Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Deaf Community

Some people loose their hearing and always miss the richness of sounds in their lives. But most who were born deaf or who lost their hearing at an early age don't consider themselves disabled. While it would be convenient to be able to communicate with other people without an interpreter, they think if only everyone would learn Sign Language there would be no disadvantage at all to being deaf. In fact many of them have told me they're glad they don't have to hear noises like the ones that make hearing people flinch and cover their ears. The Deaf Community has its own culture and, like other cultural groups, its own manners and customs. The primary art form is storytelling, and one of the worst insults you can give deaf people is to say you feel sorry for them. For many years children in schools for the deaf were punished for using signs or gestures to communicate, and linguists defined language as spoken method of communication so Sign Language wasn't considered a "real" language. That's why deaf people are very possessive about their language, and resent things like hearing people teaching their children "Baby Signs" that are not real Sign Language. (Nobody would make up sounds and call them "Baby Spanish" or "Baby Chinese.") Our educational system now includes information about the deaf culture in American Sign Language classes, just as information about other cultures is included in other language classes. It's a beautiful language and I hope more and more people will continue to learn it. But please, if you are one of them, show respect for the native speakers and their culture.

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