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Deaf Culture in America

15 May 2017Essay Samples

Who are deaf? A person shall be deemed to be deaf if he/she has lost 60 decibels or more in the better ear in the conversational range of frequencies. Why a person becomes deaf? There are many different ways that a person can become deaf. A child may have had a bad case of rubella, or the mother had rubella while she was pregnant. Another way is if a child gets a bad case of the mumps. He or she could lose their hearing. It is the same with measles, and meningitis. The other ways are either inherited or unknown. However, the majority of deaf children are born to hearing parents.

Educating a child is necessary according to his abilities; if a child is deaf one cant take the opportunity of education away from him. Public Act 94-142 mandates that each child be taught in the ‘least restrictive environment’ possible, and this has been widely interpreted to mean public schools. The first major oral school in the U.S., Clarke School for the Deaf in Northampton, Massachusetts, opened in 1867. ‘Columbia Institute for the Deaf’ at Washington, D.C. in 1864.

Now called Gallaudet University, it is still the only liberal arts college for the deaf in the world, although there are now several other institutions offering college and post-graduate courses to the deaf. ( The deaf have both a community and a culture. Carol Padden has defined Culture as a set of learned behaviors of a group of people who have their own language, values, rules of behavior, and traditions. (Baker, C., Cokely, D.) There are many different languages in the world today and they all have uniqueness; a wonderful culture that every one should learn about.

One of the languages is American Sign Language, also known as ASL. ASL was developed by American Deaf people to communicate with each other and has existed, as long as there have been Deaf Americans. Standardization was begun in 1817 when Laurent Clerc and Thomas H. Gallaudet established the first school for the Deaf in the U.S. Students afterwards spread the use of ASL to other parts of the U.S. and Canada.

For many deaf people who are born with a ‘profound’ hearing loss, such a feat would be impossibility. Locked into ‘signing’ communicating with a vocabulary of hand motions and finger spelled words they are truly living in a silent world. Their language is American Sign Language (ASL). Like any spoken language, American Sign Language (ASL) is a living language with its own rules of grammar and semantics. Like all verbal languages, ASL grows and changes over time to accommodate the needs of its native users. It is not very easy to learn sign language. It takes time. To pick up enough signs for basic communication and to sign them comfortably, without excessive stiffness, can take one or two years.

Some people pick up signs slower than others everyone learns sign language at their own speed. One should just need to remember that sign language is a visual language. This means that the brain processes linguistic information through the eyes instead of ears. It also means that facial expressions and body movements play an important part in conveying information. It is possible to sign without using facial or body expressions, but doing so may give a mixed message and may confuse the listeners and it will also look odd or unnatural. Studies have shown that skills in understanding, speaking, and writing complex language have a direct relationship with reading success. While one may want to simplify his language and vocabulary when you speak to a deaf child, using complex sentences and new words will stretch child's understanding and develop his or her language more fully.

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There are approximately 250,000 - 500,000 ASL users in USA and Canada (Baker and Cokely). Most of them use ASL as their primary language. At least thirty-five (35) States have recognized ASL as a modern language for public schools. Hundreds of colleges/universities (at least 750) in the United States are offering ASL classes. Mastery of ASL and skillful storytelling are highly valued in Deaf Culture. Through ASL Literature, one generation passes on to the next its wisdom, values, and its pride and thus reinforces the bonds that unite the younger generation.

Sign language by itself is not universal language that is why one cant says that ASL is universal. Each country has their own sign language; just as hearing people in different countries speak different languages, so do Deaf people around the world sign different languages. Deaf people in Mexico use a different sign language from that used in the U.S. because of historical circumstances. Contemporary ASL is more like French Sign Language than like British Sign Language. Thomas Gallaudet invented French Sign Language (FSL) in conjunction with Laurent Clerc, a deaf teacher from France. American Sign Language was greatly influenced by FSL, and some of its signs show their French origins. Of course, other countries have their own sign languages, Italian sign language, Danish Sign Language, French Sign Language and many others, although ASL is widely known among the world's deaf.

Today with the advancement of technology-improved hearing aids, cochlear implants, text phones and subtitles all provide means of access fro deafened people. But deaf people deny themselves the opportunity to hear sound. They do accept hearing aids and not implants. Why they do it? The Deaf community's stand against cochlear implantation as based only on the fact that deaf children have hearing parents who are not aware of deaf culture and therefore unable to determine their best interests. In fact, there are numerous Deaf community arguments regarding cochlear implantation. Many are not based on that issue but on specific scientific, educational, medical ethics, and other issues.

Hearing impairment is the most common type of birth defect, affecting about 12,000 newborns each year. About a third of those have profound deafness that would make them likely candidates for cochlear implants, according to the National Campaign for Hearing Health. Experts’ estimate more than 200,000 deaf adults and children in the USA could benefit from the implants. Though demand for the devices has been growing 25% annually, only about 2,000 people a year receive the implants in the USA. Success levels vary widely among the 36,000 or so implant recipients worldwide, about half of who are children. Studies have shown that nearly all recipients improve in lip-reading ability, and about two-thirds gain the ability to understand speech without such cues. But some profoundly deaf people have no improvement, and experts don't know why.


  • Suit may be filed over arrest. Deaf man says officer wouldn't let him write answers, by The Associated Press, 2002.
  • Gregory J. Rummo. (1994). American Sign Language Deserves Elevated Status.
  • Padden C., And Humphries, T. (editors) (1988) Deaf in America: Voices from a Culture. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
  • Baker, C. and Cokely, D., "American Sign Language: a teacher's resource text on grammar and culture," T.J. Publishers, Silver Spring, Md., 1980.
  • Deaf Education in America, Contributed by American School for the Deaf, 1995,
  • Misrepresentation of Deaf Community's anti-CI views, Last updated: 1996 Jan 20 by Omer Zak,

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