This article explores deaf identity and how deaf people perceive the label ‘disabled’.
The Contrast Between “deaf” and “Deaf”
The difference between “deaf” (lowercase) and “Deaf” (uppercase) is something that should be brought awareness to! It isn’t just a difference in spelling but a difference in identity, self-perception, and engagement with society.
People who are “deaf” (lowercase ‘d’) use both spoken and written language, and many use British Sign Language (BSL). These individuals comfortably navigate both the deaf community and the hearing world.
On the other hand, “Deaf” individuals (uppercase ‘D’) are deeply connected to Deaf culture and exclusively use Sign Language. They do not perceive themselves as disabled. In their world view, they are whole and there is nothing to fix or repair, such as needing hearing aids or cochlear implants.
To quote deaf educator I. King Jordan, ‘Deaf people can do anything, they just can’t hear’.
Disabled or Not: Different Perceptions
‘deaf’ individuals often acknowledge the label of ‘disabled’ because they understand that they face barriers daily, from communication challenges to risks at home like undetected leaks or fire alarms. They accept support from foundations, charities, and government bodies through allowances and benefits.
‘Deaf’ individuals, despite not identifying as disabled, are still eager to accept support from government entities, be it batteries for hearing aids, benefits, allowances, or free bus passes. Regardless of whether they are lowercase ‘deaf’ or uppercase ‘Deaf’, all working members of this community pay taxes and therefore should receive any necessary support.
Sign Language: Common Myths
A common societal myth is that British Sign Language is simply a special means of communication for disabled people. This could not be any more untrue. We should start recognising BSL as a separate language, rich in its own unique culture. It deserves the same respect and rights as other minority languages, such as Welsh or Gaelic.
One thing to note, there is an interesting connection between disability and cultural-linguistic minorities. As such, this grey area can sometimes complicate the perceptions around disability.
The Complexities of Identity
There is no strict unanimous decision on whether d/Deaf individuals should be classified as disabled. One cannot generalise their diverse community in a “one size fits all” manner.
One must consider that there is pride that comes with identifying as a deaf person and the joy of being immersed in deaf culture. Just like how people bear their identities as part of their humanity – they may be part of the LGBTQ+ community, or family members, or individuals embracing their ethnic background and heritage!
Each label is a source of pride. It’s their choice. To them, ‘disabled’ is just a term used by the government and wider society for easier categorisation.
In the world of d/Deaf individuals, their unique identities are cherished, proving that being d/Deaf is not only about hearing (or the lack of), but about recognising the richness of their culture.
Written by: Jwain Bes & Aneta Falkiewicz
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