In learning about the deaf culture I have taken on a new understanding about the people it includes. Through readings and the lessons, I have learned that being deaf has both its hardships and its blessings. The beauty of the language alone makes one want to learn all that he or she can about it. In this paper I will discuss the beauty of the language and the misconceptions the hearing world has about deafness.
The deaf culture has often been labeled as the deaf- and- dumb culture. This is not only an insulting term it is also very inaccurate. Deaf people are just as intelligent as hearing people. In the early 1800’s when ASL was first brought about in the United States Being deaf was considered shameful and defective. The first school for the deaf was called The American Asylum for the instruction of the Deaf and Dumb ; in those days this was an acceptable term to use. There are many other terms that are unacceptable to the deaf, such as : deaf-mute, mute, hearing handicapped, disabled, dummie etc.. Even in today’s day and age some people still use these terms. Another common assumption of the hearing is that all deaf people can or should read lips, this is not so- lip reading is very difficult to master. Verbalization is also expected from the deaf by the hearing, this is also very difficult for the deaf because most deaf people have never heard their own voice and cannot know if their intonation, pitch and volume are used correctly. Another misconception about the deaf is that different from the hearing, most hearing people mean well, but speak to the deaf as if they are mentally challenged, this is why a deaf person may walk away or give a disapproving look.
The hearing world often believes that all deaf people are deaf from birth, this is not always the case. A childhood illness could have affected the persons hearing, adult deafness also occurs, this is the most difficult for the person to deal with in some cases depression sets in and suicide becomes the result. An adult that goes deaf feels they can lose alot; friends, a job, a marriage.
I have watched three movies about the deaf culture, each has helped me to understand the Deaf World a little better.
The first movie I watched was Mr. Holland’s Opus, which was about a musician whose son was born deaf. This was very upsetting to the musician because his son would never be able to hear the music that was so important to him. As a result father and son drifted and never really had the connection that a father and son should have until the father realized that his son wasn’t so different after all. I could relate to this movie because the one thing I think deaf people are missing out on is the beauty of music. Music is such an important part of my life that I would dread to have a life without it.
The movie Love is Never Silent consisted of a hearing child left alone with deaf parents when her younger hearing brother dies. This movie shows how she was her parents sole link to the hearing world. It also showed how her parents were looked at by the hearing world and how they looked at the hearing world. They had a certain distrust for the hearing. The daughter was ashamed to have deaf parents and to sign in front of hearing people because she didn’t want to be different. Her parents had control over her life and she would nit allow herself a life because of them. The mother and daughter wind up resenting each other and fighting. In the end the mother realizes that the way they clung to her was wrong and an understanding was reached and love was once again flowing between them. This showed what kind of hardships deaf people face not only in the outside world but inside themselves.
The movie A Bridge to Silence was about the opposite- a deaf child with hearing parents. The mother blamed herself for her daughters deafness due to a case of spinal meningitis the daughter had contracted as a child. The mother never fully accepts the daughter and it shows the heartache of a deaf girl growing up trying to have her mother accept her for who and what she is. The daughter was married to a deaf man and had a hearing child which the mother tried to take away. In the end we learn that the mother wanted a second chance at a healthy child, and she eventually comes to terms with her daughters deafness and mends the relationship. In the book For Hearing People Only we read about deaf children with hearing parents, a hearing parent is less likely to accept a deaf child for a fear of imperfection, while deaf parents will accept both a hearing and deaf child in the sane way because they do not fear that the child is imperfect they just love it.
In the book Deaf in America (Voices from a Culture) through stories told by deaf people we see certain aspects of their lives that we wouldn’t otherwise understand. A story from the first chapter struck me not strange but purely coincidental. Sam Supella tells his story of a hearing friend who thought there was something wrong with him.(p.15) Sam grew up in a deaf house hold while his friend grew up in a hearing house hold, he thought that her family was strange because they communicated with their mouths while his family communicated with their hands. This struck me coincidental because we all do the same thing when someone does things in a different way than we do. This just shows us that we are all the same, hearing or deaf ,we all have the same type of ideals and thoughts about different things.
What makes people so curious about ASL? The language in itself is absolutely beautiful. The fluent a hand motions, the finger spelling and the facial expressions are mesmerizing. When a person does not understand ASL they sit and stare, wondering what the people who are signing are talking about and how they do that. In class when I watched you sign a song I was amazed at how graceful and beautiful it looked. Being a new signer I found this captivating and I knew I had to learn how to sign fluently. In classes where there are interpreters for the deaf I find myself watching them trying to pick up some new signs.
Another beautiful part of this language is that it is quiet, you could speak to someone from across a crowded room and never even utter a word. When people speak about learning how to sign, they are only going on what they see outside from deaf classmates, movies, etc.. The language is very difficult to grasp, it is in fact a language with its own syntax. In the movie Bridge to Silence we see plays done by the deaf and as an observer it looks even better than a dance and it even seems more rhythmic than music.
An in-class experience we had was when Walter a deaf man came to visit. He explained many things about himself in sign, and moved his lips to help us understand better. He told us about his family and how he and his wife feel differently about the hearing. She would rather not partake in activities with the hearing while he doesn’t really care.
I could write a book on both of the aspects I have chosen but I feel it is very important to get across my feelings about ASL, deaf people and the culture. The reason I chose ASL as my language is because it intrigued me, it looked interesting and different. I have also come to a greater understanding of cultures as a whole from this one class alone. I can imagine all the embarrassment deaf people must have felt throughout history in this world. The majority always feels it is superior to the minority therefore what the minority does is viewed as wrong or weird.
In conclusion to this paper I feel that the problems we encounter as hearing people are not so different than the problems deaf people encounter. The prejudices we encounter are different though. While people could be prejudiced against us for our religion, color, race etc. we are prejudiced against the deaf for not hearing or speaking. Throughout the years we have evolved somewhat into human beings with a little more compassion for other people. I do agree that deaf people should never have had to endure the ridicule and humiliation for just being themselves, nor should they have been hidden away in asylums or sterilized because they shouldn’t breedthe majority of deaf children come from hearing parents then and now. The treatment of deaf people throughout the generations has caused the consequences we now talk about. As for the misconception that deaf people are different, our forefathers have caused that and people have just followed along generation after generation.
I also feel that ASL is a beautiful language and should be given as a choice in language requirements in all grade levels. This language that was brought to us over 150 years ago could sustain and still be useful today for within our own country unlike Italian, French or German. It has some kind of magic that makes us want to learn and speak it when we do not have to. The fluent and rhythmic motions are mesmerizing and captivating and anyone with the means to learn it should.
Bahan, Ben. Hoffmeister, Robert. Lane, Harlan. A Journey into the Deaf World. USA: Dawn Sign Press.
Humphries, Tom. Padden, Carol. Deaf in America (Voices from a Culture). Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.
Levitan, Linda. Moore, Matthew.S. For Hearing People Only. New York: Deaf Life Press.