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Understanding Deaf Culture

Some deaf and hard of hearing people do not identify as having a disability or see themselves as experiencing a limitation. Instead, they identify as a member of a cultural and linguistic group. This group of people use the term Deaf with a capital D to reflect their cultural identification. Their culture, known as Deaf culture, was developed based in part on a shared language, which in the United States is American Sign Language (ASL). Like any other culture, Deaf culture has its own values, norms, community institutions, and history that are important to understand and incorporate when serving Deaf survivors.

Implications for Service Providers

While not everyone who is deaf or hard of hearing identifies with Deaf culture, many members of the Deaf community do. Organizations must integrate knowledge of Deaf culture into and change their policies, practices, and attitudes to deliver culturally competent services that effectively meet the needs of Deaf survivors.

There has been significant movement within the Deaf community to develop culturally specific services. Over 15 Deaf-specific organizations and programs to address domestic violence and sexual assault exist around the country and more programs are currently being developed. However, since most communities across the country do not yet have these programs, hearing services have an important role to play in meeting the needs of Deaf survivors by offering culturally competent services that are accessible and welcoming.

In this Section

This section is designed to provide you with a basic overview of the Deaf community and its culture so you can begin to understand the cultural background of Deaf survivors. It includes information on:

For information on hearing loss from an audiological or non-cultural perspective, go to Understanding Disability.