Deaf Culture describes the social beliefs, behaviors, literature, art, values, traditions and shared customs that unite those within the deaf and hard of hearing community. This community finds solidarity in the issues faced in being deaf, and the use of sign language as a main mode of communication. A huge difference in perception of deafness between the “hearing” community and members of the Deaf culture, is that deaf people view their lifestyles as a different human experience instead of a disability.
Because of the deaf community’s minority population in comparison to that of the hearing community, they are often faced with the prejudices similar to those of other oppressed groups. Accommodation for people who are deaf has grown, and more awareness is being spread for those who are unfamiliar with deaf culture. Here, we will be taking a glimpse into what deaf life has been and currently is, in three countries. These countries being India, France, and the United States.
The first school for the deaf, whose current name is Institut National de Jeunes Sourds de Paris (INJS) was opened in 1760 in Paris,France by Charles-Michel de l’Épée. The school was started when l’Épée, a philanthropic educator who is now popularly dubbed “The Father of the Deaf”, met 2 young girls who were hearing impaired and in need of an instructor. l’Épée is also credited with being the creator of the world’s first sign alphabet for the deaf. Currently, France is a part of the European Union of the deaf, which is a non-profit that is the only organization that represents the interests of deaf Europeans at a union level. The National Federation of France for the Deaf is another major program in France, geared toward deaf support and awareness on a governmental level.
In modern day India, deaf entrepreneurship is a reoccurring issue that exists as a result of the heavy social and societal stigmas placed on those identified as being deaf or Hard of Hearing. Hinduism, which is the predominant religion in India, is historically known as including text (specifically in the Law code of Manu) that can be interpreted as oppressing those who are deaf. In the Law Code of Manu, it states that a person who is deaf should not be allowed to own property, but is to rely on the charity of others in their daily lives. This text and examples like these, along with preexisting negative views of deaf people as the “other” has made India one of the most difficult and least accommodating places in the world for those who are deaf/Hard of Hearing.
Because of India’s overwhelming size and population, there is a large and colorful variation of dialects of sign language within the country—making communication between deaf people in India difficult as well. According to an article on joshuaproject.net, there are 10-15 million deaf people in India, and that this large deaf population is poorly connected and uniformed of the resources within their community geared towards helping them. The main approach in classrooms toward the deaf community in India is the oral way of teaching. Leaving the education of members of the deaf community neglected due to a need in labor workers.
The United States is seen as one of the more progressive countries in terms of accommodation for the deaf and HoH. While legislation and social awareness campaigns have been responsible in large part for the U.S.’s growing success in this area, the installation of deaf culture in media and television has proven to be pretty impressive and helpful. For example, Switched at Birth is an ABC network show that surrounds the life of two teenage girls who find out that they were, well, switched at birth. One of the girls, Daphne Vasquez, has been deaf since a young age due to an infection that she caught when she was still in infancy. Watching the show, you learn many things about the deaf and deaf culture. The television series features multiple deaf actors and shines light on common misconceptions that the hearing population has about the deaf community by showing rather than telling.
However, the U.S. is not without its setbacks concerning awareness and accommodation for those of the deaf community. While many large public and private institutions (like the University of Missouri) have interpreters, a discouraging amount of Americans are still pretty ignorant when it comes to what deaf people can and can’t do as a result of their inability to hear. The United states has two similar but different forms of sign language. There’s the more commonly used American sign language (ASL) and the lesser known signed English language. The key difference between these two is that ASL deals more with gestures that include entire phrases, while English sign language works more with word by word translations. Common complaints of those who are deaf in the U.S. is the need for those who are talking to face them when doing so. If communication is done by lip-reading, this social interaction requires 100% visibility on part of the deaf person involved. Discrimination against those who are deaf in America is still a very current problem even on the judicial level. On March 31,2015, a federal court ruled that three Indiana judges discriminated against a deaf citizen. In this case, the citizen, Steve Prakel wanted to attend his mother’s court proceedings and requested an interpreter in order to be able to do so. Despite multiple requests, the judges refused him accommodation and did not install an interpreter.
A more popular incident that occurred in South Africa, but was broadcast internationally that shed a light on the issue of oppression within the deaf community is the Nelson Mandela memorial debacle of 2013 .
During President Obama’s speech in address to the memorial, government recruited interpreter Thami Jantjie made a bunch of fake signs that upset the deaf community at large. Random gesticulations and childish motions comprised Jantjie’s “interpretation” of President Obama’s speech, and the problem wasn’t addressed until after the speech was finished. This was a problem that would have presumably been addressed much more quickly had Jantjie been posing as a translator for an oral language.
To sum up this post, the world still has a lot more growing to do in terms of learning about and accepting deaf culture, (some more than others).