6 Important Things That You Might Not Know About ASL And Deaf Culture

6 Important Things That You Might Not Know About ASL And Deaf Culture

Look past all the things you think you know, and learn what Deaf culture really means.
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I grew up adoring my aunt, who stayed with my family many weekends, and eventually moved in with us a few years ago. She's deaf, but also cognitively delayed, meaning she'll permanently function at the level of an elementary or middle-schooler. Because of her cognitive delays, my aunt didn't have the typical "deaf upbringing" she might have had. She's never really been a part of Deaf culture. Of course, she has some things in common with other deaf adults - she prefers physical affection, loves seeing friends and hates saying goodbye to them and chooses movies with physical action or humor.

But as someone who interacted on a daily basis with a deaf woman and spoke conversational sign language, I knew very little about Deaf culture when I went to college. Last year, I took a Deaf culture class that taught me so much about the lives of deaf Americans, signed languages, customs and cultural expectations. I realized then how much most hearing people don't know or incorrectly assume about deaf people.

1. There are only two countries that use predominantly ASL.


The United States and Canada are the only two countries who primarily use American Sign Language. French Sign Language was the basis for ASL and the two still share plenty of similarities, though they also differ in plenty of ways. However, according to The Ethnologue, there are around 130 recognized Deaf sign languages in the world, though there are also other undocumented sign languages out there too. Long story short, deaf people can't just go to any country and automatically communicate with other deaf people. Sign languages aren't universal. There is an International Sign Language, but it's not widely used outside of worldwide meetings, such as the World Federation of the Deaf Conference.


2. Deaf people are typically better drivers.

Plenty of people assume that those who can't hear also can't drive. The opposite is true. Statistics have proven that most deaf drivers are equal to or better than hearing drivers. This could potentially be because noise distractions don't exist for them or because they rely so much more on visual signals, which is what driving is primarily based on. While deaf drivers are proven to be perfectly competent, there are a number of other countries around the world that don't allow their deaf citizens to drive.


3. Deaf culture has its own films, "music," dance, poetry, literature and folklore.

Like any country, community or cultural group, Deaf culture has its own forms of art and entertainment. For example, deaf poetry is a 3-D art form (performed both in video and at live events), using hand shapes, hand locations, body movements and facial expressions to tell a poetic story. There are also a multitude of books written by deaf adults, films with entirely deaf actors and videos that blend sign language with things like music or dance.


4. "CODAs" are a go-between for two separate cultures.

CODA is an acronym for Children of Deaf Adults, meaning a hearing child born to one or more deaf parents. It's actually quite common for deaf people to give birth to hearing children, as deafness is not typically genetic. CODAs have the opportunity to live between Deaf culture and hearing culture, which can be both a blessing and a curse. They usually have the benefit of being fully bilingual, but can also struggle with learning to verbalize words at a young age, and in many cases need speech therapy when entering school. They also often take on the role of their parent's interpreter from a young age, which can teach skills, but also can be too much responsibility and information for a child to be exposed to. There is a fascinating piece here, written by a CODA about some of his experiences.


5. Name signs are usually personal and treasured.

My own experience with name signs is different from the more typical Deaf culture name sign experience. My aunt, as a deaf adult who is also cognitively delayed, is unaware of the importance that other deaf people place on name signs, and has always taken a much more simple approach. She gives each person she meets a sign that is essentially the first letter of their name held against her cheek, shoulder or the top of her head.

However, more often in the Deaf Community, name signs are a gift. They are given to non-deaf friends or family only when the deaf person feels they've earned a name sign and their trust. Some other deaf people do use the person's initials, though often in other locations or combined with some other personal characteristic. Other people choose to create their own personalized name sign based on a physical feature, personality trait, habit or inside joke. The signs are particularly treasured and take time to be chosen.


6. Deaf people are generally proud to be deaf.

While much of "hearing America" looks at deaf people with pity and thinks of deafness as a disability and hardship, members of the Deaf Community don't see it that way at all. Many of them hope to have deaf children who will also become strong members of the Deaf Community. The culture is incredibly close-knit, encouraging and open by nature. Deaf people share much more with their friends and neighbors than someone hearing usually would.

But the most important thing to take away from all of this is that if deaf people don't think of themselves as disabled, hearing people shouldn't think of them that way either.

