Deaf Culture, part I
The Deaf community is surely one of the most misunderstood ones on the planet. Since the dawn of time, a person with hearing difficulties has been dubbed as ‘dumb’ or even useless by their societies; and even though this is quite often not the case today since most countries have developed an understanding of differences, the stigma that surrounds Deaf people today is still real and very palpable. Sharing quite a lot of common grounds no matter which culture they are born into, here are some of the aspects that define this community – whether they are good or bad, no matter how each individual deals with it, the impact of these life experiences makes them who they are today.
It is important to note, to begin with, that Deaf people are rarely born into families of the same culture. As a matter of fact, 90% of Deaf children have hearing parents. And, the sad truth is that most of these parents do not bother to learn sign language to ease communication with their own offspring, preferring to let them do all the extremely, unnatural and difficult work of learning to speak and lip-read. Therefore, these kids suffer from an important loss that other children do not live with: the loss of childhood. They spend so many hours with speech therapists, psychologists and various other medical staff that they actually lose the possibility of playing with other children their age and at times, it is their homework time that is taken away from them. Furthermore, the learning of a language through a sense that no longer works well can take several years, and by the time they are finally mature enough to start understanding the language process, it is too late. Skinner states that a child’s language development has to be accomplished by the age of five since between five and seven years old, the section of the brain that handles grammar, syntax, morphemes and phonemes ‘freezes’. If a language has not been fully developed (or, as in most cases of children without disabilities, acquired entirely in a natural way) by that age, a person can still learn to talk or sign, but their mastery of the language will be limited, meaning that their grammar or syntax will always suffer. Some Deaf people are diagnosed as dyslexic or with other forms of language anomalies when in fact, it is this lack of proper childhood development that gave them their language difficulties.
Being stigmatized has created a closeness amongst them that happens quite often in cultural minorities. They meet very often and this is one of the main reasons why sign language developed into what it is today. The need to be able to communicate – after all, the human species is a highly social beast – ensured that they would gather to share, learn together and eventually, start standing up for themselves. The development of this language begot a culture; some say that this is just one culture shared amongst all Deaf people in the world, no matter which country they are born into. However, there are still a few differences, since such a large number of them are born into entirely hearing families, and they end up assimilating the main culture into their sub-culture.
Why are so many Deaf children born in hearing families? The answer is much simpler than most might think: a very high percentage of hearing loss is NOT genetic. If you ask Deaf people, many will tell you how it was a childhood disease or accident that took away their hearing. Some will explain how it is a birthing defect (not a gene) that caused the hearing nerve to deteriorate with time. For only 0.01% of Deafies across the globe, they own a gene in their DNA that ensured they would be born with a ‘natural defect’ of not being able to hear even the whisper of a sound when thunder crashes or jet planes fly overhead at an airport. These children are almost always born into Deaf families, and have an important advantage over all other Deaf children: they actually share their culture with their parents, and they can communicate with, at the very least, their entire immediate family, at times with their extended families (yes, some families have quite a complex Deaf/hearing mix that is interesting to study and learn about). Of course, some Deaf children are born from Deaf parents and only lost their hearing during childhood, and this is another 10% of the Deaf population.
This is only a small portion of what shaped the Deaf community; I will keep writing about them and hope to read many comments on what you know, how you feel about it and what you have learned here. I welcome all comments from Deafies, too!
Photo: my tattoo, which means 'to unite' in sign language. I had it made to show how as an interpreter, my job bridges gaps between communities. It has a much wider sense now to me, living in Colombia; I wish to 'close the gap' between many different communities that need to come together to ensure a bright future for everyone.
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