Hello and welcome to another Deaf Awareness Month post! In my previous post/video, I briefly mentioned big D Deaf and small d deaf. Today I’m going more in-depth about that.
The simplest explanation of the difference is this:
Big D = culturally Deaf
Small d = medically deaf
In the community, Deaf is when you’re considered a person who is fluent in sign, knows about Deaf culture, is involved with the Deaf community, and is proud to be Deaf. On the other hand, deaf is when you’re a person who has hearing loss but has no connection to the Deaf community, don’t know sign (or are barely able to), and chooses to not join the community. Another label that kind of blurs that line is hard of hearing or HH/HoH for short. These people are often considered to be people who are involved with the community, but have fairly decent hearing, can speak pretty well, and often can sign but not fluently.
Now with that introduction to the terms for those who don’t know them, and before I go any further, I want to make something absolutely clear. I personally think these terms can be—excuse my language—bullshit sometimes, and they often lead to unnecessary gatekeeping. There are plenty of people who are technically HH but consider themselves Deaf. There are people who are d/Deaf who also call themselves HH. My opinion is that this is just like any other identity—you want to call yourself _____? Okay! You do you. My issue is when people try to tell others that they’re not “Deaf enough” or “you’re too hearing-minded to be Deaf.” That needs to stop. That’s gatekeeping and it’s awful, no matter what community it is. A lot of Deaf people forget that roughly 90% of us are born to hearing families, and only 25% of parents with deaf children sign with them. So many of us grow up with little to no exposure of the Deaf community, so saying things like “you’re not Deaf enough” or “you’re too hearing-minded” is harmful. And what irritates me even more is that frequently, those very same people who say those things once came from the same place. There’s a great short film that shows this so well, called “My Song.” You can find it here. Basically, it’s about a woman who’s discovering her Deaf identity and her struggles with it. It’s about 23 minutes but worth the watch. (Also! The video is in BSL, but it is captioned.) The Deaf community is already a small community, we do not need more separations and deciding who’s “Deaf enough.” That leads me into my next thing.
I have seen some people discussing how to refer to this community properly and the most common one is this: d/Deaf and HH. That is probably the most inclusive one we have right now. Obviously, this would be used in a situation where you’re referring to the WHOLE community regardless of “status.” Here’s what I think. It might be simpler to say deaf community when you’re referring to everyone, regardless of hearing level or cultural knowledge. If you want to refer more specifically to those who sign and are culturally aware, or consider themselves Deaf, I’d either use Deaf community or simply signing community. I personally would like to try and use signing community or signers more often because that includes CODAs, interpreters, family, and anyone else who signs and is involved with the community. It takes the focus away from hearing level and “cultural knowledge.” In Finland, they have a word for this: viittomakielinen. Literally translated, it means “sign language person.” Viittoma: sign, kieli: language, nen: person. However, in Finnish, this does not mean just what it says in English. It means the person as a whole, with a cultural and linguistic history. It’s like if you say that person is Basque, you understand that they have their own language, culture, and history. Also, viittomakielinen doesn’t necessarily mean someone who simply knows sign (like an interpreter). I’m not going to go further because I do not know Finnish at all, so if I got anything wrong, please correct me! But this is what I learned when I was at Frontrunners. My point is, I love the fact that the Finns have a way to express this concept, and even people who have never met a Deaf person before understand what viittomakielinen means. In English, the closest equivalent would be signer, but that doesn’t translate very well in the written word.
The point of all this is: gatekeeping of who’s “Deaf enough” or “too hearing-minded” needs to stop, and the Deaf community needs to be more welcoming of everyone. We’re small, we don’t need to be any smaller.
And with that, I will stop for today. Hope you learned something new, and let me know what your thoughts are (regardless of who you are) in the video comments!
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