What I’ve Learned at Gallaudet: “deaf” Verses “Deaf”

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For my second series of blogs, I want to share some of the things I have learned while attending Gallaudet University.

So, what have I learned at Gallaudet?

Well, I have learned many things, so to narrow such a broad topic, I want to focus on the things that I have learned that I would have never learned anywhere else–things that have enlightened my views about the world, culture, and identity, especially concerning the Deaf community. So, here goes!

“d”eaf Verses “D”eaf

Okay, so this one I learned both at Gallaudet and from reading books about Deaf Culture, but it is nevertheless an important concept to grasp. I do not want to get into the whole who-is-“D”eaf-and-who-is-“d”eaf controversy, but I do want to give you a general idea of what these two terms mean.

To begin with, anyone can be “d”eaf: your grandmother, a neighbor, a person who signs, a person who does not sign, Helen Keller, Thomas Edison, and Bill Clinton. These people are characterized as being deaf because they have a hearing loss. They may or may not have a hearing aid or cochlear implant and they may or may not sign, fingerspell, or lipread. They do not have their own culture, language, or community based on their hearing loss. In most cases, these people see themselves as handicapped and wish that they were hearing (able to hear) and so they try to “fix” themselves with technology.

Being “D”eaf is different. “Deaf” means that someone is a specific kind of person with a hearing loss. They use sign language (ASL in the United States) as their primary means of communication, they are actively involved with the Deaf community, they pass on their native language to others, they participate in Deaf culture, and they are proud of their deafness. They do not see  themselves as handicapped or disabled, and in most cases, they do not wish to be hearing (though some might just so that they can avoid all the discrimmination they get sometimes).

They have no desire to be “fixed” though, I believe, that there is more of a movement of acceptance for those who do want a hearing aid or CI if it benefits them somewhat. Notice that I said “benefit.” Hearing aids and cochlear implants continue to be a sensitive issue because they are seen as both beneficial (not corrective) and also as an attempt to “fix” something that is not broken.

So, without getting into too much controversy, that is the difference between “deaf” and “Deaf.” And, that is what I’ve learned at Gallaudet.

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