The hearing community generally views deafness as a disability and has little understanding of deaf culture.
The disability view of deafness is in stark contrast to the view of the deaf community where members consider themselves neither isolated nor disabled, but rather a cultural and linguistic minority disadvantaged by a language barrier not by a disability.
Deafness is understood by outsiders as a devastating disability but insiders see it as an incidental feature and cultural norm.
Like any culture, sign language is an important part of deaf people’s identity. Although not all deaf people use sign language, it is the single most important element that connects and binds the deaf community together.
In Malawi, they have their own language and culture—shared experiences of deafness though they are viewed as a minority group.
There are often specific criteria for inclusion in the deaf community. One is either born into the deaf community or one opts in.
We have seen many hearing people joining and adapting to deaf communities because they are teachers of the deaf or sign language users or interpreters. Others work for deaf people’s wellbeing.
Hearing people can be members of the deaf community through their audiological status, political support of the goals of the deaf community, social contact within the community and through linguistic fluency in sign language.
Although these are the core prerequisites for entry into the deaf community, there is diversity in the membership.
This community may also include a range of people regardless of the degree of their deafness. Hearing people who identify with deaf culture, such as hearing children of deaf parents, may also form part of the deaf community.
Because of such diversity, to join the deaf community, one must adopt a cultural view of deafness and be proficient in sign language.
Malawian deaf community is relatively small and tends to keep to itself. It appears guarded about its culture and language. Acceptance and acculturation into the community seem to be affirmed by one’s attitude and the use of sign language—not upon one’s audiometric status.
To be accepted into the community, one may still need to possess the right ‘attitude toward deaf people, their language, culture, and minority status.
In Malawi, like elsewhere in the world, sign language is usually invented and developed by deaf people in their communities and schools.
Despite their relative invisibility, deaf people have a well-established position in our schools for the deaf and deaf communities.
For hearing researchers and scholars willing to study deaf people, their language and way of life, they have to meet the above criteria for them to have their research work credible.
In many parts of the world the field of deaf, deafness and sign language research is fraught with problems–prejudice, mistrust, misunderstanding, unmet expectations and prevalent mythologies. Some problems arise from cultural differences between the hearing researchers and the deaf people they study.
Sometimes the researchers lack of appropriate training and sensitivity. Those who investigate aspects of deafness itself—medical, educational or psychological—also face these problems since they, too, need to be in contact with members of the deaf community and get accultured into it.
Like hearing people, Deaf people love making jokes and fun. Their humour is related primarily to the dominant visual experience of deaf people, but also influenced by their knowledge of humor traditions in the hearing society. Facial expression is an essential part of deaf humour.
Sometimes these jokers symbolise a wide range of animals — elephants, giraffes, ants and even birds.
These representations of creatures usually portray them as deaf as well as human. n