The Deaf Community and How You Can Get Involved

Not all deaf people use American Sign Language to communicate. However, those deaf people who do use ASL share a language bond that unites them as part of the Deaf community.

The members of this community not only share a common language, they are also linked by similar beliefs and attitudes about themselves and about the world. Some deaf people do not view themselves as disabled. They describe themselves as part of a different heritage and culture–Deaf Culture. This strong sense of Deaf identity is nurtured by the community and passed on through generations.

ASL is the main bond that members of this community have. If you do not use ASL, you are not part of the Deaf community. Hearing people who use ASL can take part in the cultural and social life of this community. For example, hearing children with deaf parents (CODAs) acquire ASL naturally during childhood. They are a part of this community and some people even think they are a part of Deaf culture.

True proficiency in ASL is not just about having an extensive vocabulary. It’s about signing in the context of Deaf Culture. Find Deaf events in your area and converse with people who use ASL in their day-to-day lives–Deaf people. Then, and usually only then, will you truly learn to be a proficient signer.

Becoming a Member of the Deaf Community

Becoming a member of this community means more than just learning American Sign Language. You need to be willing to enter the Deaf experience. The diagram below is my illustration of the diagram developed by Charlotte Baker and Dennis Cokely in 1980 to explain how a person qualifies for becoming a member of the community of the Deaf:

deaf community

The center of the diagram represents Deaf Culture. To be accepted and fully participate in Deaf Culture, you MUST possess all four characteristics that define the culture: social, audiological, linguistic, and political. The Deaf community is illustrated by the other shaded portions of the diagram. You must have at least TWO of the characteristics to participate in the community of the Deaf. Let’s take a look at each one:

Social
You need to join in the social life of the community of the Deaf for this characteristic. This means having attended a Deaf residential school, or having Deaf family members, spouses, or friends. A hearing person who uses American Sign Language, regularly attends Deaf community events, and advocates Deaf issues (a sign language interpreter, for example) will come as close to the center of Deaf culture as a person can who does not have a hearing loss. To learn more about the important social lives of Deaf people, read my Deaf Culture article.

Audiological
You MUST have a hearing loss to get credit for this characteristic. It doesn’t matter if you are deaf or hard-of-hearing, to a Deaf person, hearing loss means deafness. Deaf is a term used in the community of the Deaf to mean a life experience instead of a hearing loss. To learn more about the different terms for deaf, read this section of my Deaf Culture article to learn about the special distinction between Deaf, deaf, hard of hearing, and hearing-impaired.

Linguistic
You must use and advocate American Sign Language. You not only need to memorize vocabulary, but also learn how to ask questions, make sentences, carry on a conversation, and provide information. You need to learn and respect the signing customs and etiquette of Deaf culture and use them to properly sign in ASL.

Political
You need to be a passionate advocate of Deaf issues and ASL. Political members of this community are usually Deaf people who hold positions in Deaf organizations like the National Association of the Deaf.

Attitude

All of the characteristics of the Deaf community are linked by attitude. You need to love the Deaf experience. If you have the proper respect, the willingness to learn about Deaf issues and deafness, and are enthusiastically involved, you will be accepted by the Deaf community whether you are deaf or hearing.

Comments

  1. candis cassioppi

    how do i become deaf advocate?? since i am deaf and have tremendous experience in many discrimination against me personally and seen onto others as well i would like to know more and expand more knowledge in this area as i am right in center of athens where a UGA college is, at what courses to take please let me know thank you.

    1. Michelle Jay

      Hi Candis, I recommend checking with your local college to see if they offer any programs or have any groups in this area.

  2. Abbey

    I really enjoyed this article and it gave me an inside look on the Deaf culture.

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