearing culture, and live rich and fulfilling social, sporting and cultural lives within the Deaf culture, they continue to be part of both cultures.
Information provided by Deaf Australia Inc
Reproduced with permission.
Page reviewed: 22.1.2009
Disclaimer: This website is for general information only and is not intended as a substitute for independent professional advice.