Which “Deaf” Are You?

The labeling of the Deaf has gained much debate over the years. “Deaf/Mute”, “Deaf and Dumb”, and “imbeciles” are all antiquated terms that should be forever erased from Deaf history. Unfortunately, some continue to use such labeling. What the Deaf call themselves is much different than what hearing people prefer to label them. Modern day hearing people like to use terms that seem less offensive in their minds or once it’s spoken. They think by calling the Deaf “hearing impaired”, “handicap” or “hard of hearing” will essentially reduce the harshness level of calling someone “Deaf”.  In this case, trying to be politically correct to identify someone who is deaf is not necessarily acceptable in this culture.

For the Deaf community, labeling them as “hearing impaired” is a mistake. Culturally Deaf individuals do not consider themselves impaired, nor do they feel as though they need to be fixed or cured of this so called “impairment”. There are plenty of Deaf lawyers, doctors, nurses, police officers, and government officials who can attest to this notion. The main terms used frequently in the Deaf community are as follows: Deaf, deaf (yes twice), Hard of Hearing (HH), Deaf Oral (D/O), Deaf/Blind, CODA, or Hearing. There isn’t any other sugar coating way to put it. If a Deaf person is profoundly deaf, you would not label them as “Hard of Hearing”. It simply is not appropriate for the profoundly deaf individual. One thing to recognize and note within the Deaf community is the Deaf’s desire to be as straight-forward as much as possible. They do not care for beating around the bush or being coy. They tactfully tell it like it is, and want to be told as such, in the same fashion.

The labels listed above are based on your extent of hearing loss, your method of communication, and how you identify yourself within the community. Notice “deaf” was mentioned twice. Below highlights each mode of deafness for better understanding.


Also known as “Big D” Deaf refers to people who are involved in the culture of deafness and share the values, behaviors, and language (ASL) of that culture (read Values of Deaf Culture articles for more information). It is possible to be Deaf/deaf and Deaf/HH. A person who is Deaf/deaf values Deafness as a culture and truly supports the culture. The individual lives life fully immersed in a Deaf World. They may choose to marry and socialize with deaf people, work in the field of Deaf-Studies or teaching ASL, worship at a Deaf church, and some devote time providing and developing ASL-resources for others.

Though rare, there are some hearing individuals, who are considered Deaf. They have cherished the values of the culture and adopted the rules of behaviors as their own. Many of which are complete advocates for the Deaf community and share as much as they can about the Deaf community.


“Little d” deaf is more medically related in terms of hearing loss. A person who is profoundly deaf  will use a form of sign language to communicate. Many medical professionals, state and government facilities, and the educational system will use this term for notation purposes as a means to identify what they consider a disability.

It has been known for “Little d” deaf people to not associate with the culture of Deafness. This may result from growing up in a hearing family, where deafness was looked down upon and resented. Some deaf people refuse to learn ASL in fear of feeling or appearing different from the majority, which may leave them with delayed language acquisition and social awkwardness. Cochlear implants, hearing aides, audiology exams, and speech language therapy are all known attempts of some deaf individuals striving to hear despite having an extensive hearing loss resulting in the label “deaf”.

Hard of Hearing

Hard of Hearing (HOH or HH) people varies with hearing loss. There are some hard of hearing individuals who are deaf in one ear, but have full-functioning hearing in the other. They naturally would be placed in the “hard of hearing” category. Generally, people who are hard of hearing wear hearing aides to assist with hearing high pitch noises for emergency purposes. I italicized “assist” because often hearing people mistake hearing aides as a means to correct hearing. It is not.

Cochlear implants are also quite often seen on hard of hearing individuals, at which they can hear sounds and possibly even voices quite well. If used early enough, children are fully capable of hearing sounds well enough to start speaking on their own. ASL should still be used to help with acquisition of the English language. Audiologists and speech language pathologists are typically involved in the heard of hearing individual’s life to encourage correct pronunciations and proper English lexical skills. Most hard of hearing people don’t mind the label of “Deaf”; in fact, they embrace it! Though they may have assistive listening devices, they may choose to live in a totally Deaf World.


As previously mentioned, “Big D” Deaf is a cultural reference. Therefore, those who are Deaf/Oral (D/O) are physically without hearing, culturally recognizes Deafness, and were raised within a hearing family emphasizing speech as importance. Many Deaf/Orals are able to lipread or visually comprehend your oral speech.

