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

The Theory of Deaf Community Development

Why is there a Deaf Community and not a Blind Community? Why do people with impaired hearing seek each other out, while persons with impaired visibility do not? What has led to the creation of the Deaf Community—this—elaborate and ingenious human invention?

To answer that question we refer to the Theory of Deaf Community Development.3

The theory holds that a Deaf Community must meet certain demographic conditions before it can come into existence and that its nature will be determined, in part, by the general milieu in which it resides. After those conditions are met a Deaf Community arises, and is sustained by, two complex factors: rejection and attraction.

Rejection. By rejection, the theory points out that the general community typically tends to be hostile to deaf people. As noted above in the discussion of deaf people as an oppressed minority, rejection can be found historically and in the present. It is usually not overt, and it certainly is not often manifested physically. Rather, rejection can be shown in countless individual snubs and by institutionalized insults. In whatever ways it is made known to deaf people, rejection is real to them. It provides the centrifugal force that drives deaf people away from the general society.

Attraction. Attraction refers to the tendency of deaf people to seek each other’s company. Two young deaf men make this clear, although they wrote about this 100 years apart. In 1845, Edmund Booth learned about the Hartford Asylum, the first state-supported school for deaf children in North America, and he persuaded his family to let him visit it. Their attitude toward him is summed up by their insistence that his older brother, Charles, must accompany him on the overnight journey: he was, after all, deaf. Here is a bit of what Edmund Booth wrote when meeting other deaf adolescents for the first time in his life:
Charles and I went into the boys’ and next to the girls’ sitting rooms. It was all new to me and to Charles it was amusing, the innumerable motions of arms and hands. After dinner he left and I was among strangers but knew I was at home.
In 1973, a deaf New York University graduate student spoke about his experiences growing up in isolation from other deaf people. He was 17-years-old when his sister, who was studying for a degree in special education, invited him to join her on her next visit to a nearby state school for deaf children. At first he was upset that his sister thought of him as deaf, but finally his curiosity overcame his anger and he went with her. Like Booth, he had never before met a deaf person. This is his description of what he felt as he walked into a class of young deaf children:
At long last I began to come home. It was literally a love experience. For the first time, I felt less like a stranger in a strange land and more like a member of a community.
As these two young deaf men proclaimed, the attractions of other deaf people are those associated with home. Home is where we relax, where we are comfortable. Home is where we know we are always welcome. At home we kick off our shoes and putter about in our slippers. We do not have to watch our every word at home; those at home understand us and we understand them. They accept us as we are and do not correct our every move. Home is our refuge, a place of safety. It is significant that these two deaf authors both used the same word to characterize their initial encounters with strangers who, like themselves, were deaf.

Home is not necessarily the house in which we live. For many deaf children, the house they share with normally hearing parents is not warm, friendly, relaxed, and comfortable. It is a place which they find evidence that they are not welcome, at least not with their handicap. Parents do not accommodate to their communication differences, rather deaf children are expected to communicate like their parents. They must try to speak, and the parents do not need to try to sign.

Home is also a place in which others will be interested in you. They will have similar experiences, similar tastes, similar views. And if your opinions differ, that is all right, too—when you are at home. At home, you know what you can do, what you cannot; what you should do, what you should not; you easily anticipate the actions and reactions of others who share your home.

Is it too extreme to equate the Deaf Community with home? We think not. True, in every case, deaf people do not find the Deaf Community all that homelike. They meet some rejection; they have quarrels, disagreements, disappointments. But is that saying the Deaf Community is not ideal? Neither are many homes, but at the end of the day, home is where we want to be. So it is for a majority of deaf people: the Deaf Community is where they want to be. It is the centripetal force in the lives of deaf people.

Interaction. Rejection and attraction work together to bring about the Deaf Community and to hold it together. The two forces have the same resultant: deaf people are driven away from the general community and attracted to the Deaf Community. That is the essence of the theory.