Deaf Culture Membership
ASL immersion is part of learning ASL and being a part of Deaf Culture. ASL Immersion is when you immerse yourself in the language and the community of the Deaf.
When you begin socializing with Deaf people and honing your ASL skills in this way, I want to make sure you know what part of the group you are in. There are four “levels” of being involved with the Deaf (the Deaf Experience): deaf people in isolation, the Deaf community, Deaf culture, and the Deaf Ethnicity. They are all completely different.
Deaf People in Isolation
Deaf people who are part of the hearing world are on this level. They are the furthest from being involved. They are deaf, but they are not Deaf. These individuals are often products of oral schools and are trying to fit into the hearing society.
The term “community” has been debated about. Carol Padden puts it best: a community is a social group that lives in a certain geographical area, shares common goals, and carries out certain responsibilities to each other. ASL immersion in the Deaf Community is different from ASL immersion in Deaf Culture.
A Deaf community is relative to its location. There are many Deaf communities in the US, but only one Deaf Culture.
The Deaf community is more flexible with its language use than Deaf Culture. When Deaf people converse in a situation involving hearing people, they may use a variety of Signed English to help support understanding. However, the strict language in Deaf Culture is American Sign Language (ASL).
Deaf people have faced restrictions and oppressions while being the minority group in a hearing world. However, when they band together to further the goals of the deaf, they define their culture.
Members of the Deaf community share common goals. One of the main goals of the Deaf community is to achieve recognition of deaf people as equals. They also want their history to be recognized and ASL to be accepted as the official language of the deaf.
As discussed in the Deaf History section, the acknowledgement in the late 1960s of sign language being appropriate for deaf education was a huge success for members of the deaf community. This renewed support for sign language meant deaf students and their teachers would be able to use their native language in the classroom.
Members of the Deaf community include deaf and hearing people (including hearing family members, interpreters, ASL teachers, etc.) that share in the culture and use ASL. These people do not have to be deaf themselves and can be part of other cultural groups, but they support the goals of the Deaf and help to achieve them.
Membership in the Deaf community is not as strict as membership in Deaf Culture or the Deaf Ethnicity. That is why the line around the Deaf community is more fluid in the diagram–the membership varies. Your ASL immersion will most likely occur with people who are a part of this level.
The culture of the Deaf is much more restrictive. On this level, you would more closely identify yourself with Deaf culture before any other culture. Normally, you need to have a degree of hearing loss to be a part of this culture. However, some hearing children of Deaf adults (CODAs) are on this level because they have been brought up learning ASL and the cultural values natively.
People who are part of this level generally include: deaf and hard of hearing individuals who identify with Deaf cultural values and behaviors, and know and use ASL (not the thought-up language systems like Signed English). These can include deaf or hard of hearing people who first started in an oral school in the hearing society then came to know and be involved in Deaf culture. Hearing children of Deaf adults can also sometimes be involved in Deaf culture because they were raised in it. Rarely, hearing people without Deaf parents who learn ASL and become involved in the community are part of Deaf Culture.
The line around Deaf Culture in the diagram in less fluid than the one for the Deaf Community (which means it is more restrictive), but it is more fluid than the one for Deaf Ethnicity.
The Deaf Ethnicity is the most restrictive group and is rarely discussed. ASL immersion can take place with people who are at this level, but you will most likely never be a part of it. This level is reserved for those who are Deaf and were raised with ASL in Deaf culture. This usually involves a Deaf child of Deaf parents. This situation is surprisingly rare, but highly valued.