We cannot talk about “Deaf Culture” until deaf people form groups of not-related persons. And this did not happen until late in Deaf History.

Deaf people have existed and have been mentioned by hearing people since ancient times in Egypt and Greece. A deaf painter (EL Mudo) was very famous in Spain during the first part of the 16th century. So Deaf people’s history is as old as the one of hearing people.

However, this does not mean that we can start describing Deaf Culture yet. Not until the beginning of the 19th century (or the end of the 18th century) do we know about schools for the Deaf. And the foundation of these schools marks a total change in the history of the Deaf people. In Denmark for example, it took half a century to give deaf youngsters the will and self-confidence to define them as a group. From that moment we see an explosion of events and changes.

The main reason for this is interaction between the two groups; the hearing and the deaf. This interaction starts at the school for the deaf between teachers and the pupils; teachers representing society and pupils representing newcomers into society.

The dynamics between hearing and deaf people continue in working positions, where deaf people (at least in Denmark) demonstrated that they are able to take care of jobs at equal terms with the hearing, if they could live up to the educational demands. Society became dependent on quick communication in the air between partners.

This evolution started a hundred year ago and is still going on. The technical development has meant enormous changes too, which are beneficial to deaf peoples possibilities of having a “come back”. Communication between partners must still be quick, but not necessarily in the air. Computers have solved this problem which used to form a wall between the deaf and hearing.

Along this development, there have been corresponding changes in attitudes,both deaf – hearing and hearing – deaf. The essential concept regards means of communication.

Is Sign Language okay or is it a symbol of incompetence? This question reflects a historical dilemma of deaf people as a group, which we discuss under the headline;: “oppression” – “liberation” – “equality”.

Historic phases of Deaf Culture (Jonna Widell, oversight)

Opening phase 1866 – 1893

Isolation Phase 1893 – 1960

Manifestation Phase 1980 => ?
Today, deaf people in many countries realize that their access to education and social equality must come from bilingualism. It is an obligation for governments to enable this. It is an obligation for Deaf people to participate in this process towards the next phase.

“Equality Phase 2000 => ?
Deaf people all over the world view themselves as belonging to a linguistic minority with its own culture. This Deaf community has its own language (Sign Language) and specifically for Uganda Deaf culture – Uganda Sign Language. Deaf culture has its own history, shared values, social norms, customs and technology that are transferred from generation to generation. The term “Deaf” is written with a capital “D” in the same way as one refers to “Jewish people” using a capital “J”.

Historically, Sign Language the main element that’s binds Deaf People together was suppressed and not accepted in a Deaf person’s life. That is, at home, school and in society in general. Deaf people were seen as deviants from general society norms and therefore in need of rehabilitation. This gave rise to a view of deafness called the clinical or pathological view.

Clinical/ Pathological view
Traditionally, the hearing majorities who interact with Deaf people on a professional basis tend to view the Deaf minority pathologically, that is . as sick people. Hearing people focus on how Deaf people are different from themselves and define the differences negatively, in the following way:

  • Deaf people are an audio-logically definable group of persons whose hearing loss is sufficient to create interference with but not preventing the normal perception of speech.
  • Deaf people have learning and psychological problems due to their hearing loss and communication difficulties.
  • Deaf people should be treated differently than the hearing majority.

Social and cultural view

  • The modern view of deafness involves the recognition of Deaf people as a cultural minority. Sign Language is recognized and accepted as the natural language of the Deaf. This acceptance includes the acknowledgement that the Deaf community is in fact a sub-cultural group of the wide world.
  • This involves the recognition of the Deaf people as a group of persons who share a common means of communication (Sign Language) and culture which provides the basis on which group cohesion and identity develop
  • Deaf people do not consider themselves disabled.