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15 Ways To Improve Your Deaf Awareness

In honor of Deaf Awareness Week (September 21-28), here are some hot tips for being a more Deaf Aware human.

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1. Know the difference between deaf and Deaf

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Writing deaf with a lower case “d” denotes the medical condition of deafness. Those who are deaf cannot hear or understand speech at any level of amplification.

People who identify as “Deaf with a capital D” consider themselves members of Deaf culture, which has it’s own beautiful language, art, humor, and customs. Deafness is not limited by age, gender, religion, or race. The Deaf community is diverse and proud!

2. Ditch the offensive old terminology

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Terms like “deaf & dumb,” “mute,” and “hearing impaired” come from a time in history where deaf people were oppressed and isolated from society. Hearing culture created these labels without ever considering that deaf people could have opinions or the desire to express themselves. These terms carry negative connotations, implying that deafness makes one inferior. Instead, try using: deaf, hard of hearing, hearing loss, Deaf or native signer (for those who use ASL to communicate).

3. Stop assuming all deaf people want to hear

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Cochlear implants and hearing aids are technologies which help many deaf/HoH people adapt to hearing society. But keep in mind that not everyone is able to utilize these devices, and some people simply don’t want to. Members of the Deaf community do not view themselves as impaired. Deaf people do not want to be “fixed” or “cured,” because they love their language and are proud of their culture.

4. Start thinking of deafness in positive terms

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Have you ever wished you could turn down the distracting noise while reading or taking a test? Wouldn’t it be great to silence your neighbor’s barking dogs? Deafness has it’s own set of benefits!

Those who use ASL to communicate can talk with their mouths full or hold a conversation in a loud nightclub. Deaf people also have heightened visual senses which generally makes them more aware of their surroundings— statistically, deaf people are better drivers than their hearing peers!

5. Appreciate the "Deaf Can!" attitude

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Deaf people can travel, play sports, go to college, hold respectable jobs, create art and music, be great parents, and make a difference in the world. They can do everything hearing people do, they just do it a little differently.

6. Understand how American Sign Language works

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ASL is not just a visual interpretation of English— it is a language all it’s own with unique sentence structure, grammar, and vocabulary. When using sign language to communicate, facial expressions, body, and head movements are crucial to delivering the full message.

7. Recognize the value of ASL to Deaf Culture

Anywhere deaf people exist, non-verbal languages develop and evolve (there are more than 200 signed languages in use around the globe!). Sign language provides deaf individuals with the comfortable communication access that humans so desperately need to flourish. Attempts to limit the use of signed languages are viewed as a form of cultural oppression.
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Anywhere deaf people exist, non-verbal languages develop and evolve (there are more than 200 signed languages in use around the globe!). Sign language provides deaf individuals with the comfortable communication access that humans so desperately need to flourish. Attempts to limit the use of signed languages are viewed as a form of cultural oppression.

8. Dig a little deeper

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The history of Deaf culture is truly fascinating and (lucky you!) there is a wealth of information available. Learn how mainstream views on deafness have changed, how opinions on deaf education have evolved, and how deaf people have taken control of their own cultural destinies

9. Expand your network

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A great way to be more Deaf Aware is to add some deaf-created content to your blogroll, RSS feed, or social media networks. This will help you gain a more well rounded understanding of the deaf perspective. Need somewhere to start? Check out: DeafTV, The Silent Grapevine, DeafNation, Limping Chicken, or some of the many deaf webseries such as the hilarious “Don’t Shoot the Messenger.”

10. Acknowledge Audism

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Deaf rights have certainly come a long way over the past century, but audism (the belief that hearing people are superior) still infiltrates our society. America struggles with diversity, in general, because we have been raised to believe there is such a thing as a “normal” person. Deaf people may not be able to hear, but they can do pretty much anything else they put their minds to!

Unfortunately, ignorance about deafness and Deaf culture frequently leads to discrimination when it comes to critical education and hiring opportunities. Deaf people are often left out of social and cultural events due to lack of interpreters. As a Deaf Aware ally, do your best to recognize these situations and help educate those who are behaving in an audist way.

11. Know how to accommodate

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There are many ways to provide better communication access for deaf individuals in your place of business, whether they are clients, customers, employees, or coworkers. First off, learn how the ADA protects the rights of people who are deaf — the federal government even offers a tax credit for small businesses and a tax deduction for all businesses to help cover the cost of hiring qualified sign language interpreters. At the end of the day, the best way to know what accommodations a deaf person prefers is to simply ask!

12. Start a discussion

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Get your friends or coworkers talking about deafness and Deaf culture by sharing some interesting things that you’ve learned. Bring up a bit of deaf history, discuss an ongoing issue, or tell a deaf success story. Spreading knowledge helps increase awareness, which helps improve the world, even if it’s just a little bit!

13. Learn some ASL

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ASL is an awesome visual language created right here in America. There are SO many great reasons to learn how to sign.

14. Respect deaf people as individuals

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Some deaf people get cochlear implants, some have hearing aids, some use only ASL. None of these very personal choices require your judgment, and it’s not exactly polite to interrogate a person about why they may or may not use certain medical devices. Deaf individuals choose the method of communication that works best for them. Each person is different. Just respect that.

15. Step outside your comfort zone

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Attend a cool cultural event, such as ASL Slam or "Deaf Awakening", where sign language is the primary language. Take the initiative to make a new deaf friend in class, at the coffee shop, or at work. Deaf people don’t bite!

16. Pay attention

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Deaf people are more empowered than ever to break through the barriers that have for so long held them back. They are sharing their stories, their culture, and their language; asking the world to acknowledge and respect their existence. Now it’s up to hearing people to open their minds and accept deafness as a part of who people are.

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