The Uniqueness of Deafness!

Deafness is a vast topic and this will be the first post of many.  Many sub-topics introduced below will be expounded upon in later posts.
Deafness is unique in many ways.  First and foremost it is the ONLY “disability” that has its own culture and language–the Deaf Culture


International symbol for deafness.
I remember as a teenager being told, by my sister-in-law, that our d/Deaf family members had their own distinct culture, separate from us.  Note: The lower case “d” represents the all encompassing group of people with varying levels of hearing loss while the capital “D” represents those deaf people who identify with the Deaf Culture.  Some people use these terms differently than stated above, but when I use the d/Deaf term the above is my definition. Simply being deaf does not automatically place you in the Deaf group.  Fluency or native-like signing of American Sign Language, the recognized manual language (as opposed to spoken/heard language) of American Deaf people, is the most important qualification for identity and access into the Deaf Culture.  Other shared experiences, such as growing up in an all-deaf school, adds credence to ones acceptance into their culture, as well.
I had no idea what d/Deaf meant before I returned to college in 2000 and began researching deafness.  Until one spends time contemplating and researching deafness the ability to grasp a full understanding of many of these facts/truths is rare.  Deafness and Deaf Culture can be compared to an onion–once you have gained some level of understanding in one area of this vast topic you have simply peeled away one layer and exposed the next.  Most likely these things are never given a second thought by the majority of people in the hearing world.  That is, unless deafness directly affects you or someone you love. 
Another disability, that is often mistakenly “lumped” together with deafness is blindness.  However, those who are blind are still granted access into the same hearing/speaking culture.  Unless, of course, they are deaf and blind


Utilizing “tactile signing” with a deaf/blind person.


The lack of hearing affects the ability to speak clearly.  God created us in such a way that it is when we hear ourselves and others speak that we learn spoken language, whereby we  know if we have made the correct sound or not.  The two are so vastly interwoven.  When it comes to communication, being understood by the person with whom you are communicating with is the single most important part of that communication.  Without the ability to speak plainly deaf people are rarely fully accepted or embraced into the hearing majority world.
Naturally, a hearing infant/baby begins to make sounds (babbling) and when they hear the sounds they produce–and realize they in fact are making those strange noises–they become fascinated with their own voices. Deaf infants/babies make the same sounds, but they cannot hear them. The hearing child then begins to try to mimic or copy what another person is saying to them.  We, as hearing parents or adults, encourage them to do this by talking and interacting with them when they produce their sounds.  As they begin to produce the correct sound for a word they are praised and the brain begins to recognize and memorize how certain sounds are achieved by practicing words and sounds over and over again.  This is a simplistic explanation of the natural learning of a spoken language.
Deaf people cannot hear others speech clearly and cannot hear themselves speak clearly.  Hearing aids can be helpful for allowing deaf people to increase their ability to understand spoken language through their residual hearing–amount of hearing they do have.  The benefits of hearing aids vary greatly from one deaf person to the next, since each deaf persons’ deafness is as unique as they are.  For the majority of deaf people most of their speech is learned only through unnatural means, such as speech therapy which focuses on felt vibrations in the mouth, face and neck, specific placement of the tongue, and then memorization of what letter(s)/words feel like when produced.  Speechreading (also known as lip-reading) is an additional tool utilized by deaf people to understand the person they are communicating with through speech. Skill levels in speechreading is once again unique for each person. The level of the knowledge of a spoken language–a deaf person has mastered–is directly related to the level with which a deaf person can speechread accurately. Environmental factors also affect the ability to speechread with accuracy.  Those factors include lighting, face-to-face proximity to the person speaking, facial hair, mouth movements of the person speaking and knowledge of the topic discussed, just to name a few.

The development of clear speech for those who identify with the Deaf Culture is typically not a desired goal.  Those who identify deeply with the Deaf Culture are happy being deaf and do not see the need to become as “hearing” as possible.  They do not feel they are broken and need to be fixed.  Many live full and rich lives just as their hearing counterparts do.  Some deaf people do believe developing their speech to its fullest extent, whatever that may be, will grant them better access into the majority hearing world and possibly grant them better job opportunities.  



Of course, there are many natural aspects of speech that are lost through this type of training to speak. An interesting phenomenon that has occurred because of this training is the fact that deaf people will often sound similar in their articulation of words when they speak.  If you are around deaf people for any length of time, you learn to recognize similar speech patterns and what their “deaf voices” sounds like. That is, if they feel comfortable enough with you to share them with you. Yes, most deaf people have a similar recognizable speech pattern because of the endless hours of speech training they have received during childhood.  Daily hours of speech training is a common ritual for deaf/HOH children. 

One interesting fact: More than 90% of deaf/HOH children are born to or raised by hearing parents. That means hearing parents, most often have no idea there is a Deaf Community and Culture, make their decisions for their deaf/HOH children based solely on the medical aspects of deafness.  And for those deaf children whose hearing parents choose the route of speech/hearing as the mode of communication for their deaf/HOH child, rarely are they exposed to the Deaf Community and their culture.

I have intentionally left the Cochlear Implant out of this post.  It will be addressed in postings in the future.   


Many Deaf people embrace this verse, Exodus 4:11. 
 Then the Lord said to him, “Who made a person’s mouth? And who makes someone deaf or not able to speak? Or who gives a person sight or blindness? It is I, the Lord.

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