Most Deaf/Orals become deaf later in life, or after they have acquired the spoken English language, thus the reasoning for the label. You may come in contact with those Deaf individuals whose speech is impeccable. They simply can not hear what they are saying. Many use ASL as their preferred receptive language, but chooses to verbalize their responses or replies.


Another form of Deafness is often related to that of Helen Keller, who was born deaf and blind. Those who are deaf and blind are taught ASL and braille; however, because ASL is a visual language, ASL is taught as tactile. Tactile signing is the use of ASL by means of the other sense: touch. This is truly an amazing way to communicate with Deaf/Blind individuals. There are certain cues and touches on the back and legs that mean certain feelings such as smiling, laughing, or crying. It is truly remarkable to know that interaction and communication is still possible despite the lack of two senses.


CODA, or Child of Deaf Adults basically means that deaf adults produced hearing children and used their first language, ASL, to communicate with their children. The children of Deaf parents naturally learn ASL as their first language and acquire English or spoken language as their second, likely in the educational system or around other hearing friends or family members.

CODAs tend to grow up as Deaf advocates or ASL interpreters. Depending on their Deaf parents involvement and acceptance of Deaf culture, CODAs are likely considered as “Big D” Deaf if they choose to accept the culture’s values and the rules of behaviors as their own.


Label comes from growing up in a hearing world: no hereditary deafness, spoken language is your primary means and your preferred method of communication, lack of signing skills (this can change!).

If you are interested in learning ASL or becoming “Big D” Deaf, contact the Unspoken Words team using the form below or email: info@un-spoken.org


***NOTE: Certainly each form of deafness can become confusing. Again, this all depends on the individual and what they prefer as a label. Depending on when the Deaf, HOH, D/O, or Deaf/Blind individual loses their hearing, will also determine their acceptance of Deaf culture and the language of Deafness. The later in life a person loses their hearing, the likelihood of them having a decreased willingness to learn ASL and accept the culture.

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Values of Deaf Culture (Part 2)

As mentioned in Part 1 of this article, the language of Deaf Culture, ASL, is the most highly regarded asset of Deaf Culture. Period. Lose the language, lose the culture. Spoken English has no use in the Deaf World. Some, not all Deaf, can lipread. Lipreading is an actual skill that is trained, and those that possess this skill are generally Oral Deaf or was raised to use speech regardless of their hearing loss. Though ASL is used in America, the comprehension of English does not come close to the language of ASL.

Again, ASL is a natural language for the Deaf. One would equate the fluency of English to hearing people, and the fluency of ASL to Deaf people. Deaf people are not meant to use a language that is not their own nor should they be forced to do so. However, because ASL is not a written language, meaning those who desire to write, read, or sound intelligible, would have to learn English as a second language in order to write their ASL thoughts properly. The primary goal of the Deaf is to preserve ASL as much as possible, but this can still be done even if the English language is acquired.

ASL is extremely important for Deaf people to communicate. Modern technology such as Video Relay (VR) and FaceTime have supported this language mode by allowing the Deaf to communicate with each other in their first language.

The culture of the Deaf consists of a few other important values:


Because the Deaf population is so small compared to that of the hearing, socializing is especially cherished within this culture. Social lives are invaluable. The Deaf live in a society where the they are commonly misunderstood, so the support from others within their community are highly necessary. Before the wonders of texting, Skype, FaceTime, or Video Relay was invented, Deaf people would communicate through letters and in person. Now they are able to “call” one another, using theses services, freely.

Try going to a Deaf event. You’ll notice something interesting. Deaf people are typically staying late at their events as a way to “catch up” as much as they can, especially if they haven’t seen each other in awhile or haven’t kept in touch. A hearing gathering may end at 10 in the evening, while a Deaf gathering will end at 3 in the morning. Though video services are available, nothing beats the face-to-face interaction the Deaf receive at these events.


Very similar to the American culture, Deaf culture values are not openly written or explained. Deaf children are scaffolded just a much as hearing children are in their culture. Deaf children are given positive and negative feedback about certain behaviors that may not fit the norms of Deaf culture and the like. Stories and literature are passed down through the generations and shared amongst the community. Deaf art, poetry, stories, theatre, media, games, deaf jokes, and books that teach the culture. Most of these art forms are to express the Deaf’s feelings of being Deaf and proud.

