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Basic Guide for Communication in Catalan Sign Language

1.3. What is the Deaf Community?

According to the dictionary, community is the condition of sharing or having certain attitudes and interests in common. Deaf people build their culture and identity based on common experiences related to deafness, on their day-to-day interactions with the hearing society and barriers they encounter, on their relationship with educational institutions, and on their present needs and future expectations.

The Deaf Community is a minority group with a language, a culture and a history all of their own, who understands deafness as a social-cultural phenomenon in which different yet complementary identities can belong. As mentioned in section 1.1.2, if we consider deafness to be a heterogeneous condition we can understand that there is not one but many identities, given that the way we see the world is linked closely to how we experience it with our senses. The fact is that it is not the nature of each person what unites the Community, but the values, language, history and culture shared by each of its members.

The Deaf Community is formed by people who are deaf, deaf-blind and hearing. The sons and daughters of deaf parents naturally become part of the Community and are not excluded for the mere fact that they can hear. The same occurs with professionals who work for and with the Community, such as sign language interpreters, speech therapists, educators, and ultimately any hearing person with the same affinities as deaf people. Some deaf people do not belong to the Community simply due to a difference in language. In the end the most important aspect shared by all members is being able to communicate using sign language, the most important and empowering tool of a deaf person’s identity, since it is through the language that values are transmitted, history is told and culture is created.

The fact that sign language is the most powerful tool of the Deaf Community is neither unusual nor idiosyncratic. All cultural identities are strongly related to the language they speak. This connection becomes even stronger in this case due to the fact that the Deaf Community does not reside in a specific area nor is there any other notable element delimiting it. Movements defending the rights to a proper identity began in the United States in the 1960s as result of the publications of the first linguistic studies on sign languages, which revealed the vast amount of cultural richness this community holds “in its hands” and the need to preserve this treasure and guarantee its continuity. This also marked the beginning of the recovery of the historical memory of deaf people, another important element of their identity. History and tradition are ever present in the Community in all forms of artistic manifestations such as dramatic arts, mime, visual arts and even in artistic expressions used in sign language through narrations, poetry, stories, humour, puns, etc.

In Catalonia this period of awakening began to take place during the 1980s and 1990s, and the same happened for the Deaf Community in the rest of Spain. What until then had been considered to be gestural communication used mainly within associations of deaf people, most of them founded throughout the 20th century, became a cultural treasure belonging to a social group aware of its identity and, therefore, a powerful and symbolic tool of a new linguistic minority, the Deaf Community.

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