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Basic Guide for Communication in Catalan Sign Language

Introduction to the deaf community and sign languages

Unit 1 will give us the chance to become familiar with Catalan sign language speakers since in order to learn a language well it is necessary to learn about its culture and context.

1.1. Definition of a Deaf Person

Trying to define a deaf person can be as vague as defining a person who can hear unless we look closer and take into account several aspects such as personal experiences, age, sex, sexual orientation, degree of deafness, education received, and a whole series of factors forming the identity of each person and making them unique. Nevertheless, it can be said that all share the same experience: the visual perception of the world surrounding them and communication barriers suffered as a consequence of their condition as a minority when compared to the majority of hearing people.

Communication barriers sometimes can be seen from different perspectives. Historically, deaf people have been treated with medical-rehabilitation approaches, specifically in the case of their education, which in turn condition their personal evolution. This type of disease-cure approach often is based on the belief that deafness is the very factor that makes these people live at the margins of society, falling behind the rest; that deafness is the cause of deficiencies in their cognitive development. However it should be taken into consideration that this approach is mainly focused on auditory deficiencies and points out what they cannot do as a result of being deaf. In the end, this viewpoint considers deafness a pathology and disregards the extraordinary capacity of adaptation humans have in the face of all types of circumstances. Oliver Sacks, professor of clinical neurology at Albert Einstein College, New York, wrote the following on the subject:

Samuel Johnson once said that deafness is «one of the most desperate of human calamities»; deafness in itself however is no calamity. A deaf person can be cultivated and eloquent, they can get married, travel, have a full and fruitful life, and never consider themselves, or be considered, a disabled or abnormal person. What is crucial – and this is precisely what differs greatly between countries and cultures – is the knowledge we have of deaf people and our attitude towards them, the understanding of their specific needs (and abilities), and the recognition of their basic human rights: unlimited access to a natural and personal language, to education, work, community, culture; to a fulfilling and integrated existence.
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