I did not realize the difference between "deaf" and "Deaf" until I had a child with hearing loss. With a little "d," the word just describes not being able to hear. Using the big "D," implies involvement in the Deaf community. Almost every book on ASL includes some background information about Deaf culture. Because Evan has profound hearing loss and because we are trying to teach him ASL, I assumed that he would become part of the Deaf community. In the ASL class Jeremy and I are taking, out textbook talks about Deaf culture in greater detail than what I've read before. The more I learn, the more I realize...it's complicated.
There are three requirements for being part of the Deaf community--1) a person must be deaf, 2) he or she must use ASL, and 3) the shared experiences that come from beign deaf. It makes sense that the Deaf community would be defined in this way--these shared experiences and challenges form a common bond that unites deaf individuals across racial, ethnic, or social divisions. A hearing person might be fluent in ASL, they might even have family members who are Deaf, but they will never be a part of the Deaf community because they are missing the first-hand experience of what it's like to have a severe or profound hearing loss. Another person might have a significant hearing impairment, but if they do not know ASL they will not be able to communicate with members of the Deaf community.
As I read the chapter, I started to get a sinking feeling. For months, I have referred to my son as being Deaf. But profound hearing loss does not equal Deaf. It's not that simple. Evan does not know ASL now, and realistically he may not ever have a good grasp on the language. This "minor" detail would be a deal-breaker in terms of being Deaf, of being part of the Deaf community. Evan is deaf with a little "d." I am disappointed because it's one more place where Evan does not really fit.