Deaf Culture and
Domestic Violence
Presented on 3/2/09 by Gretchen Waech
Executive Director
Justice for Deaf Victims National Coalition
Definitions:
deaf – lacking hearing, either entirely or at a severe to profound
level. This is a medical term.
Deaf - individuals who, in addition to not hearing, are members of
the Deaf community, subscribing to the unique cultural norms,
values, and traditions of that group. Members of this group typically
use American Sign Language (ASL) as their 1st language.
hard of hearing (HoH) - an individual with a hearing loss (ranging
from mild to severe)
Distinction between deaf and hard of hearing
tends to depend on where the loss is on an
audiogram
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Definitions:
“hearing impaired” – Deaf community does not
consider themselves impaired, and “hearing” is
not the important word
The Deaf community prefers the terms Deaf and
Hard of Hearing.
Also very ambiguous, does not define extent of
hearing loss
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Definitions:
Integration: to a Deaf person, this term often
means “isolation”
Why? Why is integration not the best option for
deaf clients?
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Audism:
N :an attitude based on pathological thinking which results
in a negative stigma toward anyone who does not hear;
like racism or sexism, audism judges, labels, and limits
individuals on the basis of whether a person hears and
speaks. (Humphrey and Alcorn 1995: 85)
Based on the medical view of deafness as a disability which
must be fixed
Rooted in the historical belief that deaf people were savages
without language; language = humanity
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Audism: Examples
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Jumping in to help a deaf person communicate
Asking a Deaf person to lipread you or write when he/she has
indicated this isn’t preferred
Making phone calls for a deaf person since they “can’t”
Refusing to call an interpreter
Assuming that those with better speech/English skills are superior
Asking a Deaf person to “tone down” their facial expressions
because they are making others uncomfortable
Refusing to explain to a Deaf person why everyone around him is
laughing – “never mind, I’ll tell you later, it doesn’t matter.”
Forcing a Deaf child to spend hours in speech therapy instead of
playing at recess
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Audism
Because many Deaf people grew up in hearing families who
did not learn to sign, audism may be ingrained. It is only
when they encounter Deaf-centered empowerment
philosophies that they begin to understand their
capabilities.
Audists may be either hearing or deaf. Some are even Deaf.
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Deaf Culture
Primary language is ASL
Recognized language with its own rules of grammar
and syntax
English and ASL are NOT the same thing!
Consider possibility of ESL (English as a
Second Language) circumstances
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ASL/English
The “ASL” slides are either written using ASL gloss (a teaching tool used to
transcribe ASL sign for sign for those learning the language) or were written
by a Deaf woman for whom ASL was a first language. This is a
representation of what a Deaf person might write in each situation.
ASL
ASL
DADDY HIT MANY
MANY BLOOD ME
SAW ME AFRAID
RAN TELL FRIEND
CALL POLICE
MAYBE JAIL
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English
DADDY HIT MOMMY MANY
TIMES TIL I SAW BLOOD. I WAS
SCARED AND RAN AND TOLD A
FRIEND ABOUT IT. MY FRIEND
CALLED THE POLICE AND
DADDY MAY GO TO JAIL
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ASL ASL
WOMAN SILLY
MOUTH WIDE MY FACE
ME UNDERSTAND NO
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English
THE WOMAN WAS
SCREAMING. SHE WAS
IN MY FACE. I
COULDN’T
UNDERSTAND HER
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ASL ASL
MAN DRIVE DRINK SEE
DOG HIT WOMAN SELF
MY-FRIEND SAW WHOLETHING TELL ME WOW I
CAN’T BELIEVE
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English
A DRUNK MAN HIT THE
TREE WHEN HE SWERVED
TO MISS A DOG. A WOMAN
WHO IS MY FRIEND SAW
THE WHOLE THING AND
TOLD ME ABOUT IT. I
COULDN’T BELIEVE IT.
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Deaf Culture
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Based on common experience of being Deaf in a
hearing society
Examples: Restaurant, Hotel, Law Enforcement
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When interacting with a Deaf/deaf
person…
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Be extra aware of your body
language and facial
expressions
Be on the lookout for the
“smile and nod” that signals
lack of comprehension
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Communicating with the Deaf:
It is important to remember that not all Deaf
people’s communication needs are alike, and you
should ask the person directly what their needs are.
They may communicate through:
Sign language (ASL, SEE, PSE, etc)
Speech/lipreading
Writing
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Communicating with the Deaf
There is only one dumb question you can ask a
deaf person (verbally):
CAN YOU LIPREAD?
Do you read lips?
Discuss: Why is this a dumb question?
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Lipreading: The Imprecise Art
Much of the English language looks very
similar on the lips: for an example of that, try
standing in front of a mirror and saying “Pay
me, baby, maybe” or “I’ll have two, I love
shoes, elephants snooze”
These may seem like extreme
examples, but English is
littered with them.
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Lipreading: The Imprecise Art
It is possible for an expert lipreader to combine what is
visible on the lips with environmental cues, English
proficiency, knowledge of subject matter, body language,
and facial expressions to understand a reasonable
percentage (50-75%) of what is said.
Only a small percentage of deaf people are considered
expert lipreaders. Lipreading is not considered an
acquirable skill, but rather an inborn talent.
Would YOU be satisfied with 5075% of the information in any
situation? What about in a crisis
situation?
