Young Writers: Looking at sign language

When people think of ‘culture’ they often think of people, practices, fashions and foods from other countries.

They will not often think of deaf people. Yet, there is a deaf culture. And it is a culture that exists in every community and within our community.

Deaf people, like myself, and signers share beliefs, behaviours, communities and history.

Sarah Makin

Sarah Makin

We do not see their deafness as a disability but something to be celebrated. Many deaf people take pride in their deaf identity.

Deafness is not something that needs to be fixed.

Recognising and understanding deaf culture will help you to interact and communicate with deaf people in a positive way.

Most people know that deaf people use sign language to communicate.

But people may not know that sign language is not universal. There are more than 200 sign languages in the world.

Because we communicate through sign language we are often more direct or blunt because sign language is very visual. There is no place to hide.

For example if a person has gained weight, a deaf person might puff out their cheeks and signal a rounded belly. They are not being rude, it’s just the way they communicate: it’s our language and culture.

When you communicate with a deaf person, eye contact is very important. If you are not looking directly at the person you are interacting with, you will not be able to effectively get your message across, which will lead to communication breakdown.

We often think it is weird that non-deaf people often don’t look at each other when they talk. In deaf culture it is considered very rude not to make eye contact.

Deaf people also think it is very strange that non-deaf people talk over the top of each other all the time. Non-deaf people depend on hearing, yet a lot of the time they can’t understand what each other is saying.

This is not the only thing deaf people see as strange. There is music everywhere: in shopping centres, restaurants, everywhere, yet people with their hearing don’t dance to it!

There are many misconceptions around deaf people. I’ve often heard things like: “Oh, you’re deaf. I will pray for you”; “Can deaf people drive?”, and, my personal favourite, “Is it contagious?”

Deafness is not something that needs to be fixed.

Sarah Makin

Well, it’s not, but hopefully with a bit more mutual understanding, communication between deaf and non-deaf people can be improved and more widespread!

  • Sarah Makin a Year 10 student at Yass High.