The Deaf are known to still have five senses despite their inability to hear: sense of taste, smell, sight, touch, and a sense of humor. Deaf comedy is truly an art within itself.

Rules of Behavior

The Deaf have a set of learned behaviors just like the hearing culture, except what the hearing culture may find offensive in theirs, the Deaf embraces and deems respectful.

Eye contact within Deaf culture is immensely important- not just a simple eye gaze but that of staring at person while engaged in conversation is the utmost respectful. In the hearing culture, it is rude to blatantly stare, but in the Deaf culture it is necessary. This shows the Deaf person that you are closely “listening” to what they have to say. If you are looking at your phone or constantly breaking eye contact, it replicates plugging your ears when someone is speaking to you.

Facial Expressions are limited in the hearing culture. Moving your body or face excessively in the hearing culture is labeled as “strange” or “weird”. Some may even diagnosis one as having Turret’s Syndrome. However, in the Deaf culture, excessive facial expressions and body movement is especially required for ASL. It’s a part of the language’s grammar and syntax system. It is completely normal and absolutely necessary in Deaf culture.

Use of space or spatial movement is also a necessary requirement in ASL. Similar to facial expressions, this is a part of the language’s syntax. Often will you see the Deaf using the space around them to tell a story, recreate a picture, describe their office space or the layout of their home. This use of space is absolutely necessary when explaining or describing important details of an event or occurrence.

Introductions are typically the norm in any culture. The manner of how it is performed is what makes it atypical. Hearing cultures would normally introduce themselves by first name (last name is optional depending on the formality of the setting). Deaf people usually introduce themselves by their full name, the city they grew up in, and the deaf residential school they attended. Because of the Deaf community’s small population, they tend to want to find specific commonalities with each other. Also the likelihood of them knowing each other’s extended friends and family is high. Therefore, they ask a series of background questions.

Learn more about Deaf Culture by learning their language. Contact the Unspoken Words team today to start your online tutoring sessions!

Values of Deaf Culture (Part 1)


The most important part of learning ASL is learning Deaf Culture. Deaf people pride their language and along with the pride of their language is the pride of their culture. The culture was first truly recognized a little over 50 years ago, where William Stokoe, Carl Cronenberg, and Dorothy Casterline wrote the idea that Deaf people had a culture of their own: the Dictionary of American Sign Language. Before this bible-like book was written, the Deaf were only viewed by medical professionals in terms of their hearing loss, and the very thought of Deaf people having a culture separate from the hearing society was unthought of. The publishing of this book was very similar to the first steps of mankind on the moon: life changing.

Taking a psychological standpoint to define culture, it is a set of learned behaviors of groups of people that share a language, values, rules of behavior, and traditions. With respects to Deaf Culture, for many years the language used by the deaf, American Sign Language (ASL) was not recognized or considered a language. In fact, the language was banned for many years in other countries, and its use was highly criticized in the earlier years educational system. This method was an attempt to force those who were Deaf and Hard of Hearing to use oral and speech practices opposed to gestures and signs.

Deaf Culture has made its way through the trenches of oppression and the wars of ridicule for years, and the very thought of losing their culture with modern technology that “cures” hearing loss is unthinkable. The moment the Deaf becomes poked and prodded with tests to rid them of what many use to believe as a “curse of the ears”, concerns of the language rises because once you lose the language (no need if you can hear), the prided, embraced, beloved culture ceases to exist. Without the language you have no culture. Without the culture, the language can not refer to anything.

To learn more about Deafness as a culture, I suggest reading one of the listed books below:

Don’t Just “Sign”… Communicate!: A Student’s Guide to ASL and the Deaf Community
by Michelle Jay

Everyone Here Spoke Sign Language: Hereditary Deafness on Martha’s Vineyard
by Nora Ellen Groce, John W. M. Whiting

Inside Deaf Culture
by Carol A. Padden, Tom L. Humphries

Deaf in America: Voices from a Culture
by Carol A. Padden, Tom L. Humphries

A Journey Into the Deaf-World
by Harlan Lane, Robert Hoffmeister, Ben Bahan

A Place of Their Own: Creating the Deaf Community in America
by John Vickrey Van Cleve, Barry A. Crouch

Deaf World: A Historical Reader and Primary Sourcebook
by Lois Bragg (Editor)


Those within Deaf Culture share a common language: American Sign Language. As previously mentioned, this was not considered a language for quite some time until the Dictionary of American Sign Language was published. Stokoe was the first in the field of linguistics to fully break down ASL into components understood by others, and this proved that it was more than “English on the hands” or mere “pictures in the air” as people originally thought. American Sign Language is a living, breathing linguistic masterpiece that is specifically made for the Deaf in the United States.

