Becoming a part of the Deaf Community

If you or a loved one is deaf, there is a whole community of others like you that share a distinct, rich culture. Becoming involved with this community can be hugely beneficial and help you to find support and friendship among others who have shared similar experiences. Here is some background to help you understand the culture and how you can become a part of it.
 


Forms of communication

The Deaf Community has a unique shared language and culture. While there’s no universal sign language, there are recognised ‘language families’ in many countries across the world. In Australia, Auslan (Australian Sign Language) is officially accepted as a community language and has an inventive tradition of storytelling, humour and drama. This is now being enhanced with linguistic research. If you or your friends and family want to learn Auslan, it’s taught at TAFE, universities and adult education centres. There is also an ‘International Sign’ system that allows deaf people from different countries to communicate.

For deaf people, perceptions of the world are primarily visual, so the culture evolved behaviours and values that reflect this. There are complex and effective ways for deaf people to gain each other’s attention, take turns in conversations, ‘interrupt’ appropriately, introduce strangers and arrange living environments comfortably. These may be quite different from comparable behaviours among hearing people. Of course, years of experience trying to communicate with those who don’t understand them makes most deaf people very flexible and imaginative communicators.

Community events

There are various special events and get-togethers for people in the Deaf Community. For example, the Australian Deaf Games and the Deaflympics are held every four years. The next Australian Deaf Games will be held 2022 and the Deaflympics will be in 2021. There are also a range of national gatherings of deaf political and cultural organisations.

Cultural values

People in the Deaf Community sometimes have different values compared to others outside the culture. While attitudes have changed considerably in recent times, there’s still a tendency among some hearing people to view deaf children as ‘disadvantaged’ or ‘disabled’. Many deaf adults with deaf children disagree with that assessment. With about 10 per cent of children who are born deaf having deaf parents, many in the community view it as being part of a rich culture passed on by relatives, peers and friends.

Meeting deaf adults

If you, your child, or loved one has recently been diagnosed as deaf, it can be very valuable to meet with others from the community and learn about their language and culture. For parents in particular, the Deaf Community will be a vital resource to help with maximising your child’s experiences through different stages of growing up. Meeting other deaf people will highlight their capacity to have a rich, fulfilling life.

A note about the Deaf Community

The Deaf Community is considered a linguistic and cultural minority group. This is recognised in Australian government policy. So, just as we capitalise the names of some ethnic communities and cultures (for example: Italian, Jewish), some people in the community prefer deaf to be capitalised. However, not everyone who is completely or partially deaf will associate themselves with the community. When writing about the Deaf Community, Australian Hearing follows the inclusive terms used by the Deaf Society.