Cover Image Credit: Nancy Rourke

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30 Things I'd Rather Be Than 'Pretty'

Because "pretty" is so overrated.
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Nowadays, we put so much emphasis on our looks. We focus so much on the outside that we forget to really focus on what matters. I was inspired by a list that I found online of "Things I Would Rather Be Called Instead Of Pretty," so I made my own version. Here is a list of things that I would rather be than "pretty."

1. Captivating

I want one glance at me to completely steal your breath away.

2. Magnetic

I want people to feel drawn to me. I want something to be different about me that people recognize at first glance.

3. Raw

I want to be real. Vulnerable. Completely, genuinely myself.

4. Intoxicating

..and I want you addicted.

5. Humble

I want to recognize my abilities, but not be boastful or proud.

6. Exemplary

I want to stand out.

7. Loyal

I want to pride myself on sticking out the storm.

8. Fascinating

I want you to be hanging on every word I say.

9. Empathetic

I want to be able to feel your pain, so that I can help you heal.

10. Vivacious

I want to be the life of the party.

11. Reckless

I want to be crazy. Thrilling. Unpredictable. I want to keep you guessing, keep your heart pounding, and your blood rushing.

12. Philanthropic

I want to give.

13. Philosophical

I want to ask the tough questions that get you thinking about the purpose of our beating hearts.

14. Loving

When my name is spoken, I want my tenderness to come to mind.

15. Quaintrelle

I want my passion to ooze out of me.

16. Belesprit

I want to be quick. Witty. Always on my toes.

17. Conscientious

I want to always be thinking of others.

18. Passionate

...and I want people to know what my passions are.

19. Alluring

I want to be a woman who draws people in.

20. Kind

Simply put, I want to be pleasant and kind.

21. Selcouth

Even if you've known me your whole life, I want strange, yet marvelous. Rare and wondrous.

22. Pierian

From the way I move to the way I speak, I want to be poetic.

23. Esoteric

Do not mistake this. I do not want to be misunderstood. But rather I'd like to keep my circle small and close. I don't want to be an average, everyday person.

24. Authentic

I don't want anyone to ever question whether I am being genuine or telling the truth.

25. Novaturient

..about my own life. I never want to settle for good enough. Instead I always want to seek to make a positive change.

26. Observant

I want to take all of life in.

27. Peart

I want to be honestly in good spirits at all times.

28. Romantic

Sure, I want to be a little old school in this sense.

29. Elysian

I want to give you the same feeling that you get in paradise.

30. Curious

And I never want to stop searching for answers.
Cover Image Credit: Favim

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Stop Saying, 'I Don’t Want To Get Diabetes,’ It's Rude And Ignorant To Those Who Are Type 1 Diabetic

Nobody wants to "get" diabetes, but some of us have no choice.

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This statement implies that is is a choice to be diagnosed with diabetes as if it is some very controllable condition where I have the ability to decide whether it affects me or not. This is not true.

When I was three years old, I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes also known as juvenile diabetes because it typically, but is not limited to, beginning in adolescence. Type 1 diabetes is a chronic condition where my pancreas no longer produces insulin. This is caused by my immune system attacking the pancreas, ultimately destroying the cells that create insulin. As of right now, there is no explanation known for what ultimately makes the immune system do this, and there is no cure for the autoimmune condition.

Thus, as a type 1 diabetic, I have no choice but to be entirely insulin dependent. Whenever I consume carbohydrates, I must administer insulin to my bloodstream just like how non-diabetic people having a fully functioning pancreas that releases the same hormone whenever they introduce carbohydrates to their digestive systems. The amount of insulin that I administer is based on the number of carbs that I consume; the carbs per insulin unit ratio varies based on the individual and also has the potential to change just as how the pancreas secrets insulin within an individual's body at rates that are unknown. Therefore, finding ways to treat diabetes can be difficult for there lacks a "one size fits all" template for what works best for each diabetic. (This is important to keep in mind for all health conditions: what works well for one person does not necessarily mean that it will work well for a different person.)

There are a lot of other factors that are imperative for my mindful attention in order to stay healthy with this chronic condition. Monitoring blood sugar levels, counting carbohydrates, gaining a true sense of body awareness, and attending doctors appointments are some examples of these other factors that are necessary to keep on top of while living with type 1 diabetes. As you can tell, this chronic condition can easily become overwhelming.

Did I want to be diagnosed with type 1 diabetes? No.

Did I have a choice as to whether I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes? No.

Do you have the ability to control what statements you make when speaking in public? Yes, you most certainly do.

