NL Association of the Deaf

What is the Deaf community?

The Deaf Community is not a single society with one purpose which one can "sign up for". It is a diverse meeting of individuals who come together for many purposes but who share some basics of experience, communication and commitment. The communication will be in sign. The commitment will be to support other deaf people and to have a place to meet.

There has been discussion in the past, on the extent of the Deaf Community. It has become clear that it is not helpful to try to define the Deaf Community in terms of pathology. The medical / educational definitions of loss and lack of abilities do not adequately describe the nature of the Community. The most effective definition provided is:

"The deaf community comprises those deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals who share a common language, common experiences and values and a common way of interacting with each other and with hearing people. The most basic factor determining who is a member of the deaf community seems to be what is called `attitudinal deafness'. This occurs when a person identifies him/herself as a member of the deaf community and other members accept that person as part of the community."

Deaf, Hard of Hearing or Deafened are the most acceptable terminology. These inappropriate terms are Hearing Impaired, Deaf and Mute, Deaf and Dumb and Hearing Handicapped because many people find them offensive.

Deaf people:

Acquisition of information:

American Sign Language:


Schools play an important role in deaf people’s lives because most culturally deaf people are not born into the culture. At school, children who are deaf and hard of hearing first learn about other deaf children and adults. The majority of culturally deaf adults aged over 30 and older were educated in separate schools for deaf children called residential schools. Many provinces across Canada built one residential school for deaf children and hired specially trained teachers to work with them. Deaf children boarded at these schools for weeks/ months at a time because deaf children often had to travel long distances to attend these schools.

The school became a home away from home for many young deaf children, a place where they could interact with other children like themselves and learn a history that their hearing families did not know. The school provided vocational training when deaf children became older.

Deaf children no longer attend residential schools in the same numbers as they did in the 1950’s and 1960’s. This integration or “mainstreaming” of deaf children into regular classrooms has provided them new opportunities. However, integration has had other consequences as well. As a result of more children attending public school, many schools for the Deaf have closed. For example – Newfoundland School for the Deaf was closed last year.

In contrast with the residential school program that once had as many as 130 students, most local public school programs have only 5 – 10 deaf students.  Some researchers/critics of the mainstreaming concept agree that integration has isolated deaf students from each other, depriving them of social and emotional comforts that peer groups can provide.

Why is ASL so important in the Deaf community?

To understand the role of ASL in the Deaf community, we need to understand the context which this community exists.

The single fact of being Deaf usually entails a whole set of shared experiences among Deaf people. The vast majority of Deaf people attend residential schools where Deaf students eat, sleep, study and play together. Throughout their school and adult years, Deaf people are also drawn together by sport activities and social events for Deaf people. Special tours, newsletters, school reunions, and conventions are other means of drawing Deaf people together. The result of this continuous contact in academic, social, and job-related situations is that Deaf people have formed a cohesive and mutually supportive community.

Approximately 90% of Deaf people have hearing parents. Those parents use a verbal language (English), a language that the Deaf child cannot hear or learn with ease. It is at school, with peers, that most personal and social information-sharing occurs and where close relationships are established through a language especially shaped for the eyes rather than the ears. A language passed on by Deaf parents whose children then teach it to other Deaf children.

At the heart of every community is language. This language embodies the thoughts and experiences of its users and they, in turn, learn about their culture and share it with their peers. Thus, Deaf people learn about their own culture and share their experience with each other through American Sign Language (ASL).


Communicating with Deaf people

people communicate in different ways, depending on several factors: age at which deafness began, degree of deafness, language skills, speech abilities, personality, intelligence, family environment, and educational background.

Deaf people are more easily understood than others. Some use speech only, or a combination of sign language, fingerspelling, speech, writing, body language and facial expression. You can communicate with Deaf people in several ways, and always remember they are more than willing to facilitate communication with you. The key is to find out which combination of techniques works best with each Deaf person you encounter. Keep in mind that it is not how you exchange ideas but that you try.

What to do when a Deaf person communicates with you:


Written Communication

Sign Language Interpreter

Deaf people have a right to access community services. The fee for service is paid by the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, Federal Government of Canada, agency, service provider, hospital, employer, legal service, etc. The Deaf consumer is not expected to pay for accessibility. Interpreting Services are part of the legal, financial, and moral obligations of society. Just as ramps and elevators are supplied for people in wheelchairs so too should sign language interpreters be supplied for Deaf and hard of hearing. Deaf, hard of hearing and hearing individuals and groups such as agencies, organizations, schools, employers and businesses are all consumers of Interpreting services.

You can contact Interpreting Services of Newfoundland and Labrador (ISNL) office at Voice (753-5621) TTY (753-5620).

There is a critical shortage of available interpreters. The more notice you can give, the greater the chances for finding an interpreter. ISNL suggests making request at least 4 weeks in advance of the appointment. Every attempt will be made to fill your request; however, all requests are subject to the availability of interpreters. Priority will be given to those requests involving mental health, medical and legal matters.

Difference between Interpreter and Signer




       The Viking Building

136 Crosbie Road, Suite 100A

    St. John's, NL A1B 3K3

    (709) 753-5620 (TTY)

    (709) 753-5621 (Voice)

      (709) 753-5682 (Fax)


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