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Lipreading: The Imprecise Art
Depending on lipreading as a communication method
means you are gambling on the following:
 The deaf person has a high level of English proficiency
 The deaf person has a thorough understanding of the subject
you are speaking of
 The deaf person is an expert lipreader
 Your body language and facial expressions are conveying the
correct message
 The lighting and placement of both speaker and lipreader are
correct
 50-75% of the information is sufficient
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Lipreading: The Imprecise Art
Is it worth the gamble?
Always ask how the deaf person wishes to
communicate. Give options. Example:
“Communicate best, how? Interpreter (I will pay),
writing, lipreading?”
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Communicating with the Deaf
If it is necessary to communicate with a Deaf
person who indicates a preference for
lipreading
(only appropriate if both parties are
completely comfortable)
here are some tips:
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Communicating with the Deaf
Hands down, the best way to sit is… hands
down!
Remember not to look at paper while talking
Be conscious of lighting… don’t sit with back
to light
Speak at a reasonable pace, but not
S…L…O…W…L…Y
If the person doesn’t understand what you
say at first… don’t repeat. RESTATE.
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Communicating with the Deaf
CHECK YOUR
TEETH!
Spinach interferes with
lipreading.
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Relay:
Allows phone communication between Deaf and
hearing people when the hearing individual does not
have a TTY
May use either text-based relay or video relay (VRS)
Many prefer VRS due to its linguistic accessibility but
the technology is not always available
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Relay and TTY etiquette:
There are specific rules established to make
communicating via relay easier—
When using any type of relay, address the operator
as if they were the person you are talking to
Not “Tell them…,” but “I need to let you know…”
If using text-based relay, do not interrupt
conversation
Be aware there may be a lag, and be patient
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Relay and TTY etiquette:
Remember:
Relay is NOT a replacement for an interpreter. When
using text-based relay, the English as a second
language issue comes into play. When using VRS,
you have little control over the choice of
interpreters.
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Domestic Violence
in the Deaf Community
Most evidence regarding Deaf people is
anecdotal – few studies focusing on this
population.
Studies indicate abuse is 2 to 6 times
more likely to occur among people
with disabilities
Conservative figures indicate over
60% of Deaf persons have
experienced or will experience abuse
by a partner in their lifetime.
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Why are Deaf people targets?
Perceived as more vulnerable
Easier to isolate
Deaf Stressors
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Deaf Stressors
Elements of being Deaf/HOH that make a person
more susceptible to victimization
Learned helplessness
Learned “need to please”
Inability to communicate - i.e. with law
enforcement, medical professionals, etc.
Tradition of secrecy within the
culture/protection of perpetrators who are
members of the community
Common to many minority groups
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Deaf Stressor Number One
The Deaf victim/survivor often cannot leave her
community. Even if she chooses to change
her geographical location, she will still be part
of the community… thus, safety planning
takes a different slant.
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Specific issues in working with Deaf
victims
Access to communication and information
The Deaf grapevine/community
Abuse in educational settings
Lack of accessible/culturally competent
services
Lack of support system
Lack of accessibility of the judicial and
medical systems
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Access to communication and
information
Little or no education about DV within
community.
Isolation from friends and/or family because
of deafness
Minimal ability to understand or interpret
information presented – example in court
Sometimes technology is not Deaf-friendly
(closed-captioning, subtitles, English)
Inaccessibility of incidental learning situations
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The Deaf Grapevine/Community
In tight-knit Deaf communities, rumor and
gossip common
The Deaf community has little education about
DV – myths run rampant
Confidentiality in Deaf community can be
perceived as antisocial – so may need to
educate Deaf client on why confidentiality is
important
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Abuse in Educational Settings
Sexual and domestic violence in residential schools has
historically been a widespread problem. This led to a
generation of adult survivors of childhood abuse who had
few resources and no education about what happened to
them.
There is often a lack of education for students and faculty
on abuse and its consequences
Who do they tell? - staff members must advocate for both
students in any given situation.
The Deaf community sometimes fears the exposure will lead
to the closing of Deaf schools – long the strongholds of Deaf
culture – but is adamant about protecting Deaf children.
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Lack of accessible/culturally competent services
Hotlines not accessible – often hang up
Advocates not trained
Lack of interpreters on hand
Lack of knowledge as to how to find an
interpreter
Lack of understanding about Deaf culture
Lack of appropriate treatment - No signing
therapists, doctors, etc
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Isolation in the Deaf context
While the philosophy of integration has been a
boon to many in the disability communities,
it is often a barrier for Deaf clients.
Integration into a hearing program = isolation
Few Deaf clients will stay in a hearing shelter
without other Deaf interaction for more
than 24 hours.
Safety becomes a lesser priority than the need
for communication.
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Lack of support system
Deaf community is spread out
Loss of status in community… or even loss
of community
Family may be unable to communicate –
high percentage of Deaf have hearing
families
Inappropriate behaviors run unchecked
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Differing forms of Abuse
Abuser may:
Attack ears (to cause pain)
Attack hands (to prevent signing)
Destroy, withhold or damage
communication equipment
Refuse to sign
Attack sight (to further isolate)
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Lack of accessibility of the judicial and
medical systems
Lack of clear and understood interpretation
Lack of legal interpreters
Lack of interpreters in a timely manner
Refusal to follow the law
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Contact Information
Please do feel free to contact me with any
questions! I’m always happy to answer.
Gretchen Waech, consultant
[email protected]
[email protected]
VideoPhone: 866.937.1667 (voice or VP)
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Any Questions?
Thanks!!
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