Most people know, of course, that a language difference exists between people who are deaf and those who can hear. People who are deaf communicate using a variety of strategies, ranging from lip reading and speaking, to writing notes, using gestures, or communicating via American Sign Language.
Deafness can be a different experience for every person, and people come from all backgrounds and walks of life. So when we bridge only the communication gap between a deaf and a hearing person, there is still a lot of room for cultural misunderstanding!
In America, many people who are deaf prefer using the visual language of ASL to communicate. These individuals consider themselves members of Deaf Culture, a linguistic minority group that has it’s own unique traditions, jokes, stories, and cultural norms. Deaf culture has no age, gender, race, or religious barriers, and members of Deaf culture frequently exist within several other intersecting cultural identities. To create truly effective communication with the Deaf community, hearing individuals must come to a greater understanding of what it means to be both medically deaf, and culturally Deaf.
It’s become trendy for businesses and organizations to use words like “Diversity” and “Inclusive” without actually taking any steps toward creating diversity or inclusion. Hiring an individual with a disability, but then making no effort to support their success, does not empower anyone, and can create resentments between people in the workplace. When a deaf individual shows up for a medical appointment (or any appointment at any business) and nobody in the organization knows how to accommodate their needs, that business has failed at providing equal access to their goods/services.
If an organization chooses to embrace diversity and multiculturalism, and truly wants to empower people of all abilities, Cultural Competency Training is a great next step. Educating staff from the top level down, and from the bottom levels up, offers a chance for organization-wide professional development and a much greater understanding of what diversity really means.
The first step toward welcoming d/Deaf individuals to connect with an organization is to get a contract on file with a local interpreting agency that offers high quality sign language interpreting services. Look for deaf-owned or ASL interpreter-owned agencies, or ask a deaf individual if they have a preferred agency to contact.
Cultural competency is not a feat, it is an opportunity! This is a chance to strengthen relationships within the organization, as well as relationships with customers, clients, and the community at large. Cultural Competency Training helps to identify the many different perspectives— employer, employee, deaf, hearing, interpreter, customer, consumer — and assists in creating mutual understanding from all sides.
By working with deaf trainers to explore the various scenarios where d/Deaf and hearing people interact, everyone gets an opportunity to ask those awkward cross-cultural questions, or clear up any misconceptions in a safe environment. With proper training, buzzwords like “diversity” become very real and applicable concepts and everyone reaps the benefits.
Some companies offer Cultural Competency Training seminars for businesses and organizations. Working with a set of d/Deaf consultants, employees at all levels can deepen their understanding of deafness, Deaf culture, and d/Deaf communication to effectively bridge the persistent gaps that exist. Cultural Competency Training is an excellent solution for progressive companies that are ready to take it beyond basic communication.