Deaf Culture 

You have probably heard that Deaf people don’t like to be referred to as people with disabilities and that they don’t consider themselves primarily as having a “handicap” or a “disability”, or as people “suffering” from “deafness”. But why? What exactly makes deaf people different? The answer has to do with culture and identity.
16 Jun, 2022 —

Deaf Culture

By Cynthia Benoit 

You have probably heard that Deaf people don’t like to be referred to as people with disabilities and that they don’t consider themselves primarily as having a “handicap” or a “disability”, or as people “suffering” from “deafness”.

But why? What exactly makes Deaf people different?

The answer has to do with culture and identity. Deaf culture is characterized by specific ways of doing things, of thinking and of being, three aspects specific to every culture. It can be defined through five sociological characteristics: 

1. Langue des signes québécoise (LSQ) (Quebec sign language)
LSQ is a living language that changes over time. Three-dimensional, visual and manual, it has its own structure, syntax and grammar, which distinguish it from any other form of language, whether spoken or written.  Valued by deaf people because of its visual accessibility, LSQ is also among the key identity markers for deaf people communicating mainly in LSQ. 

2. Values
The values specific to the deaf community include the importance of access to communication for all, both in terms of expression and understanding. Schools and recreational centres for the Deaf are important vehicles for the transmission of these values because of the social interactions that naturally occur in such places. 

3. Traditions
Among the traditions specific to the deaf community in Quebec is LSQ literature (meaning all artistic production in LSQ). Through this artistic heritage, deaf people continue to pass down their stories, their deaf experience and the very essence of their culture from one generation to the next.

4. Norms
Every culture has its own set of behaviours that they consider acceptable or unacceptable, that allow its members to ensure a certain degree of cohesion within the group. This principle also applies to the deaf community. For the Deaf, it may be getting someone’s attention in the appropriate way, maintaining direct eye contact or tapping gently on a deaf person’s shoulder to get their attention. 

5. Identity
With respect to identity, “Deaf” with a capital D is a term referring to deaf people who identify with the deaf community and have a sense of belonging to this community. These people communicate mainly through sign language and identify with deaf culture. Deaf identity is a key component that makes a person proud of being Deaf, of belonging to the deaf community, of and of championing deaf culture and its rich heritage, while making a significant contribution to society.  

This, then, is the sociocultural perspective embraced and defended by the members of the deaf community, including their allies. This perspective is light years away from that of the medical community, which sees the Deaf as people needing to be “fixed”. It’s also for all these reasons that they want to have their language and culture recognized, as well as their rights with respect to accessibility to communications.  

So why not put on a new pair of glasses and gradually start discovering all the wealth of the deaf culture? A wonderful opportunity to explore a new culture without even having to take a plane!  Whether it’s taking an introductory LSQ class, volunteering to work within the deaf community or following one of the different groups of the deaf community on social media, there are many ways to discover deaf culture!

Benoit, Cynthia (2015). Les différentes perceptions d’accessibilité aux services pour les sourds à Montréal : l’accessibilité spatiale, les coûts, l’organisation des ressources, la disponibilité et l’acceptabilité. Master’s thesis. Québec, Université du Québec, Institut national de la recherche scientifique, Master’s in Urban Studies, 154 p. 
Blais, Marguerite. 2006. La culture sourde : quêtes identitaires au cœur de la communication. Québec : Les Presses de l’Université Laval.
Brueggemann, Brenda Jo. 1999. Lend me your ear: Rhetorical constructions of deafness. Washington, D.C.: Gallaudet University Press.
Gallaudet University. 2020. American Deaf culture., Accessed on June 17, 2022.
Gaucher, Charles. 2009. Ma culture, c’est les mains : la quête identitaire des Sourds au Québec. Québec : Les Presses de l’Université Laval.
Lachance, Nathalie. 2007. Territoire, transmission et culture sourde – Perspectives historiques et réalités contemporaines. Quebec: Les Presses de l’Université Laval.
Ladd, Paddy. 2003. Understanding Deaf culture: In Search of Deafhood. Bristol: Clevedon.
Lane, Hoffmeister and Bahan (1996), Journey Into the Deaf World, Dawn Sign Press, CA
Leigh, Irene W. 2009. A lens on Deaf identities. 
Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press.
Padden, Carol and Tom Humphries. 1988. Deaf in America: Voices from a culture. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.
Poirier, Daphnée. 2005. « La surdité entre culture, identité et altérité. » Lien social et politiques. 53:59-66.
Van Cleve and Crouch (1989), A Place of Their Own: Creating the Deaf Community in America, Gallaudet University Press, Washington D.C. 


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