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Ifte Choudhury, Associate Professor, Department of Construction Science, Texas A&M, defines culture thusly: A culture is a way of life

of a group of people-the behaviors, beliefs, values, and symbols that they accept, generally without thinking about them, and that are passed along by communication and imitation from one generation to the next. For a long time the deaf people of North America were seen as just like you and me, except they could not hear. Recently, sociologists, linguists, and others have begun to study Deaf culture and legitimize it. They are proving what the Deaf community has known all along, they are indeed a culture. Deaf culture is expressed in many ways and has many differences when compared hearing culture. Unfortunately, much of their culture is based on poor relations with the hearing majority. These poor relations include oppression, discrimination, and attempts to exterminate their language. To cope with all of this, the deaf people of America have banded together to form a unique culture. Before I delve into the culture of the deaf, I need to clarify the difference between deaf and Deaf. deaf, with a lower case d, refers to the condition of not being able to hear. The word Deaf, with a capital d, refers to the culture of deaf people. First, I would like to explain how Deaf culture is passed from one generation to the next. Most of the hearing world learned the norms,

values, and beliefs of our society from out parents, older siblings, and other adults in our lives. In Deaf culture this is usually not the case because only 10% of deaf children have deaf parents. The other 90% come from hearing families. Historically, most members of the Deaf community learned their culture form other deaf children. When deaf children reach school age, one of two educational plans is usually taken. The first is: the child is sent to the states residential school. The child is gone for the week and home for the weekends. The second is: a day program. A day program is where all of the deaf children in the school district are sent to one school. Once in school and surrounded by other children like them, deaf children begin to learn Deaf culture from the older children. Also, there are always at least few deaf children from Deaf families who help the other children learn the culture. Not all deaf people are a part of Deaf culture. Some deaf people identify more with hearing culture. This can be for a variety of reasons, but is usually due to deafness late in life or lack of exposure to Deaf culture. Deaf people not members of Deaf culture are often referred to as oral. When a deaf person is referred to as oral, it means they prefer to speech read and use their voice opposed to American Sign Language. The oral person is seen as trying to pass for hearing. In the hearing culture we encourage deaf people to be oral and applaud the efforts. In Deaf culture this is seen as rejecting deafness and Deaf culture.

Being oral is also seen as reinforcing the idea that deafness is a disability. Deaf culture believes there is nothing wrong with being deaf. Deafness is not a disability. And deaf people do not need to be fixed. In Deaf culture, deafness is seen as another way of being. The hearing majority do not understand this attitude, because the hearing see deafness as a sickness that leads to a lack of communication. This is not true. Deaf people use sign language. In the US, deaf people use American Sign Language (ASL). ASL is a beautiful language that can convey the concrete as well as the abstract. Like other cultures, Deaf culture has its own brand of humor. Most hearing people do not get Deaf humor. It the book Deaf In America the author states, humor cannot be learned. It must be acquired through an understanding of peoples shared experiences and world view. A hearing person does not share many life experiences with a deaf person. This is reflected in the Deaf communitys humor. In many of the jokes in Deaf humor, being deaf is used to an advantage, shows the differences between English and ASL, or a deaf person outwits a hearing person. Much of this comes from the hearing trying to push SEE (Signed Exact English) and treating the deaf as inferior and broken. The relation between Deaf and hearing cultures has been a shaky one. Many Deaf people distrust hearing people. This is because the hearing majority has been controlling deaf education and study for a long

time. This is starting to change because people are starting to see how absurd it is. We would not accept a black studies program that was all white. Nor would we accept an all male womens studies program that published antifeminist literature. Then why have we continued to accept that hearing experts can and should create deaf education policy? The answer is complicated. Part of the answer is that deaf people have been seen as damaged. Due to this so called damage, for a long time it was believed that deaf people were less intelligent than hearing people. Another reason for the distrust has to do with family. As stated above, 90% of deaf children are born into hearing families. Of those children, only 27% of the parents learn to sign beyond superficial conversation. That means a whopping 73% cannot communicate with their child. And the child cannot communicate with the parent. Imagine dealing with a bully at school and not being able to tell your parents, or having a relative die and you parents not being able to tell you what happened or console you. This is the reality for many deaf children. They become very close to their friends at school, and those friends become the childs family. Many hearing families believe that their deaf child cannot do the same things as their hearing children. A good example of this is a story my ASL teacher, Tom Moran, told our class. His older sister is deaf. She married a deaf man who is 6th generation deaf. When they were newly

weds, her new husband wanted her to drive to the store to get him cigarettes. She informed him she couldnt drive. Her parents figured since she couldnt hear that she was unable get her license. Her husband was blown away at how ridiculous it was. There is no legal reason preventing her from getting her license or learning to drive. Her parents just assumed because she was disabled, she wasnt allowed to drive. Yet another aspect of this distrust is the push of hearing educators for speech and discouraging the use of ASL. It is very hard to learn to make sounds you cant hear. It requires hours of work. This work often takes priority over the learning to read, write, and do math. For over a century, educators believed that ASL was preventing deaf children from learning English. Unfortunately, they were wrong. How can you expect a deaf child to learn a verbal language if they dont have a visual first language? There are many problems facing the 28 million (give or take) deaf, Deaf, and hard-of-hearing people of America. They share many of these problems with other minority groups. They deserve all the same rights, consideration, and accommodation we give to other minority groups. Deaf culture thrives even though hearing people have tried to change it, suppress it, and eliminate it.