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.

Question from Kitty B., Scranton, PA

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.