Deaf Connections in tight-knit Deaf Community

Deaf community is a tight-knit community with a high level of networking and high sense of belonging due to interweaved factors: being Deaf, language, modality (signing), location, few degrees of separation, and Deafhood.

Being Deaf and Deafhood

Being Deaf and Deafhood are the foremost nature that glues Deaf people together. Plus, it's the inescapable factor that make Deaf people visual people. People of the eye. Third, Deaf people have an enhanced plasticity of the brain in visual and spatial areas.

Belonging-ness

Whether it is a true true or a legend, the famous story in American Deaf culture is the "Deaf Spies in the American Civil War" (1861-1865); although, it's true that there were a number of deaf troops joining in the Civil War both from the South and the North,

Ben Bahan tells a video story in ASL translated as: One day, a Northern General decided to pick a Deaf soldier to go spy on and study the South. A Southern General did the same thing and sent a Deaf soldier to spy on the North. Both deaf soldiers set out and ran into each other with their muskets at the ready. Shocked, each waited for the other person to do or say something. Then, they discovered and were surprised that both were deaf. They put down their muskets, sat down and talked in sign language. Where you from? They went on chatting and chatting for hours and hours. The Northern General sent a search party who found the Deaf soliders. Back at the camp, the Deaf soldiers insisted that they didn't do anything wrong. The General didn't know what to do with them. He wrote an urgent letter to President Lincoln who also had a letter on his desk about establishing Gallaudet College as a college for the deaf in Washington, D.C. The president replied in a letter, "You two Deaf have an innate understanding of the true meaning of brotherhood. That deep connection, in spite of our disagreements, is so strong as to triumph over them." The Deaf soldiers were forgiven and free. Ref

This story represents so many true stories and experiences about Deaf people around the world across many generations. For example, in the Middle East during the religious wars, Deaf friends of different religions gathered in a cafe or pub, chatting and chatting. Deaf travelers from different countries often met and chatted. Being Deaf connects with one another.

Language and Visual-Spatial Modality

Deaf people share the same visual-spatial modality for a language. Sign language is what bonds them together.

With visual acuity, they manually speak with a full-fledged, complex language that hearing outsiders cannot capture to the fullest. With subtle variances of non-manual grammar, verb inflections, classifier systems, and all, they convey meanings that hearing signers, no matter how fluent or how many years, miss the most nuances of meanings. Native-signing Deaf growing up in a Deaf school or Deaf family has a knack of it.

Location

Deaf schools are traditionally a place where Deaf youths form lifetime relationships from acquaintance to friendship. They continue to expand their network in Deaf community. Although, many deaf people attend mainstream (hearing) schools since the 1980s.

Deaf clubs are traditionally a "second home". Again, things have changed since long. Many Deaf clubs declined; although, events through Deaf organizations remain active. Deaf people gather and socialize at Deaf events as well as online sites. During the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, online events quickly expanded.

The Degrees of Separation

Have you heard of the "six degrees of separation" theory? It's the idea that everyone in the world is separated from everyone else by six connections by way of introduction. So you are to connected to anyone else through five other people.

This six degrees of separation is kind of a lot closer to the truth in the Deaf world, but in the hearing world? Quite doubtful. Deaf people on this earth is very much more interconnected as they are highly networked among Deaf communities and schools for the deaf worldwide.

If this "six degrees" number is the case in the hearing world, then it must be about two degrees of separation compared to the hearing version of six. But then again, two degrees of separation would be a lot closer to the truth among Deaf globe-trotters than local Deaf folks on the global stage, but it's still two degrees of separation within a local or regional Deaf community.

Now someone says that the collective degrees of separation have shrunk online. A Facebook page calculates that "each person in the world (at least among the 1.59 billion people active on Facebook) is connected to every other person by an average of three and a half other people." In that case, would that be one degree of separation in the Deaf world on Facebook? Sometimes.

Connections and Networking

A Deaf person connected to another Deaf person around the world can be easily traced through intermediaries. A distinct, cultural feature in introduction that is different from the hearing culture is evident. When introducing someone or meeting a new person, we typically ask about our backgrounds such as where we come from, where we live, what deaf school we went to, where we were born in, whether we went to Gallaudet University or RID (and what year), and so on. Not all questions are asked but one leads to another where fit.

A case study: My Deaf parents' close Italian friends Sala and his wife came to visit us in Wroclaw, Poland, from Italy for a week in circa 1975. At that time, Sala was also a close friend of Swedish-born American-resident Yerker Andersson who was Vice President of the WFD (World Federation of the Deaf). My father wasn't sure whether he had met Yerker once but didn't know that Yerker was a close friend of Sala.

Years forward after my family emigrated to Canada and years later Yerker and I met for the first time and chatted at a WFD event in Italy. As Sala approached us, Yerker casually mentioned Sala was his very close friend. Ah! I told him that my father was a close friend of Sala. Bingo, we connected. If it weren't for him to mention, we might not have known that we were interconnected.

degree of separation in the Deaf world
Image left to right: Sala's daughter (coda), Sala's wife, Yerker, Sala, and Jolanta (myself). Circa 2001.

Years later, a Canadian emerging interpreter from my city went to Italy for some kind of a training under Sala's daughter and learned of my connection to them. She came back to tell me a 'hello' message from them. Reconnected.

This scenario is an illustration of many, many similar stories of Deaf people.

Hearing Signers

When a hearing person meets a Deaf person for the first time. After the usual introduction (e.g. "What is your name?", it is not unusual for some Deaf community members to ask questions such as "are you hearing?", "where did you learn ASL?", "who is your ASL instructor?" and bingo. Sometimes, an ASL student may be connected to a Deaf community member via their Deaf ASL instructor.

There are so much many interesting stories about 'small world' connections in the Deaf world. Not all connections are made but they are built or embedded in a circle of circles.

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This documentation project follows a child's language acquisition, literacy development, and phonological acquisition in sign language, specifically ASL, from newborn to age five in a natural native-ASL environment and visual culture.