Friday, February 18, 2005

An Exploration of Deaf Culture

Recently, Talk of the Nation on NPR had an interesting discussion on the Exploration of Deaf Culture. Neal Conan (of TotN) talked to Carol Padden and Tom Humphries, authors of the new book Inside Deaf Culture, and King Jordan, President of Gallaudet University (who, btw, became the first deaf President of Gallaudet in 1988 after a student-led protest demanding a deaf President).

For those who missed the show, NPR has provided the transcript, free of charge. I highly recommend taking a look at it. It's a fascinating interview about a fascinating subject. I don't think most people are aware of the richness, diversity, and the long history of deaf culture, and I think that's a shame.
The millions of Americans who are deaf or hard of hearing form a unique community, a culture, they say, shaped by their shared experience and their shared language. ASL, American Sign Language, is currently the second most taught language on college campuses. A major Broadway play using deaf and hearing actors is touring the country. At the same time, deaf culture is both changed and challenged by technology. There are plenty of divisions and arguments within deaf culture, but the deaf and hard of hearing share another universal trait--the incomprehension of the hearing world around them that sees their condition as a disability, as a handicap. For those who live without sound, that absence is the starting point of an identity.
For a while, back when I lived in Rochester, NY, I was somewhat involved (although, as an outsider, it was more of a peripheral involvement) in the very strong deaf culture that exists in that city. The knowledge that I gained has greatly benefitted my life, and I truly value all of the experiences and friendships I gained through that involvement.
While not everyone will be able to get involved with the deaf culture, I do believe it would be highly valuable to everyone to learn at least a bit about it.


Mary said...

Thanks for this article and transcript. I found both interesting, especially the history of ASL, the influence of french sign language(though it seems to becoming increasingly more english in its evolution) and instruction in this country since I studied it in the ASL program. It took a long time to get ASL back in the classroom since the Scotland conference in the late 19th century chose the oral route.

We have a strong Deaf community here b/c of the state school. There's social nights at Starbucks each week and sometimes I go hook up with some friends at those, though since I moved not as much. It felt much safer to make some of the embarassing signing errors with friends than in the

You know, rude/nude or work/something else entirely type of gaffes... :-o

bean said...

Yeah, the influence of the French is interesting -- and knowing it can help when learning ASL. Like the sign for "heart" -- which is the letter 'c' over the chest -- would make absolutely no sense if you didn't realize the French influence and know that the French word for heart is couer.

And yeah, I totally know what you mean about that type of gaffe. :p

bean said...

Oops, that should be coeur -- but then, I never claimed to know any French. :p

Mike McConnell said...

Millions of Americans? Hookum. More like several hundred thousands or at best close to a million. This is Deaf people we're talking about, ASL-signers. The ability to use ASL is a main pre-requistite to be a part of the Deaf culture. No less.

There are 28 million people with hearing loss in the United States that range from mild to profound.

Millions of people are a part of the Deaf culture? (ie shared experience AND shared language ASL - both, which is false, which is a definition of a Deaf culture). No. Millions of people with hearing loss do share one thing in common and that's the communication issue. Not ASL. That's a subgroup of a whole...a minority at that, too.

You have late deafened adults, lip readers, oralists, sign language users (not strictly ASL), people with hearing loss function fine with hearing aids (like me) and use phones and field radios, many are CUED speech users, some combine these tools, some never use sign language (i.e. cochlear implant recipents), some use it sparingly, MOST are never a part of the Deaf community and don't want to be and would rather be a part of the hearing community since ENGLISH is their first language...not ASL.


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