Raising and Educating a Deaf Child

International experts answer your questions about the choices, controversies, and decisions faced by the parents and educators of deaf and hard-of-hearing children.

Culture and Communities

My husband and I are hearing, and we have a deaf son who attends the nearby local deaf school (he doesn’t stay there overnight). Recently one of the other parents from the school told us that our son isn’t Deaf, he’s deaf. I don’t have any idea what she’s talking about. What is Deaf vs. deaf?

Question from Kitty B., Scranton, PA. Posted May 11, 2009.
Response from Marc Marschark

Most commonly, deaf refers generally to the audiological condition of having a hearing loss significant enough to disrupt the use of spoken language for day-to-day activities. Deaf is used to refer to people who see themselves as part of a community bound together by historical successes and challenges and a common language, whether it be ASL, British Sign Language (BSL), Croatian Sign Language (Hrvatski Znakovni Jezik or HZJ), or Australian Sign Language (Auslan). References both to the Deaf community and to Deaf culture thus are typically written in the capitalized form. The Deaf community also has a rich history including art, humor, and literature in addition to sharing most of those enjoyed by hearing people. In this sense, it offers the same kind of cultural diversity available in the United States to African-American, Hispanic, or Jewish families who can appreciate both mainstream American culture and a link to a special heritage. Many deaf people thus do not consider themselves Deaf.

My daughter is deaf (13 years old) and I want her to learn about “deaf culture” but I don’t have the first clue how to find another deaf person for her to interact with let alone how to communicate with that person. What do you suggest?

Question from Michael M., Greensboro, NC. Posted May 11, 2009.

You’re lucky, you live in a city with some good resources. At least when I lived there, Greensboro had the Guilford County Communication Center for the Deaf, which was a good resource for people like you (try the county government pages of the telephone book). For those who live in a city or county without such a resource, another possibility is a local community college or other program where people go to learn American Sign Language (like UNC Greensboro). That would be a starting place to find out who and what is available. Visiting a Deaf club might be suggested, but I think that might be a little much to start. A better beginning place would be your child’s school, the school district office, or city/county social services. Another possibility is to contact one of the three parent organizations in the U.S. to see if if one has a chapter near you (see our Partners page). That would not only be a benefit to your daughter, but you would have an opportunity to meet other parents of deaf kids and be able to share information, concerns, and ideas.