SoundSpace Online

Culture and Communication

A characteristic of Deaf Culture is that the culture is mediated by sign language, whichever sign language that is. The Deaf Culture sees itself as a language minority instead of a disability group. It also seems that where there have been Deaf people they have tended to meet together, drawn together by a shared language - sign language. This often happened in areas around schools for the Deaf, where there were larger numbers of Deaf people; for example around Gallaudet in the USA, and in Derby in the UK, where there is the Royal School for the Deaf. 

Deaf culture was promoted through schools for the Deaf in the past, where Deaf people transmitted their culture to deaf children. Using sign language Deaf people can join social networks, local and globally, which join the Deaf culture together. In other areas, such as Martha’s Vineyard in the US, where there was a high percentage of deaf people, sign languages and a linked culture were created.

The Deaf community may include hearing family members of deaf people and sign-language interpreters who identify with Deaf culture, but may not include all those who are audiologically deaf.

Along with the use of sign language in communication, the culture of the community involved shared beliefs and behaviours:

  • A positive attitude towards deafness where deafness was not generally considered a condition that needs to be fixed, for example by technology
  • The use of a sign language is central to Deaf cultural identity. An oral approach to education and the use of hearing technology such as cochlear implants could be opposed
  • Culturally, Deaf people value the use of natural sign languages that exhibit their own grammatical conventions, such as American Sign Language and British Sign Language
  • Deaf communities strongly oppose discrimination against Deaf people
  • Culturally Deaf people have behaviours for communicating which may be unknown to hearing people
  • There is a strong cultural tradition within the Deaf community of sign-play, jokes, story telling and poetry which may be difficult for hearing people to share
However, with the advent of both hearing and communication technologies, such as Skype and texting, and cochlear implants, the range of communication opportunities for those who are deaf are changing rapidly – and leading to changes in thinking about the group beliefs and behaviours and making descriptions and definitions more complex.