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Deaf culture

All cultures, including Deaf culture have four components: language, behavioral norms, values and traditions. For Deaf culture, vision plays a significant role in each of the four components. People who are Deaf rely strongly on their vision to communicate and gather information.


American Sign Language (ASL) is:

  • The preferred language of the Deaf community
  • A visual gestural language
  • A language with its own syntax and grammatical structure

American Sign Language is not:

  • Signs in English word order
  • An auditory or written language
  • A universal language

Historically, ASL has been passed from one generation to the next in schools. Even when ASL was not allowed in the classroom, deaf staff and peers discreetly used their cherished language to communicate. ASL has also been preserved through church and other social gatherings.

Behavioral norms

Making eye contact
  • Essential for effective communication
  • Important because people who are Deaf read the nuances of facial expressions and body language for additional information
Attention getting
  • Hand waving is most common
  • Tapping the shoulder or arm is acceptable
  • Flickering lights on and off is also common
  • Tapping on a table or stomping foot on a floor is done occasionally
  • Using a third person to relay attention is sometimes used in a crowded room
Meeting others within the Deaf community:
  • Greetings often include hugs instead of handshakes
  • Conversations tend to include elaboration about lives and daily occurrences
  • Conversations tend to be open and direct
  • There is an interest in other people's connection with the Deaf community


The following are highly valued and vital aspects of everyday living by the Deaf community. Notice the value comparisons between people who are deaf and people who can hear.

People who are Deaf value

  • ASL
  • Eyes (rely on vision)
  • Hands/signs
  • Videophone (VP); Relay Service; TTY
  • Visual/vibrating alerting systems
  • Video mail
  • Interpreters
  • Captioning
  • Deaf clubs, deaf civic and social organizations

People who can hear value

  • Spoken language
  • Ears (rely on sound)
  • Mouth/speech
  • Telephone
  • Sound alerting system
  • Voice mail
  • Speakers
  • Dialogue
  • Civic and social organizations


Traditions of the Deaf community reflect their cultural values. Many of their traditions are based on face-to-face gatherings of people who are Deaf, because communication-the lifeblood of any culture-only happens visually in this community.

Traditions materialize in the strong family-like ties and lifelong camaraderie that develops between individuals. Some examples include their strong devotion to community Deaf club/events, Deaf alumni events, senior citizen gatherings, religious activities, conferences and sporting events at the local, regional and national level. These provide a social gathering opportunity, a way to participate in political and economic decisions affecting Deaf citizens and a means of grooming new leaders to carry on Deaf community traditions. Events are frequently filled with entertainment such as Deaf folklore, arts, history, ASL poetry, songs and joke-telling.

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