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<<Biblioteca Digital del Portal<<La Educación<<La Educación (120) I, 1995 <<Artículo
La Educación
Número: (120) I
Año: 1995

Deaf Culture

Is there a deaf culture as well as a Deaf Community? How should educators and rehabilitators respond when deaf people speak about their desire for more attention to their culture? What do they mean? For our purposes, we define culture as:
the sum total of a group’s ways of living built up over time and transmitted from generation to generation.
Notice in that definition that the “ways of living” include language, modes of communication, mores, customs, and so on. These cultural features do not need to remain constant; in fact, we expect cultures to change over time. Nor does “the group” have to consist of any particular segment of the population—not families, not tribes—just people. Nor does the definition specify any particular means of transmitting culture. In most western societies, culture is transmitted by formal schooling. Unfortunately, schools, whether regular or special, rarely teach deaf culture to deaf children.

Deaf students need to learn most of what normally hearing students learn their native language, mathematics, history, and the general culture. In addition, deaf children need to acquire knowledge and coping strategies for which normally hearing students have little or no use. Deaf children need to be taught to be deaf.

Special educators frequently stress “normalization” as their goal for deaf students. But, of course, that goal is unattainable: deafness is a permanent condition. Since deaf children have no formal instruction pertinent to deafness, they are often poorly informed about matters critical to their daily living. Research finds that they know little, or are misinformed, about hearing impairment—its causes, types and good auditory hygiene. Deaf students seldom are taught about deaf history and culture. Their self-image suffer, because they do not know how much some deaf adults have achieved and, therefore, how much they might be able to achieve. They must learn coping strategies: how to handle marketplace situations, what to do about insults and rejection, how to take advantage of whatever benefits the society provides, and where to obtain helpful devices. These are matters most deaf students are left to learn on their own, rather than being taught in school.

Take an example of a coping strategy that is useful to deaf people but not taught to them. It is from a paper by the late Dr. Frederick Schreiber, a prominent deaf leader and the first Executive Secretary of the U.S. National Association of the Deaf. He wrote:
The expectations of employees most often produce the barriers that impede employment of deaf people at their true potential. One young lady came to my office for help. She was frustrated because, ‘when I apply for a job I am usually asked, Can you read my lips? and when I say no the boss loses interest.’ So I told her, ‘The next time you are asked that question, say yes if you speak plain.’ Well, she has a job now. She still doesn’t read lips, but now her boss thinks it is his fault!4