Working with Deaf, Hard of Hearing, and Deaf-Blind Individuals

Knowledge of Deaf Culture is important to advocates serving deaf, deaf-blind and hard of hearing survivors of domestic and sexual violence.

  • ‘Deaf’ (with upper case ‘D’) refers to an identity with its own culture, language and diverse communities; ‘deaf’ refers to a physical condition/impairment.
  • Deaf and hard of hearing protections appear as a disability issue; however, some in the Deaf community see it as a language access, not a disability, issue.
  • Do not assume that all deaf people are mute: some can speak, some can and choose not to and some cannot (just as some people can sing, some cannot, and some can but choose not to).
  • Dynamics of domestic violence in Deaf communities have additional dimensions: e.g., hiding a hearing aid, disabling TTY equipment, batterers who speak or interpret for their partner.
  • Different sign languages are used in different countries and regions and differ considerably, e.g., British Sign Language (BSL) is not the same as American Sign Language (ASL).
  • ASL is not English made visual; this is also true of foreign sign languages.
  • The process of writing out American Sign Language is referred to as glossing.
  • Sign language needs differ depending on impairment:
    • Deaf: American Sign Language
    • Hard of Hearing: Hearing aids and assistive listening devices
    • Late Deafened Adults (hearing loss occurs after acquiring language, due to age, accident, or living in conflict zones): Computer Assisted Realtime Transcription (CART)
    • Deaf-Blind: Tactile signing

Sign language interpretation for those with Limited ASL Proficiency - Immigrants and refugees who are deaf, deaf-blind or hard of hearing may use their national sign language, e.g., Japanese Sign Language, or an informally developed home sign language; and they may or may not be literate in their native language. Individuals lacking proficiency in American Sign Language will likely require relay interpretation, which involves using more than one interpreter to act as a conduit for spoken or sign languages beyond the understanding of a primary interpreter.

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Social Contexts - In many regions of the world, deaf and deaf-blind individuals may be marginalized.

  • They can be seen as a burden on the family who may not adequately care for them: depriving them of schooling, medical care or equipment like hearing aids. These attitudes are not merely a by-product of poverty, but of cultural stigma.
  • Women and girls who are deaf, deaf-blind or hard of hearing, may be further devalued; and more so if they are victims of gender violence.
  • Consequently, many such individuals will not learn a formal sign language, may not be literate, and may use some form of home signing.
  • The context for refugees will differ: they may have become deaf, deaf-blind or hard of hearing due to war-related physical and psychological injuries; and lacked medical care in such conditions.
  • Individuals who sustained hearing loss after acquiring spoken language, may not have yet learned to communicate through formal or informal sign language and will have different needs.


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