A Word from the Deaf of ION

The Deaf constitute a people unlike any other on earth. Mission scholars define them as a people group composed of profoundly Deaf men and women, usually Deaf at birth or before the acquisition of language, who use sign language as their preferred language and have a cultural kinship for others like them in communities across the world.[1] In other words, the Deaf self-identify by hearing loss, affirmation of sign language as the primary means of communication and have a social affinity for others like them.

Such a definition, however, does not answer the question of why the Deaf exist as they do. George Veditz, an early champion of American Sign Language (ASL), answers that question when he describes the Deaf as, “… first, last, and all the time the people of the eye.”[2]  His comment illustrates a fundamental truth about Deaf people—they receive, process and give information about the world through visual means. The Deaf need for visual communication gave rise to sign languages that allowed them to cement social connections with each other and establish them as a distinct people group.

Deaf people share attributes found in oral people groups. They, like oral peoples, do not communicate through print information, have no written version of their native language (i.e., sign language), and share information through stories.[3] The Deaf, however, differ from their hearing oral peers in that their sign languages have a visual-spatial, not phonological, foundation.

Mark and Vesta Sauter created a process that International Mission Board (IMB) and DeafWay Bible workers have used to translate print information from the Bible into visual stories for the Deaf.[4] The process involves arranging words into distinct categories, storyboarding, dramatizing, story-telling, discussion, and the use of visual mnemonics. International Orality Network (ION) personnel interested in the process developed by the Sauters will find value in adapting it for hearing oral people groups.

ION members have a special opportunity to educate people on what makes the Deaf a distinct people group. They can advocate for the Deaf as non-print communicators and explain the reasons behind classifying them as such. This knowledge should help society and the church not view the Deaf as “broken” or “child-like” versions of hearing people. Instead, ION personnel can uplift the Deaf as a “people of the eye” made in the image of a holy God.

 

Notes

[1] Wayne Morris, Theology Without Words: Theology in the Deaf Community (New York: Routledge, 2016), Kindle edition, 1; Mark Sauter, “Global Deaf Statistics (Revised),” International Mission Board, unpublished, August 22, 2012.

[2] George Veditz, Proceedings of the Ninth Convention of the National Association of the Deaf and the Third World Congress of the Deaf, 1910 (Philadelphia: Philocophus Press, 1912), 30.

[3] Matthew Moore and Linda Levitan, For Hearing People Only (Rochester, NY: Deaf Life Press, 2003), 75–76; Carol Padden and Tom Humphries, Inside Deaf Culture (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005), Kindle edition, location 31–36.

[4] Mark Sauter, “Equipping the Deaf Worldwide,” CEJ 3, vol. 13, no. 2 (2016).

 

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