Deaf Culture: What I Didn’t Know as a Hearing Person Before College

When I think of the word “culture”, many ideas come to mind. I think of geography, religion, socialization, language; the list goes on and on.


However, before coming to college last year, one of the things I did not think to include in my definition of culture was ability. I was completely ignorant of the fact that entire cultures can and do exist within the communities of those who are differently able.


I came to this realization due to taking courses in American Sign Language during my first, second, and third semesters in college; American Sign Language was a language I had absolutely no prior experience with going into these classes. To give some necessary context, I am what is known within the Deaf community as a hearing person. I have no hearing loss, and therefore I am completely capable of communicating entirely through auditory sounds.

Before actually having the opportunity to educate myself on the lives, skills, and needs of deaf people, I was quite oblivious to the entire community that exists among people living with varying degrees of hearing loss and communication capabilities.


This community and the idea that unites many deaf people in their experiences and lifestyles is known as Deaf Culture and is just as prominent and active as any other culture that one could think of. Merriam Webster’s English dictionary defines culture as, “the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization”.


Deaf culture fits this definition completely.


One of my favorite aspects of learning about Deaf culture has been having the opportunity to realize that what many people view as a disability, those who are actually affected view as an ability. Those who identify with the culture have the strongest pride and love for their deafness, in ways that many people, including myself before coming to class, are so unaware of.


This pride can be seen in numerous ways, including the use of Sign Language. As a result of the ableism found within modern medicine, many deaf children have been socialized to assimilate into the hearing world, causing trauma as they try to navigate a world that is not accommodating to them.


For so long, deaf people were silenced as languages such as American Sign Language were restricted and given no value at all. As things have progressed over the years, more and more deaf people and parents of deaf children have made the move to learn and use ASL as their primary means of communication, rejecting the pressure that is often put on them by doctors to try to integrate as much as possible into the hearing way of life.

As the push for equal treatment for the Deaf presses on, in America specifically, many actions have been taken in order to strive for Deaf protection and growth. These actions include DPN, the Deaf President Now movement, a protest which occurred in the late 1980s against Gallaudet University, a private school for the deaf in Washington D.C., who at that point, had never actually had a Deaf president.


As a result of the fight put up by so many Deaf people, so much beauty has come into the world. Deaf art, also known as De’via (Deaf View/Image Art), is one of the many wonderful areas of creative expression that has been born from the progressive movement of Deaf culture, and has become a formally recognized genre of work. Each piece is a skillfully interwoven mix of colors, shapes, textures, and contrasts, meant to depict the Deaf experience. These works, along with many other forms of Deaf expression, have become a central part of Deaf culture and representation.


There is a saying which has been used quite frequently within my ASL class which goes, “it’s not hearing loss, it’s Deaf gain”. After learning all that I have about Deaf culture, I can say with certainty that this statement is true. The community that has come about through the struggles and triumphs of Deaf people as a whole is so amazing, and it is a beautiful thing to see people gain so much by not having something that most people feel they couldn’t live without.


Credit: Cover, 1, 2