In my soon-to-be-published novel Lip Reader, a church pastor goes out of his way to make sure his deaf congregants understand the music and sermon. He uses sign language while preaching. The music is interpreted through sign and a loud beating drum. Any deaf person visiting this church for the first time would likely feel a connection with the other deaf people there.
Most of us are aware that a Deaf culture exists. Simply visit a state school for the deaf, and observe students and teachers communicating mostly through American Sign Language (ASL). Or sit in on a coffee house "chat" with a local Deaf social group, and notice how quiet the room is while attendees use sign. The Deaf culture is something its participants are proud of, a culture with a shared ASL language and communication style that goes back many years.
Now observe a local meeting of a hearing loss support group. The keynote speaker communicates with both sign language and orally. A man sitting in the back relies on an ASL translator to understand the speaker. A row of people read real-time captions from an overhead screen as a person types what the speaker is saying. Two women sitting up front watch the speaker's lips attentively to catch each word spoken. All of these people, except the sign interpreter and typist, are hard of hearing. Yet they all have different ways of communicating and understanding one another.
Without a shared communication style, can individuals with hearing loss really have their own sense of community or culture? Readers of this blog recently shared their opinions...
"I have total hearing loss in both ears. But because I was adult deafened and am oral and do not use sign language, I am not considered culturally Deaf, rather hard of hearing. Yet I am "deafer" than 95 percent of the students at the local state school for the deaf who have some residual hearing. I am in between cultures. I cannot participate in the hearing community, nor the Deaf community." - Sherry Mason, Missouri
"My husband has hearing loss, and it is very difficult to hear in restaurants and other public places. I think people who don't deal with hearing challenges are unaware of the obstacles they create. Is that cultural?" - Amy Hemingway Smith, Texas
"How about coming up with a definition of 'culture?' And with some parameters for what you mean by 'hard of hearing' people? Do you mean only people with partial hearing loss who use speech (and maybe speechreading) to communicate? I've been assuming you are distinguishing between Deaf people (who use sign language) and hard of hearing people who don't, but not everyone will realize that. Also, I still think that only people who socialize with several oral hard of hearing people at the same time can really answer the question. People who have never done so aren't in a position to know themselves whether or not there is a HOH culture--they won't have seen it in action." -Dana Mulvany, Washington, D.C. (has hearing loss)
The last comment raises a good question. How can a hard of hearing (HOH) culture be defined?
- A shared communication style. They prefer to speak orally, instead of only using sign language. Lip reading (also known as speechreading) is also a common way to understand one another.
- A strong reliance on technology. Hearing aids and assistive listening devices are available to help the HOH population understand speech and hear important sounds.
- A strong reliance on closed captioning. Captions assist with understanding television, movies, and (when available) live presentations. This could also fall under the technology category.
- Emotional connection. This would include not always feeling connected with the hearing world because of difficulty understanding speech. For those not comfortable with sign language, they may not feel part of the Deaf culture. Emotionally, individuals with hearing loss might feel somewhat isolated from the hearing and/or Deaf "worlds."
If a hard of hearing culture does exist, what do you think defines it? Post your comments below.
About the Author
Shanna Groves considers herself hard of hearing. She is the author of the novel Lip Reader (Outskirts Press, May/June 2009 release) and creator of the Lip Reader Blog.