Deaf Culture is the collection of cultural beliefs, practices, language, history, literature, and shared institutions of deaf communities that use sign language as a primary means of communication. These complex factors greatly impact how people experience the world. In the United States, more than 19 million deaf individuals use American Sign Language (ASL) to communicate. Many experts argue that the lack of awareness of deafness in American society contributes largely to the misunderstanding of the deaf and their experiences.
By the early twentieth century, American Sign Language became a popular language. ASL appears in all walks of life including teachers, doctors, lawyers, and government workers. Though efforts are made in incorporating individuals of varying capabilities into all areas of American society, it is crucial for hearing individuals to familiarize themselves with Deaf Culture to better understand their community.
Gallaudet, founded over 100 years ago, was the first institution to offer special courses for deaf students. The Gallaudet curriculum is steeped in the history and culture of Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing individuals. Many deaf students attend Gallaudet to get a fulfilling and extensive education. Gallaudet also teaches hearing individuals in courses for learning, translating, and interpreting ASL.
For students who learn ASL from a young age, their experiences in American Sign Language extend beyond the classroom. Beginners start to understand the significance of facial expressions, hand movements, and body movements that signify different spoken and written words. ASL literature and signed dialogues expand the life experiences of deaf people, teaching them how to communicate with others.
In recent years, many developments in science and technology have helped to further develop the understanding deafness. Neurological and neurobiological research suggests that there are differences between the brains of deaf people and those of hearing people. This has led to the development of new methods of diagnosing neurological conditions in the deaf. The advent of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990 has added another layer of legal protection for the deaf. Work in education and advocacy resulted in programs and policies that promote equal treatment of the deaf in employment settings. However, there are still many gaps in the field of medical services and compensation for the deaf. The lack of accessible health care and services for the deaf remains a pressing issue.
The use of sign language as a secondary language to communicate with the deaf is not widespread in the United States. The few universities that offer courses on this subject do not require students to learn or use sign language. Efforts are underway to provide access to the Internet and make sign language available in schools. The challenge will persist as hearing individuals continue to educate themselves on the lives, culture, and hardships of the Deaf community.