Deaf culture is a unique culture, which is created by deaf and hard-of-hearing people. For better understanding of this notion, one may understand what the word “culture” means. Culture is considered to be an integrated system, which includes all the things around definite group of people or nation: their beliefs, their behavior and way of thinking and finally their language and literature. Thus, it is clear that American deaf culture may be separated from American culture in general, as deaf people have their own American Sign Language, their own worldview, thoughts and beliefs.
The idea of Deaf culture appeared not long ago and that was very important for deaf community, as before it was seen only in terms of hearing loss but not in terms of its values and traditions.
The American Deaf community communicates with the help of American Sign Language (ASL), which is the core of its identity. ASL helps Deaf people to express themselves without sound by using the visual language of hands, bodies and faces. It helps people to share their experiences and values. This language if the most important aspect of Deaf culture and as any other language has its own history and even dialects. It is interesting that in different parts of the USA the way the sign is shown as well as some grammatical structures and rules can be different.
Deaf people with their own culture have positive attitude to their deafness and thus do not see themselves disadvantaged. They live their life and enjoy it as it is. Despite the fact that they have some physiological difference, they feel as if they were normal people, but who need to use special language for cultural unity and successful communication.
At the same time, there is not one Deaf community as many differences between various groups of Deaf people can be pointed out. The fact is that Deaf people live in different societies and parts of the country, have different political and religious beliefs, are employed in different careers, etc.
Besides, Deaf community has created their own etiquette rules, with the help of which hard-of-hearing and deaf people deal with hearing people and with each other. It goes without says that communication between Deaf and hearing people can be seen in terms of intercultural communication and the main domains of it (proxemics, paralinguistics and kinesics) are to be taken into consideration. Some aspects, such as, for example, tone, intonation and volume would not be important for such communication, while kinesics (eye gaze, facial expression and gestures) will be of the major importance.
As it is seen, communication between deaf people differs from that of hearing ones and the intercultural communication between Deaf and Hearing communities is a complex process with its own peculiarities. Let us single out the main peculiarities of Deaf culture, which may interfere with such an intercultural communication.
First of all, it needs to be mentioned that American Deaf Culture clearly qualifies as a collectivist culture with the emphasis on pooling recourses, the duty to share information, the boundary between insiders and outsiders, and loyalty to and strong identification with the group. In order to think like a Deaf person and understand him fully one should be born Deaf. People with hearing loss, however, closely communicate with hearing people and many of them work at regular jobs with not deaf people. At the same time, they belong only to Deaf community, as they are feel strong ties to it, and after work, they spend their time with Deaf people and within the Deaf community. Thus, the one of the main features of the Deaf culture is collectivism, while hearing culture seems to be more individualistic.
The mainstream American culture and Deaf culture differ in terms of context, which may be high or low. These notions deal with the question of how much the information must be made explicit in a given culture compared with how much is already understood implicitly because of shared experience. Thus, the high-context culture deals with the high dependence upon context, which means that if one does not share the same cultural experience as someone else, he might not understand what another person is talking about even if he know the language perfectly. Low-context cultures, in its turn, have low dependence on context and things will seem clearer. The American Deaf culture with its American Sign Language and the way it expresses people’s thoughts, is considered to be high-context, while mainstream American culture is low-context. This means that if one is a hearing person and knows ASL on a good level, he still may fail to understand what Deaf people are talking about without knowing the background of the conversation and its subject.
Another difference between two cultures is the way people introduce themselves. While Deaf people try to find out more information about social background and ask each other about schools, friends and work, hearing Americans ask each other what they do for living, where they live and what hobbies enjoy in order to learn more not about the social background but about their personal identity.
As to the sharing of information, in Deaf culture information is freely shared while in low-context cultures it is more personal and is shared with only a few people. Again, there are traces of collectivism and feeling oneself as an integral part of community.
Hence, it is not surprisingly that once the American Deaf culture was separated from the mainstream American one as there is a great deal of reasons for it. The Deaf Community is a unique group of people, who has many things to be proud of such as their language (ASL), traditions, worldview and set of special activities.