Deaf culture has been shrouded in mystery in a way which has stripped the community of its natural beauty. The hearing world’s fascination with British Sign Language has reduced a heavily visual and emotive language into a form of entertainment – which can be used in music videos by successful singer-songwriters, or as a secret code to insult friends. The deaf community hasn’t fully opened its doors, and now hearing people long for the truth.
Poor deaf awareness is a self-fulfilling prophecy. In a society which is constantly shifting towards more textual forms of communication, our ability to hold a simple conversation is dwindling as we are forced to venture away from the comfort zone of Facebook, Twitter or iMessage. The opportunity to learn another language in today’s society is always something most people are reluctant to commit to, and for the deaf community, that is the problem.
At the heart of deaf culture is British Sign Language. It’s the community’s gatekeeper, determining who is worthy of accessing such an exclusive and mysterious subculture which – to hearing people – would open their eyes to some of the many struggles deaf individuals face as part of their everyday lives. However, this sense of enlightenment is only available to hearing people who know or learn sign language, or can afford the hefty price tag of a British Sign Language qualification. The deaf community needs to lower its guard, and the hearing community needs to value communication in its most truest form: face-to-face conversation.
The hearing world must stop looking at deaf culture through documentaries which only separate themselves from engaging with deaf culture directly. The self-fulfilling prophecy of poor deaf awareness has forced hearing people to watch and learn – to observe – through media portrayals of the deaf community. Only now are these representations taking a more positive or neutral stance, but there’s still a way to go. Much like how watching travel programmes can provide us with a misunderstanding of another country’s culture, our refusal to explore a culture first-hand has given birth to poor deaf awareness, misconceptions and stereotypes. It has led hearing people to wonder how they can actually communicate with a deaf person, and rather than pursue the answer to this question, they shy away, and watch from afar.
The need for hearing people to actually approach members of the Deaf culture and get to know them has always been stressed by the deaf community. Numerous videos and articles have highlighted how welcoming deaf people can be, and how keen they are to have a conversation with pretty much anyone. The intrigue hearing people have for learning more about the deaf community is there, but the fear of an awkward introduction has mostly likely scared the majority of them.
Text messaging is continuing to grow in our society and is something which unites both the hearing and deaf worlds thanks to it being a universal way of communicating. It’s a language both communities can speak and it needs to be harnessed because of that.
After all, it’s through talking to people and experiencing new cultures first-hand that stereotypes are challenged, misconceptions are debunked and relationships are built. It’s time for the deaf community to lower the drawbridge, and for hearing people to make the first move by saying hello. It starts now.