Contrary to many beliefs, American Sign Language (ASL) is not universal. Similar to spoken languages, each country, each continent has it’s very own sign language. American Sign Language is closely related to French Sign Language (FSL) rather than British Sign Language or (BSL). This is because of it’s founders, Edward Miner Gallaudet and Laurent Clerc. Though Gallaudet was born in the states, he traveled to France in hopes to learn how to formally educate the Deaf. He soon met Laurent Clerc, who was the first deaf teacher of the deaf in France. After Gallaudet invited him back to America, Gallaudet learned Sign Language from Clerc and establish a college that would educate Deaf adults: Gallaudet University. Just as English have borrowed or loaned words from other spoken languages, ASL is a combination of loan signs from the French language.

Though the language has came a long way in its creation, it is to be noted that ASL is a natural language- constantly evolving and growing.


Not speaking is highly valued in this culture. Speaking amongst a room full of Deaf individuals brings about any negative incidents they may have had growing up in a hearing world. Speech was commonly forced upon deaf children growing up, and it represented confinement and deprivation to the Deaf. When speech is forced in education, deaf children are deprived of their core, effective language-ASL.

One can be oppressed by race, sex, age, and disability. Add this word to your list: Audism. Created by Tom Humphries, a doctor of cross-cultural communications, defines this as the “notion that one is superior based on one’s ability to hear or to behave in the manner of one who hears.” When a hearing person deliberately continues a conversation knowing that there is a deaf person in the mix (a friend), it’s a form of audism, not to mention it’s rude. Try interpreting the conversation or write it out (texting). Being courteous enough to try and include them in the conversation, goes a long way with the Deaf.

I highly suggest watching the movie: Audism Unveiled to learn more about this form of Deaf oppression.

5 Things Deaf People Hate

We all have our pet -peeves. Things, actions, or sayings that simply make us tick in the hearing world, but have you ever taken any thought or consideration to a deaf person’s annoyances? Believe it or not, their inability to hear does not heighten their tolerance level by any means. In fact, it is quite lessened of sorts.

Below lists five (5) things that Deaf people simply dislike.

1.) “I’m sorry.”

In any given situation, the statement: “I’m sorry” is typically a difficult one to express. Why would the deaf community hate the very statement that is desired to be heard by many? Because when the Deaf “hear” those words, it is often conveyed by a hearing person that they are sorry for their hearing loss. When a hearing person becomes aware that the person is deaf or hard of hearing, their immediate response is frequently, “I’m sorry.” Any Deaf person, especially those immersed in the culture of deafness will share their love of not being able to hear.  After reading the book “Journey into the Deaf World,” I noted an interesting comment made by a deaf person. He stated that he can’t image hearing the awful noises that hearing people hear on a regular basis: toilet flushing, airplanes flying overhead, people blowing their car horns simply because they can, or construction workers at a constant jacking of their hammers during the peak of rush hour. Because these noises are heard often by the hearing population, we become immune in a sense. However, studies have shown that an over exposure of these sounds are detrimental to our hearing, which promotes hearing loss over time. So before you attempt to apologize to a deaf person for not having the ability to hear, think about how amazing it could be to rely on your other set of senses other than hearing.

2.) Slow Motion Mouthing

Hearing people have the tendency to start moving their mouths slowly and speak even louder than they were before in an attempt to make the Deaf person magically hear what they are saying. Yes, they are still Deaf. As a hearing person, you are better off writing what you would like to say to the deaf person. A simple transcription of what you are trying to convey is certainly better for us all than screaming at the top of your lungs in hopes of a verbal response or reply. Deaf people want to communicate with the hearing population, but if you insist on yelling at them, expecting them to hear all of a sudden, you’re going to run them away!

