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Deaf Culture Basics

Stories, art, traits, attitudes, and other aspects of deaf culture.

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Updated September 26, 2013

Deaf performers such as Trix Bruce (pictured here) are key components of deaf culture.

Deaf Performer Trix Bruce

Amy Bakari

Deaf culture. What is it? First, we have to look at the definition of culture in general -- patterns, traits, products, attitudes, and intellectual/artistic activity associated with a population.

Based on this definition, the deaf community can be said to have its own unique culture. Deaf and hard of hearing people produce plays, books, artwork, magazines, and movies targeted at deaf and hard of hearing audiences. In addition, the deaf community engages in social and political activities exclusive to them. American deaf culture is a living, growing, changing thing as new activities are developed and the output of intellectual works increases.

Deaf Cultural Arts

Art

I could easily decorate my home with deaf-themed artwork. Art with American sign language (ASL) and deafness themes is readily available through vendors of products for deaf and hard of hearing people, as well as websites of deaf painters. Some artwork can be seen on display at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf's Dyer Arts Center in Rochester, New York.

Deaf Theatre

For years, deaf theatre groups have developed and produced plays with deafness and sign language on the stage. There are professional deaf theater companies that entertain deaf and hearing audiences alike. One deaf theater company, Deaf West, was so successful that its production "Big River," which mixed deaf and hearing actors, made it onto Broadway.

Books on Deafness

Some deaf and hard of hearing people have written and published books with themes on sign language and deafness. Several of these books have become required reading in deaf studies classes.

Deaf Cinema

Deaf people have produced their own movies and hold their own film festivals. I was fortunate enough to be able to watch a short comedy at the Deaf Way II, which was a celebration of deaf culture.

Poems on Deafness

Poems are another popular vehicle for deaf culture, and deaf people use them to express their feelings about having a hearing loss or to describe their experiences. Some poems are online and others have been collected in books. There is also a special form of poetry using sign language, ASL poetry. Likewise, deaf people have created their own form of deaf humor that focuses on the deaf experience. In addition, ABC stories can be told using the sign language alphabet. There are also idioms in sign language.

Creative Writing at About.com

About.com Deafness has a literary corner for publishing original story and poem submissions from About.com Deafness visitors.

Sign Language

Sign language is the aspect of deaf culture most closely identified with deafness. Deaf and hearing people who are native signers -- that is, they grew up with sign language -- tend to have the most fluent signing skills. Each country has its own sign language, and even within countries, there will be sign language dialects similar to what is called a "New York accent."

Deaf Social Life

Socialization in the deaf community takes many forms. A particularly popular means of socialization is the meeting at a restaurant. These meetings have come to be known by the various names 'ASL dinner,' 'signing supper', and 'silent supper.' Another popular social vehicle is the 'deaf coffee,' which is a meeting at a coffee shop to chat.

The deaf community also has its own online dating sites, some of which are described in signs of love.

Perspectives on Deaf Culture

Deafness is caused by the loss of hearing, a medical condition. Yet, people who are deaf have created all of the above. This has led to the argument: Is deafness pathological or cultural? If deafness is cultural, is it a disability? This is explored in the article, Deaf? Disabled? Both?

Deaf Culture Knowledge

Do you consider yourself knowledgeable about deaf culture and deaf heritage? Challenge yourself with one of our Deaf Culture Quizzes:

Mini Quiz on Deaf Culture
Extensive Deaf Culture Quiz

Reader Submissions: Show or Tell What You Did for Deaf Awareness

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