15. Deaf People as a Lingusitic Minority
There are two basic ways of perceiving Deaf people: (a) as a disabled population or (b) as a linguistic minority.
The former is known as the “medical” or “pathological” view, and it’s the view that, until fairly recently, governed education of the deaf and the provision of social services to Deaf clients. Simply put, according to this view, deaf people have a sensory loss and need fixing to function as contributing members of society. They have something “broken” that requires “fixing.”
The other view, however, “cultural” view, embodies a radically different perspective—seeing deaf people as whole. According to this view, deaf people are not broken or missing a piece of themselves; they are members of a linguistic minority, just as any ethnic minority would be.
Education of the deaf was, for many years, medically-based. And it failed. Certainly, there were a few shining successes, but, on the whole, most alumni have felt frustrated, angry, and shortchanged. Oralism is the practical application of the medical philosophy, and has, on the whole, been a catastrophic failure.
In the cultural view, education of the deaf is not a medical problem but a linguistic challenge. The aim of education of the deaf is not to mold deaf students into an approximation of those with full hearing (“hearing and speaking deaf people”), but to use sign language as the foundation of communication, education, and literacy, to tap into the strengths of ASL to enable Deaf children to develop strong language skills.
This is why we capitalize the term “Deaf,” to emphasize cultural affiliation, our identity as ASL speakers, our participation in the Deaf community.
We want to be considered as a part of our nation’s diversity. The U.S. is a nation founded on and embracing diversity—in race, ethnicity, religion, opinions, gender identity, talents. We see the Deaf community as a strand in the nation’s colorful tapestry of diversity—just as American Indians, Italian-Americans, and Cuban-Americans are. Just as women, Blacks, and Gays are.
We the Deaf People represents culturally-Deaf people. There are organizations representing the interests of medically-deaf people, especially those who identify as oral-deaf and late-deafened, but we, as culturally-Deaf people, have our own interests and seek fair representation of those interests.
We are committed to the cultural view of Deaf people, as opposed to the medical view. We insist on our right to be identified as members of a linguistic-minority community, and to have our linguistic rights respected.