3.) “I Know Sign Language!”

Yes. We are thrilled that you are taking ASL tutoring lessons through the Un-spoken Words Tutoring Program, but there is no need for you to randomly go up to a Deaf person (certainly not a group of deaf people) and start showing them the alphabet. If you see a Deaf person signing, you can glance (and I mean glance…staring is a big no no in the deaf community, as it should be in the hearing), acknowledging that you possibly know what they are saying and move on. It’s actually a pretty cool feeling to understand a sign or two, just please don’t ogle at their hands. Look at it from this perspective. If someone of the Latin culture is speaking Spanish, and you know their language, would you tell them that you speak or know basic Spanish? Probably not. The same concept applies here with deaf individuals. Deaf people are all about sharing their culture and language, but they are social beings too. They want to have every right to communicate freely without someone bothering them with the fact you know how to spell your name in ASL.

4.) “Don’t Stare at Me!”

This is very similar to number three’s “I know sign language” issue. Deaf people communicate using a signed language: ASL. This means that it IS a language. By you staring at them is along the same lines of eavesdropping. It’s rude. There is no doubt that the language is beautiful, and the expressions can be humorous at times, but that does not mean you can stare intensely at them communicating. Because deaf people are “listening” intensely to whomever they are communicating with at the time, they may not notice you are staring, but give the curtsy of not performing the act.

5.) Pretend to Know Sign

Don’t and I mean absolutely do not pretend to know sign language. It is very offensive and carries a bad reputation for hearing people. If you do not sign their language, do not pretend that you do. Random gestures expressed, similar to the faux sign language interpreter at Nelson’s Mandela’s funeral is not OK. Again, deaf people have the right to access communication like their cohorts. Therefore, you mimicking or mocking their language as if you know it, shows a lack of respect for their culture and language. It took the deaf community years to overcome oppression and to finally be recognized as intelligent beings, so for a hearing individual to mock the very language that deaf people have worked so diligently to bring awareness to, only brings about more feelings of oppression. Please think twice before you mock the language and ultimately the culture.

If you are interested in avoiding the above five (5) nuisances of Deaf people, start by learning their language. Contact Unspoken Words Interpreting and Tutoring Services. I provide one-on-one and group ASL tutoring sessions. Please contact me by email: amartin@un-spoken.org

“Discover the power of an Unspoken Language!”

Why the Deaf Community is Amazing: From a Hearing Person’s Perspective

Anyone who grew up in a hearing home can attest to very seldomly hearing about the deaf community. Deaf world is simply estranged to that of the hearing world. Not because there isn’t a desire to learn about the deaf community, but because many hearing individuals are unaware of the deaf culture/community actually existing.

Like many of you, I did not have the slightest idea of my career goals. The desire of becoming an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter never entered or crossed my mind by the time I started my college career. In fact, I had no idea the actual profession of ASL interpreting existed. I started my college career in the Dental Laboratory program at a Community College. After the first semester, I did not have a passionate feeling towards it. I knew I wanted to pursue a career that made me want to wake up each day and venture into something exciting and captivating. I entered into the American Sign Language program as a simple, temporary placement while I searched other majors to switch into. I took my first American Sign Language class, which covered eye-opening experiences about individuals who were personally affected by laws that now enable them to become educated and employed as individuals with disabilities. From that moment on, I knew I wanted to pursue this “temporary placement” for the rest of my life.

After entering into the program and volunteering as an English tutor for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing at my college, I quickly realized this, what I was doing, is my passion. This is what I am going to devote every second of my life perfecting. I have to say, it’s been the most rewarding experience. I am able to provide a service that not many people can perform. Also known as the “language and culture mediator”, I communicate between two worlds using simply my hands. At the tender age of 17, I found a gift that people are still searching for: their passion.

From a hearing person’s perspective, there are three reasons why being a part of the deaf community is so amazing:

1. The Silence

Attending Gallaudet University has been one of the most unthinkable experiences I will ever encounter. The moment I stepped foot on campus was the moment I realized I just entered into something I will never forget. The silence on campus, in the Deaf Community in general, is unparalleled. Coming from a hearing family, you forget what silence truly means, truly feels like until you make your way to a deaf event. In their eyes (literally), they are loud, laughing, and enjoying themselves. To the hearing community, they are all simply starring at each other making unknown gestures. In my opinion, this is all the more reason you should learn sign language: to connect with a world that is silent for once in your natural, hearing-born life.

