Deaf Culture And Residential Schools

One of the biggest decisions parents of deaf children face is whether or not to send their child to a residential school. While there are a number of factors to consider in making this decision, one of the biggest relates to the type of social interaction and social community their children will encounter if they were to attend a residential school for the hearing impaired. There are certainly mainstream schools that are capable of providing deaf students with a comprehensive and equal education, but these inevitably lack a strong deaf culture presence—often a central and invaluable aspect of the deaf community.

Deaf people tend to view their inability to hear not as a handicap, but instead as a shared experience that generates a strong sense of community. They view themselves as a group of people sharing a similar and unique set of experiences, concerns and most importantly language. Since American Sign Language (ASL) is considered to be the glue that binds the deaf community together, those that do not use ASL are not considered a part of deaf culture. Interestingly, there are many people that are not deaf that may still be considered a part of the culture. It is important to note, though, that hearing individuals can never fully become a part of the culture. Even if their parents are deaf and they are adept at ASL, their ability to hear keeps them from fully understanding the nuances and concerns of the community. The cultural community holds an enormous amount of pride in their ability to overcome adversity which extends to a fierce sense of group loyalty.

Another unique aspect of deaf culture is marriage. It is said that 9 out of 10 deaf people marry someone else within their cultural community. While this is not terribly surprising, what is is that these couples often hope for deaf children so that they will be able to pass on their culture and values to the following generation.

As implied at the beginning of this post, residential schools play a vital link in the transmission of deaf culture and its language. Here students are able to communicate with one another in a way that they will not have to feel self-conscious about. They may take part in plays, play sports and participate in other clubs that are specifically geared toward the deaf community. Even more importantly, they have the opportunity to interact with deaf role models on a daily basis. While there are mainstream schools capable of providing deaf students with a comprehensive education, there is little doubt that mainstreamed students are unable to experience an essential part of deaf culture.

By Emily Banks