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A Word About Deaf Culture

In learning a foreign language, it is important to understand the culture of the people who use the language. It is within a community of people that a language is created. This language is an integral part of the community’s culture. American Sign Language is the language of the Deaf community. American Sign Language is usually referred to as ASL. ASL is a part of Deaf culture.

Deaf culture refers to the way Deaf people live.

  • Deaf people are those people with a hearing loss who identify with the Deaf community.
  • Being able to sign ASL is an important criteria for accepting oneself as a member of the Deaf community
  • Not everyone who has a hearing loss says that they belong to the Deaf community.
  • We use the term “Deaf” to talk about people and events related to the Deaf community.
  • We use the term “deaf” to talk about anyone who has a hearing loss that makes it difficult to communicate by speaking and hearing.
  • Deaf culture is about Deaf people and the way they live.

Here are some notes about Deaf people:

  • Deaf people are just like any other group of people. They eat, dress, and have jobs just like anyone else. There are more similarities between Deaf and Hearing people than there are differences.
  • Deaf people all have some degree of hearing loss and use sign language as a major means of communicating with one another. In the United States and most parts of Canada, the sign language used is American Sign Language.
  • The Deaf community includes the lives and activities associated with Deaf people.
  • There are no hard and fast geographical boundaries that identify the Deaf community.
  • It can be a small community if we are talking about the Deaf community in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
  • Or it can be a large community if we are talking about the community of Deaf people in the United States.
  • Or it can be a highly populated community if we are talking about the community of Deaf people in the Washington, DC area.

The term Deaf culture is a reference to a wide range of activities, technologies, and organizations. A discussion about Deaf culture in the United States, for example, can touch upon the following topics:

  • Organizations
    • National Association of the Deaf
    • USA Deaf Sports Federation
  • Education
    • Gallaudet University (Washington, DC)
    • National Technical Institute for the Deaf (Rochester, New York)
    • California State University in Northridge
    • Schools programs for deaf children
  • Technology
    • TTY’s (a keyboard device that allows deaf people to use the phone), video calls, text messaging
    • Close-captioning on TV and videos
  • Entertainment
    • National Theater of the Deaf
    • Deaf actors and actresses acting in movies and TV programs (ex. “Switched at Birth”)
  • Literature
    • Newspapers and news magazines devoted to information about the Deaf community
    • Books and articles written by Deaf authors
  • And much more!

You will learn more about Deaf culture as you go through the ASL courses in the Signing Online American Sign Language series.


  • Language in Motion: Exploring the Nature of Sign. By Jerome Schein and David Stewart, (1995). Published by Gallaudet University Press.
  • American Sign Language the Easy Way. By David Stewart, (1998). Published by Barron’s Educational Series.
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