2.  Interpersonal Connection

Again, after attending Gallaudet University as a hearing individual, you begin to notice patterns within the deaf community that are unseen by the hearing world. With the majority of the deaf community, there is a naturalness of interpersonal connection with others who are deaf or hard of hearing. In their world, it’s not many people around like them. They are the minority within a minority, out of the majority of people. Once they are aware that you either sign or are deaf, they will accept you into their community. From a hearing perspective, if you sign, it means you took the time amongst everything else, to study and learn their language: a language that was banned in most countries until recent years. They take that to heart and consider that a big deal. The Deaf believe that if you took the time to learn a few signs to communicate and connect with them, you are respectable in their eyes.

3.  Your Other Set of Senses

Everything is visual within the deaf community. Every chance I get; I stand on campus, amongst the silence and engage every last sense that I take for granted in the hearing world: sense of sight and touch. Take the opportunity one day to close your ears and open your eyes wide. See what you notice after doing so. You start to remember the small things like the pretty dress a woman was wearing one day in detail, the facial features of the man that just walked by, or the new sign you saw and curious of learning the meaning. The sense of sight and touch are certainly taken for granted when you have the ability to hear. Once your hearing is taken away, you’re left with four other senses to heavily rely on. Another reason to learn sign: you learn and grow to appreciate the sense of sight.

3 Steps to Hiring a Sign Language Interpreter

The single largest barrier between the Deaf and hearing communities is the language or the means to communicate. Many hearing individuals, as discussed in my previous post, have very little interaction with the deaf and hard of hearing. Again, this is not because hearing individuals do not desire to communicate or learn about the deaf community; in fact, many are quite intrigued by the culture once in contact with such. However, the very thought of attempting to converse with the deaf is daunting for many, especially at special events and in the work place. Below lists three steps on how to properly hire a Sign Language Interpreter to assist with easing the language barrier.

1.  Seek a Local Agency

The first step to hiring a sign language interpreter is seeking out a local interpreting agency, which specializes in American Sign Language. I personally and strongly advise looking for either Deaf-owned, or interpreter-owned provider. When using such owned agencies, you are ensured to receive quality interpreters. These agencies specialize in providing the best resources for your deaf/hard of hearing consumers, making sure their experience is equal to that of your hearing patrons. Providing adequate and equal access to communication is the ultimate goal!

2.  State Your Needs

Once you have contacted this local deaf-owned or interpreter owned agency, be sure to state your specific interpreting needs. This helps the agency know the exact type of situation in order to accommodate and provide you with a qualified interpreter best suited for the event/assignment. For example, in a legal setting, it would be advantageous to hire an interpreter who could not only communicate with both attorneys and clients, but one who is also mentally prepared to deliver legal information to the client regarding their case without skewing any important details.

If you are able to provide the agency with as much information as possible prior to your event, the agency can find an interpreter with in depth background experience in the field, and allows for them to become familiar with the relevant terminology. A provider who is knowledgeable requires much less preparation, and is capable of providing a much richer interaction.

Important Note:

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that equal access be provided to persons with disabilities by all public entities (public schools, government offices, etc.) and by all services which are provided to the public at large (doctor’s offices, lawyers, etc.) Generally, this means that such entities are required to pay for sign language interpreting services. To assist businesses with complying with the ADA, Section 44 of the IRS Code allows tax credit for small businesses and Section 190 of the IRS Code allows tax deductions for all businesses. This credit can cover 50% of eligible access expenditures in a year (up to $10,250).

3.  Culturally Profound

While providing your deaf clients with an interpreter may be required by the law, it is up to you whether your Deaf or hard of hearing consumer will receive the same access and quality of services you offer your hearing patrons. This leads to our third step within the process of hiring an interpreter. It is imperative that you find an interpreter with more than a national certification or special qualifications. The interpreter should have a strong background knowledge, diverse field experience, and cultural competence. The whole point of hiring an interpreter is to not only aid in the communication barrier, but to culturally combine the hearing and deaf world as well. If the sign language interpreter has in depth knowledge of the Deaf Community, it will help curb the oppression of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing individuals.