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An Introduction to Deaf Culture & Behavior

deaf culture

“Hear the birds? Sometimes I like to pretend that I’m deaf
and try to imagine what it’s like to not be able to hear them.
It’s not that bad.” – Larry David

We are all human.

When we come across differences that are unfamiliar to us, it causes us to pause and react. Behavior might be a choice, but it certainly takes practice. Meeting a deaf person in the workplace can be rare and, thus, interacting with them may take some getting used to. The first step to learning how to interact with the deaf and hard of hearing is to understand their behaviors and why they have them.

Let’s begin with some key terms:

  • Hard of Hearing: an individual with mild to moderate hearing loss
  • deaf: (lowercase D) the medical term used to describe profound/severe hearing loss
  • Deaf: (uppercase D) the cultural identification used by deaf individuals who typically use Sign Language and interact closely with other Deaf people

The deaf and hard of hearing create an incredibly diverse spectrum, with each individual having different accommodation and communications needs, and varying attachments to Deaf Culture.

Wait… culture? 

Yes – Deaf Culture is vibrant, lively, and full of talent in all shapes and colors. Despite living in all corners of the globe, they are a tightly knit community that interacts now more than ever (especially online). It is important to understand that Deaf Culture operates with the core belief that they can live life to the fullest without sound; that they do not need to be “fixed” to thrive. Their language and cultural norms lead to some noticeable behaviors:

Behavior: They are more likely to be direct communicators who get straight to the point, and prefer not to “sugarcoat.” This can be interpreted as abrasiveness, especially in the workplace.

Why: They work harder to “hear.” Concentration fatigue sets in much faster for the deaf than their hearing counterparts, especially for those who read lips. Your ability to understand information includes all of your senses, including hearing. When the ability to hear is affected your ability to receive information takes a bit more effort.

Behavior: They are more expressive with their body language and facial expressions. Even when they are not using Sign Language, they may display more exaggerated gestures and expressions compared to their hearing peers.

Why: Their native language and culture value these traits. Sign Language incorporates facial expressions and body language to emphasize and provide subtext to what they are saying, as inflection does in a verbal conversation. This naturally flows into how they communicate with the world.

Behavior: They may look at different areas of your face throughout a conversation (i.e. your mouth, forehead, etc.)

Why: To “see” the tone of your voice. The deaf cannot hear inflections or emphasis in words, so they look for visual clues. These cues are apparent in movements of the mouth, eyebrows, and posture. People who have a more flat expression are much harder for the deaf to read and may lead to misinterpretation.

Deaf behaviors are simply a reflection of their cultural beliefs, and allows them to provide a completely unique world-view. When we welcome their perspective, we are striving for innovation and growth while prioritizing diversity and inclusion; a new pair of eyes that can see through background-noise and reveal core issues, and resolve them. Consider what Deaf behaviors could help your company grow and how including them in the workplace can be invaluable.

Interested in sharing information and tools like these with your organization? Coeus Creative Group has you covered with trainings, coaching, strategic planning, and more! Contact us today to learn more about our offerings.

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