The Characteristics of Deaf Culture

Updated on June 23, 2018
Carola Finch profile image

Carola has worked and volunteered for agencies serving the hearing loss community for many years. She is also a freelance writer.


Over the course of many years, I worked for several agencies serving the deaf and hard of hearing community. At times, I was the only hearing person in a department with a deaf boss and co-workers. As a result, I was immersed in American Sign Language and the unique cultural norms of the deaf community.

I have observed that people with profound hearing loss are a diverse group with a variety of communication styles, such as lipreading and speech. This article will look at people who identify themselves members of the deaf community with a distinct language and culture.

What is the Deaf Community?

Some people with profound hearing loss embrace their deafness as part of their cultural identity, and sometimes captalize the "d" in Deaf.

Some members of the community do not consider themselves disabled and feel that they don’t need to be “fixed” by doctors through medical interventions such as cochlear implants. Instead, they see themselves as a part of a unique linguistic group with a distinct culture.

Deaf people prefer to be called deaf, and dislike the term “hearing-impaired,” according to several deaf groups and agencies such as the National Association of the Deaf. The term “hearing impaired” is vague and tends to lump diverse groups such as the hard of hearing, late-deafened, and deaf into one category. The deaf also dislike the “impaired” label, since deaf people do not consider themselves deficient or disabled in any way.

Deaf people also object to terms that they feel are inaccurate such as "deaf-mute," which perpetuates the myth that they cannot speak. Many deaf people do speak. They also strongly object to the term “deaf and dumb,” feeling that the term indicates a lack of intelligence.

The deaf community is a closely-knit group who bond through time shared in schools for the deaf, deaf clubs, associations, sports organizations, religious groups, and regular social events. Some deaf people become active advocates for deaf rights.


American Sign Language

The National Association of the Deaf calls American Sign Language the "backbone" of deaf culture. The book "American Sign Language, a teacher's resource text on grammar and culture" by Charlotte Baker and Dennis Cokely describes signing as a complete language in itself that has its own grammar and syntax. When a sign is not available for something such as a formal name, the deaf use a system of handshapes representing the English alphabet to fingerspell words.

The nature of sign language has created some unique cultural norms. For example, when deaf people sign to each other, they stand further apart than hearing people would during a conversation. It is difficult to go around deaf people signing to each other in narrow places like hallways, so it is not usually a big deal if a person walks quickly between two signing people. The person needs to go through fast enough so that the deaf people don't miss any signs. Interrupting the conversation by saying "excuse me" before going through two signing people may be considered rude in the deaf community.

Hearing people tend to let their eyes rove during conversations. In deaf culture, constant eye contact is essential for communication. Deaf people feel that breaking eye contact is rude.

Deaf Culture: Customs Pt. III, Disruptions to Communication (ASL)

Sign Language Interpreting

Many members of the community consider sign as their first language and prefer to communicate with hearing people via a sign language interpreter. Interpreters are highly-trained professionals who can assist either in person or through a video relay service (VRS) or remote interpreting services (VRI). VRS services help hearing and deaf people to communicate by phone through a sign language interpreter who is seen on a computer screen or on a videophone. VRI interpreters can serve from another location via a video camera. The hearing person, and the deaf person can be broadcast live onto a screen to watch each other communicate.

Schools for the Deaf

Many deaf people who were educated in schools of the deaf feel a strong bond with other deaf people, as the video below demonstrates. Deaf schools tend to create a strong sense of community and a shared culture. With the advent of cochlear implants and other factors, deaf schools and special programs for deaf people are amalgamating or closing. Unfortunately, several schools around the world have been rocked by abuse scandals and have been criticized for lower academic scores than regular schools.

Attention-Getting Behaviors

Deaf people have developed various ways of getting people’s attention in their silent world, such as:

  • A gentle touch - usually a tap on a shoulder
  • Handwaves
  • Vibration, such as a foot stomping or a knock on a table
  • Turning a light-switch on and off

Deaf Culture: Customs Pt. I, Grabbing Attention (ASL)


Deaf people can be very blunt and open in their communication, making comments that hearing people probably not say. For example, if a deaf boss found an error in my work, he would point it out and add something like, ”That was a stupid thing to do.” Deaf people tend to explain things such as why they were late, unlike hearing people who probably would not say anything.

Adapting to Activities of Everyday Living

Because deaf people communicate visually with their hands, they adapt to daily life in unique ways. For example, a deaf driver may wait until traffic stops to sign to a passenger or will sign to him briefly with one hand. They may chose to sign with one hand during meals or when they are holding something. At a performance, deaf people may show their appreciation by raising their hands and twisting them in the air instead of clapping.

Hello and Goodbye

Deaf people generally greet one another with a hug. The form of greeting used for hearing people depends on how close the relationship is between the deaf and the hearing person. Deaf people are sensitive to the fact that many hearing people are not comfortable with being hugged.

The deaf community is extremely close-knit and ending a visit can be difficult. A "deaf goodbye" is notorious for being long, with people saying bye numerous times and then continuing to talk.

Assistive Technology and Alerting Devices

Specially designed technology has become a part of the deaf lifestyle for many people. A special text telephone called a TTY has been used to connect deaf people for many years. These days, deaf people tend to use computer systems that enable them to communicate face to face over a computer screen or a videophone. Deaf people may also use alerting devices that make a light flash when the doorbell or the phone rings, or an alarm goes off. Fire Alarms with strobe lights may also be installed.

Adaptations for Hearing People

Deaf people will adapt their deaf cultural norms to accommodate hearing co-workers and friends. For example, deaf people normally get attention by a touch on the shoulder. My deaf co-workers realized that if they came up behind me and tapped me on the shoulder as I typed away on my computer, I would be startled and distracted. Instead, my deaf co-workers or boss would stand beside me and waited patiently for me to notice they were there. If a deaf person wanted my immediate attention, they usually flicked a light switch several times.

The deaf will ask, “Do you understand?” and will use gestures or mime if needed to make themselves understood. On the whole, most deaf people are patient and understanding when dealing with hearing people, especially those who do not know their unique language and culture.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

Questions & Answers

  • How does a deaf person show appreciation?

    In general, deaf people use some unique characteristics of sign language to express emotions such as gratitude. Facial expression is used to convey the "tone of voice" such as joy, anger, sadness, or sarcasm. Deaf people also use body positions, movements, and tension to indicate the intensity and scope of their emotions. Visual cues such as pursed lips for tiny things add meaning to the signs they use. Touch and hugging are also a big part of communication. Deaf people are also quite open and can be blunt when expressing feelings like appreciation.


Submit a Comment
  • sleepylog profile image


    7 years ago from Australia

    Interesting stuff. Thanks for this enlightening hub.


This website uses cookies

As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

Show Details
HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)