What is Deaf Pride?

Written by Mark “Deffman” Drolsbaugh.

On many occasions, I have been asked to explain this phenomenon which is known as Deaf Pride. After all, people ask, how could someone possibly be proud of what appears to be nothing more than a disability? On top of that, deafness is a disability that affects communication… it can put an invisible wall between hearing and deaf people. So what’s there to be proud of?

If you had asked me this question many years ago, I would have been hard-pressed to come up with an answer. Deaf Pride? What Deaf Pride?

What about all those times in mainstream school when I had to give up and simply say “I don’t know” because I couldn’t understand the teacher?

What about all those times I was made fun of?

What about all those times when I was put in an audiologist’s booth like a guinea pig?

What about all those times a speech teacher squeezed my mouth and said, “C’mon, can you say


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Certainly, nothing to be proud of. In fact, as a youngster, I was downright embarrassed. That is, I was embarrassed until I got a chance to join the Deaf culture. I may have joined it late, after years of unsuccessfully trying to be a hearing person, but the old cliche is true: better late than never. Meeting other deaf peers like myself, sharing similar stories of oppression and ridicule, swapping humorous anecdotes, learning ASL, and seeing other deaf adults succeed has completely changed my attitude.

I am no longer ashamed of my deafness, I am proud of it. I am proud of who I am, proud of what I’ve overcome, and proud of my culture. Yes, I recognize there is a Deaf culture. Some people may be groaning, “oh no, not that old culture vs. pathology argument.” Sure, I acknowledge that there are many people out there, even deaf people, who insist that deafness is nothing more than an annoying disability. As my past would indicate, that can certainly be true. On the other hand, there are also people out there who adamantly insist that there is a Deaf culture, that deafness is not a handicap at all (swearing by the popular motto that “deaf people can do anything…except hear”). You can choose whatever side of the argument you want, but I prefer to take somewhat of a middle stance.

My own definition is that:

*deafness is a disability that is so unique, its very nature causes a culture to emerge from it.*

Participation in this culture is voluntary (I enlisted in 1989).

Being a part of this culture has given me a sense of pride. I am no longer alone. I share a language, ASL, with many other people in the Deaf community. I share a history of struggle which is well-documented; not only are stories related to growing up deaf passed along within the Deaf community but there are countless books as well (my personal favorite is Jack Gannon’s Deaf Heritage). I enjoy ASL poetry and Deaf puns/jokes which cannot be translated into written English; they are unique in that they can only be understood within the framework of ASL. I enjoy attending plays and community events that focus on many Deaf issues. I also share many of the mannerisms of other Deaf people: the “deaf applause” cheer, a repertoire of visual expressions and signs which relay concepts far quicker than mere words ever could, a tendency to be more physically oriented (i.e. tapping my foot, tapping someone’s shoulder, blinking lights, etc, to get someone’s attention), and so on.

Last but not least, I bask in pride when I see Deaf people becoming more and more successful in the world. There are those who insist that Deaf culture “shelters” Deaf people from the real world (a frequent argument seen on the internet), but from my perspective, it strengthens us and enables us to make the most of both worlds. More and more Deaf people are getting advanced degrees and becoming doctors, lawyers, administrators, and (ahem) authors. It is a feeling of pride and support which pushes us on. In my case, it was seeing the successful outcome of the Deaf President Now movement which spurred me on to transfer to Gallaudet University and set my goals higher than I ever did before. So yes, as far as I’m concerned, there is such a thing as Deaf Pride. It exists for me, and it’s the spark that changed my life. As one would say in ASL, “Deaf Pride, Pah!”

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This document Copyright (C) 1996 By Mark Drolsbaugh, all rights reserved.

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