What Is Deaf Culture?

As a linguistic minority, Deaf people share some commonalities in life that help form Deaf culture, including shared norms, values, history, beliefs and attitudes. A Deaf community shares a language and heritage, and may involve people who are not only deaf and hard of hearing, but also sign language interpreters and people who work and socialize with Deaf people.

Deaf culture is a subculture of people whose life experiences are significantly shaped by being deaf in a hearing world. People who identify as being part of Deaf culture usually come together over a shared language, which is American Sign Language for many people in the United States. This aspect of culture takes different forms across the country, as the grammatical structure and movements for words differ depending on location. American Sign Language has its own history, rhythm and varied dialects.

There is tremendous diversity within the Deaf community, just as there is in most other communities. However, many people within the group resent any notion that they are disabled or disadvantaged, instead maintaining a positive attitude toward deafness and an appreciation for sign language that offers them cultural unity.

There are clear mores that define interactions within the Deaf community, including expectations that govern exiting a conversation and interrupting others. To people outside of the community, the way a person ends a conversation may seem abrupt, though it is entirely acceptable to other deaf individuals. Likewise, many people who rely on an interpreter arrive early for events as to ensure visibility to the interpreter.