BSL Deaf “versus” Deaf Oral

This is a topic that can be quite emotive as it is very much linked to a person’s identity and how they communicate. Before we delve in and start discussing BSL d/Deaf vs d/Deaf Oral, here’s a little about me…

I’ve just completed a degree in Theatre Arts, Education, and Deaf Studies (TAEDS) from the University of Reading. I’ll be graduating in July- I’m counting down the days- and I started working at terptree just over a month ago.

Over the past three years, I have learnt about different aspects of Deafness; culture, organisations, history, audiology, stem cell research, interpreters… the list goes on!

This is a topic that is truly fascinating to me. The Sign Language vs Oral Debate. Not in relation to parents of deaf children or the wider community (that’s a whole other debate), but amongst D/deaf people themselves, particularly in relation to the ownership of the Deaf Community and whether those who are “little ‘d’” deaf are considered part of the Deaf Community.

I have learnt a lot about the history of sign language and Oralism. The Milan Conference, Deaf President Now, the recognition of BSL, audism & pedophobia, cochlear implants, the Nelson Mandela fake interpreter scandal. The endless successes and injustices related to the D/deaf community.


Learning about these things sparked different emotions. I was shocked, surprised, elated, and angry.

I am brought back to this time in my learning as I saw a debate between two different parties with very different opinions. One side suggested that those who are deaf orally should not be included in the Deaf Community as they do not use sign language to communicate, meaning they are excluding themselves from the community. The other side disagreed, saying that the core of the Deaf Community is the shared experiences, not the use of sign language.

This reminds me of a Deaf friend who once told me of their first experience attending their local Deaf club. Many of the regular attendees wanted to find out who was born Deaf and who became Deaf –trying to figure out who is “big D” Deaf or “little d” deaf, I suppose. When they found out that my friend became completely Deaf as a teenager, but was born with a level of hearing, some of the attendees did not want to engage in any further conversation.

I remember being told this and thinking… why?! My friend is Deaf, has embraced a strong Deaf identity, and communicates through BSL and speech. My friend is also lovely, engaging, intelligent, and funny. Why does being born hearing make her inferior to other Deaf people? Why isn’t she being seen for her personal qualities?


So considering these things, what I’ve learnt, the debate I’ve seen, and my friend’s story, I question this:

What is the core of the D/deaf community?  What’s the thing you need to have or be to belong to that world? Why do you need to encompass everything about that culture to be a part of it?

I think it’s important to look at another strong community; the LGBTQ Community. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer. Each title represents different people with different cultural values, yet from the recent London Pride celebrations, they all come together under one umbrella; LGBTQ, to celebrate and unite. They empower and support one another as they have a wealth of shared experiences.

Could this similarly be applied to the D/deaf Community? Perhaps it’s impossible to group everyone under one blanket term. The D/deaf community is diverse and rich in cultural differences, yet can still fit together under the umbrella term “D/deaf”.

Of course, there are many D/deaf people who empower and support others regardless of communication method. If you’re one of them, go and have a biscuit to celebrate the positive and valuable input you’re contributing to the D/deaf community!

We strongly believe at terptree that power comes from strength in numbers, i.e. when we stick together, unite, and act as one.

One last thing to leave you on is this: I’m still learning. This topic is incredibly complex, so I welcome discussions that will enhance my understanding of this world and this topic. So do leave comments below or pop on to our Facebook page as I would love to know what you readers think of this!



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Deaf Education