Deaf Culture and Deafness: What Realtimers Should Know
by Tess Crowder
According to the National Association of the Deaf, there are approximately 28 million people in the United States with some degree of hearing loss. There are various degrees of deafness ranging from mild to profound, which can affect not only the volume, but also the ability to process sound. Deafness can be congenital or caused by illness, trauma, environmental factors (such as loud music or machinery) or the aging process.
The phrases deaf-mute and deaf and dumb are outdated and no longer acceptable. The majority of deaf individuals have the ability to speak, but choose not to use their voices. It is difficult for them to learn speech when they cannot hear sound, and they simply feel uncomfortable speaking.
The phrase hard-of-hearing is now preferred over the phrase hearing-impaired. It has become politically correct to put the individual first, as in individuals who are deaf, or individuals who are hard-of-hearing.
Deaf Culture is the term used to describe the population of individuals who are deaf and who share a common language and way of life. This group of individuals prefers not to view deafness as a disability, but rather as a culture, having a common bond, and prefer living in the "Deaf World" as opposed to the "Hearing World." Their social life is comprised of Deaf clubs, organizations and activities, such as Deaf schools, Deaf churches, ASL clubs, Deaf baseball leagues, Deaf bowling leagues, Deaf bingo, "silent" dinners, etc. The Deaf are proud of their language, their culture and their heritage, hence the phrase "Deaf Pride."
People who lose their hearing after acquiring language skills or later in life are commonly referred to as late deaf. These individuals view deafness as a disability, losing their ability to communicate in the hearing world, the only world they've known. The onset of deafness is devastating to a hearing person with little or no knowledge of sign language or speechreading.
Late deafness commonly leads to emotional and psychological stages of denial, anger, depression, isolation, grief and gradually (and hopefully) acceptance. These stages can take years to work through and can be repeated throughout a lifetime.
Everyday life becomes a struggle to communicate with family, friends, co-workers and acquaintances. Group conversations are frustrating and impossible to follow. Family gatherings on holidays and social events in general are dreaded and avoided. A night out at a movie theater is no longer possible. Drive-through services, such as fast-food restaurants, banks, dry cleaners, etc., are no longer an alternative. Paper and pen must be carried in a pocket or purse at all times to be prepared for any situation that involves the need to communicate.
Learning sign language as a mode of communication is an option, but has its limitations. Family and friends are encouraged to learn sign, but this is not always successful. Learning to sign takes time and practice, the same as learning any other foreign language. Although sign language has been a tremendous improvement in the lives of late-deafened and hard-of-hearing people, English will always be their first language.
It is this group of late-deafened individuals who can benefit from realtime reporting services in courtrooms, school settings, seminars, meetings and counseling sessions. Realtime reporting has opened doors of communication and removed them from isolation, providing them with the opportunity to be included once again in the hearing world.
By learning more about deafness, Deaf Culture and basic sign language skills, reporters will be able to communicate more fully with the community utilizing their services. The more reporters understand about deafness, the more comfortable they are in providing services to the Deaf Community and the more comfortable the Deaf Community is with them.
Realtime reporting is a profession that not only enhances and enriches the lives of deaf and hard-of-hearing people, but also provides a tremendous amount of satisfaction in the lives of the reporters, knowing that they've improved the lives of others and really made a difference.
About the Author
Tess Crowder, RPR, owns a freelance reporting agency in Tampa, Fla. Throughout the year, she presents a seminar entitled "Basic Conversational Signing for Realtimers/Realtiming in the Deaf Community." For more information, call 813-222-8981.
Organizations for People Who Are Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing
Contact your local Deaf Service Center for information on support groups and meetings in your area.
Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf
3417 Volta Place NW
Washington, DC 20007-2778
202-337-5220 TTY and voice
Empowers persons who are hearing-impaired to function independently by promoting universal rights and optimal opportunities to learn to use, maintain and improve all aspects of their verbal communications, including their abilities to speak, speechread, use residual hearing and process both spoken and written language.
American Tinnitus Association
P.O. Box 5
Portland, OR 97207
Provides information about tinnitus and referrals to local hearing professionals/support groups nationwide. Also provides a bibliography service, funds scientific research related to tinnitus and offers workshops for professionals.
Association of Late-Deafened Adults
10310 Main Street
Fairfax, VA 22030
Supports the empowerment of people who are deafened. Provides resources and information and promotes advocacy and awareness of the needs of deafened adults.
Cochlear Implant Club International
P.O. Box 464
Buffalo, NY 14223-0464
Provides support and education to people who have received cochlear implants.
National Association of the Deaf
814 Thayer Avenue
Silver Spring, MD 20910
301-587-1788, 301-587-1789 TTY, 301-587-1791 Fax
The nation's largest organization safeguarding the accessibility and civil rights of 28 million deaf and hard-of-hearing Americans in education, employment, health care and telecommunications.
National Information Center on Deafness
800 Florida Avenue NE
Washington, DC 20002-3695
Centralized source of accurate, up-to-date, objective information on topics dealing with deafness and hearing loss.
Self-Help for Hard-of-Hearing People Inc.
7910 Woodmont Ave., Suite 1200
Bethesda, MD 20814
301-657-2248, 301-657-2249 TTY, 301-913-9413 Fax
Promotes awareness and information about hearing loss, communication, assistive devices and alternative communication skills through publications, exhibits and presentations.