Saturday, November 3, 2007

All Things Considered: Deaf Culture

So this disscussion was brought up at and it is a very interesting one to say the least. Being born deaf and having felt suppressed by the hearing world as if I were incapable of controlling my own fate.

The questions brought up were:
When was Deaf Culture discovered?

When was is declared a 'Culture'?

By whom?


Was it conjured for political reasons?

And if so, what are the political objectives?

Well for one there are no easy answers for these questions. To just get started, we'd have to look at the term culture itself.

The American Heritage Dictionary defines culture as follows:
American Heritage Dictionary - Cite This Source - Share This cul·ture (kŭl'chər) Pronunciation Key

The totality of socially transmitted behavior patterns, arts, beliefs, institutions, and all other products of human work and thought.
These patterns, traits, and products considered as the expression of a particular period, class, community, or population: Edwardian culture; Japanese culture; the culture of poverty.
These patterns, traits, and products considered with respect to a particular category, such as a field, subject, or mode of expression: religious culture in the Middle Ages; musical culture; oral culture.
The predominating attitudes and behavior that characterize the functioning of a group or organization.

So looking at Deaf Culture to define it we have to look at the shared attitudes, traits, and expression by those that are deaf. We know what Japanese culture is, we all know what Hispanic culture is and we are easily able to distinguish between the two.

But deafness knows no certain boundary. Deafness happens in all cultures whether it be American, European, Asian, Latino or any other ethnicity. It goes beyond languages used and what skin color a person has as well as beyond sexual orientation, political affiliation and religion.

So lets look at Deafness:
American Heritage Dictionary - Cite This Source - Share This deaf (děf) Pronunciation Key
adj. deaf·er, deaf·est

Partially or completely lacking in the sense of hearing.
Deaf Of or relating to the Deaf or their culture.
Unwilling or refusing to listen; heedless: was deaf to our objections.

n. (used with a pl. verb)

Deaf people considered as a group. Used with the.
Deaf The community of deaf people who use American Sign Language as a primary means of communication. Used with the.

The only problem I see with this definition is that many people outside the deaf don't understand that there are varying degrees of deafness, and that not all deaf people use sign language and the fact there is more than one signed language.

But lets see how they define Deaf Culture: <---Wiki entry

Deaf culture has always been around even before the 1988 DPN Protest at Gallaudet University, during this protest which was broadcast on national news - this was the first time that many Americans realized that deaf people were not stupid nor incapable of controlling their own lives. I remember a friend telling me that they had family members astonished that a deaf person could hotwire a bus and flatten its tires to block a roadway.

This is also the year my parents had me transferred from a special school to a mainstream school. I did not realize until a few days ago but I have yet asked my parents if the news of the Gallaudet protests influenced their decision to mainstream me into public schools. Until I know for sure I cannot say one way or another. I started Kindergarten in the 1989-1990 school year - have very vague memories of the special school but I do remember being taken to the Baptist church parking lot where mom had to meet a bus that would bus me to Ola everyday. The driver was Miss Melba a very sweet and kind lady whom I will never forget.

The DPN protests were extremely well organized and was paralleled to the Civil Rights Movement.

The protests were over the fact that the Nationan's Deaf University was not headed by a deaf person and 17 chairpersons were hearing with only 4 deaf members. This started when Jerry Lee resigned in 1987. The deaf students were ready to have a deaf president running their university. Students supporting the selection of a deaf president participated in a rally on May 1. Gally alumnus John Yeh advertised the rally with flyers that read:
It's time! In 1842, a Roman Catholic became president of the University of Notre Dame. In 1875, a woman became president of Wellesley College. In 1886, a Jew became president of Yeshiva University. In 1926, a Black person became president of Howard University. AND in 1988, the Gallaudet University presidency belongs to a DEAF person.

The selection commitee hired the only hearing applicant above the other deaf, but very qualified deaf applicants including I. King Jordan and Harvey Corson. The hearing person that was hired had no sign language knowledge and was ill-aware of deaf needs. This sparked the eight day Deaf President Now Protests that took place over eight days from May 6-13.

There were 4 demands the students wanted fullfilled:
1. That a deaf president be named immediately
2. The resignation of JaneBassett Spilman over a comment that "deaf are not yet ready to function in a hearing society."
3. The board of trustees that had 17 hearing members and only 4 deaf be reconstituted so that the majority were deaf members.
4. That there be no reprisals.

The eight day got so much national media attention that it is considered a critical change of direction for national deaf culture awareness as well as internationally where there is a deaf culture recognized not only in the states but also in Nordic countries such as Iceland, Norway, and Sweden as well as Canada that boasts a deaf culture centre.

For much of history the deaf were encouraged to blend in with the hearing world and to even hide their deafness. Alexander Grahamn Bell though a child of a deaf mother, was an audist and discouraged deaf people from being together fearing that sign language was not the best way to teach them the ways of the world.

Laurent Clerc pushed for sign language and that deaf individuals be grouped together to learn the deaf way - by sign language. And in 1817 founded the American School for the Deaf. In 1821 - it was relocated to its present location.

Whichever your viewpoint is on deaf education, I am firm that it should be based on the individual child and I dont even want to delve in Cochlear Implants.

The first implication of a Deaf Culture was on a tiny island in Massachussets known as Martha's Vinyard where there was a larger percentage of deaf people than elsewhere in the country. This was during the mid-to-late 1800s, after Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet persuaded Laurent Clerc to return with him to the United States to start a deaf school. Through this deaf school and strong influences from Old French Sign Language and highly localized sign languages of the students that were being used ASL or American Sign Language came about and in the 1900s it became a widely accepted language in all states throughout the country.

The other questions such as by whom, and why will have to be answered in another part to what has become a series. But as I research and continue to write this may very well be a thought invoking journey.

Part Duex will follow soon.