I urge people to resist from saying the phrase, "I don't want to get diabetes" when offered dessert or saying something similar when asked why they are cutting back on how much sugar they include in their diet. Perhaps these comments are in reference to "getting" type 2 diabetes also known as adult-onset diabetes. This condition is different from type 1 diabetes in the sense that the pancreas does not produce enough insulin or the body has developed a resistance to the insulin that is produced; the body does not use insulin efficiently. Another difference is that type 2 diabetes can be influenced by the risk factors of obesity and family history. Finally, type 2 diabetes can also be reversed; this means that through lifestyle choices such as diet and exercise, the effects of type 2 diabetes can be alleviated because the pancreas still does make insulin for type 2 diabetics. This is not the case for type 1 diabetes, thus, these are two different conditions.

So let's say that the ignorant comment of "I don't want to get diabetes" is made in reference to type 2 diabetes. This is still an awful thing to say. Of course, nobody "wants to get" diabetes; why would they? However, even in cases of type 2 diabetes, there are factors that are still beyond the individual's personal control, and even after the diagnosis occurs, as I stated earlier, there are differences in how each individual responds to treatment options. What works for one may not work for another.

Unfortunately, I have been in the presence of people who have made comments within this subject matter. Being a type 1 diabetic myself, the situation is incredibly awkward. Whether the person who made the statement knows that there is a diabetic present in the room or not, they should not be speaking like this. Making this comment implies that there is a concrete choice as to whether an individual is diagnosed with diabetes, of any type, or not. Making this comment implies that you, the commentator, is above those of us who are already diabetic; you are looking down on us in a way because your comment insinuates that you would never want to endure the lifestyle of a diabetic. Making this comment implies that you, the commenter, have no idea what the differences between type 1 and type 2 diabetes are, or that there even are different types of diabetes and how to distinguish between the complications of each. Making this comment implies that you, the commenter, are extremely, unmistakenly, ignorant.

In the instances that I have heard this quick comment be made, some people present in the room knew that I was type 1 diabetic and some people did not. Nobody pointed me out or made sideways glances at me to notice my facial expression. I was not offended by the comment, nor was I embarrassed that I am type 1 diabetic while there is this person saying that they "don't want" what I have. I was, however, extremely disappointed in the comment. I was partly disappointed in the commenter for making such an ignorant statement (that I am sure was probably not meant to be harmful at all), but I was also majorly disappointed in society as a whole. Instances like this have made me realize that, collectively, society is also ignorant of the differences between types of diabetes. Generalizing this condition can result in the cultivation of uncomfortable situations and an inability to understand the complications of each type of this condition.

Finally, and most importantly, whenever I endure experiences such as the one described, I am refreshed of just how utterly important it is for all of us to choose our words wisely and precisely. Even if we do not intend to cause harm by our words, the possibility of that happening is always present. When people say "I don't want to get diabetes," I am not sure they realize just how terrible this statement sounds leaving their lips. In my mind, my first reaction is that I would never say anything like this, but then again, I have this reaction because I am type 1 diabetic. Similarly, would you ever make the statement "I don't want to get cancer" when offered a free session in a tanning bed or "I don't want to get liver damage" when offered a beer? No, because there are so many genetic and epigenetic factors that can contribute to cancer diagnoses and the same goes for liver failure.

It sounds absurd to even read those two examples. How can somebody solely correlate tanning beds with "getting" cancer and beer with "getting" liver damage when there is an abundance of other contributing factors as well as different types of levels of severity regarding these health issues? Well, I ask myself the same question regarding the statement of "I don't want to get diabetes" when somebody is offered something sweet. How can somebody solely correlate sugar with "getting" diabetes when there are so many other factors that are potentially involved? While it is possible that these pairs are related in terms of causation to some extent (tanning beds/cancer, beer/liver damage, sugar/diabetes) there are so many things that we do not know exactly and making generalized statements like my examples above prove to be inappropriate.

It sounds absurd because it is absurd.

Thus, let's all strive to create an environment where we do not make people feel ashamed or uncomfortable based on ignorant statements regarding health conditions that we may or may not know anything about. You never know what people are going through or how a genetic condition, health issue, or disease affects them. Furthermore, you never know what health experiences you will one day be exposed to, whether that condition will affect you personally or if it will affect a close family member or friend. Either way, it will change your perspective immensely.

I vow to always choose my words carefully and thoughtfully to ensure that I can clearly articulate a point with consideration for whoever is present in my audience; you should too.

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