What is Deaf Gain: Benefits And Examples
Discover why Deaf Gain goes beyond disability and find out how it's reshaping our understanding of human capabilities. Click here to read more!
What are the first words that come to mind when you hear the word “deaf”? Is it a loss? Deficit? Disability? Pity? Something that can be cured or fixed? Do you think about what deaf people are missing out on? How they can’t hear the rain or listen to music? Do you assume that all deaf people wish they could be hearing?
Deafness has long been viewed as a ‘hearing loss’ - something a person lost. There exists a perceived stigma surrounding deafness and hearing loss. For many, it is impossible to think about a disability without thinking about loss. Yet deaf people don’t view their lives nor their disability as loss, rather they reframe it as a “Deaf Gain”.
What is Deaf Gain?
The term “Deaf Gain” is becoming more commonplace in our society, but what does it mean?
While the term might seem like an oxymoron, it has come to challenge and redefine common held notions about what it means to be deaf and/or disabled. This term demonstrates the positive implications of deafness and challenges the negative connotations that may come with the term ‘hearing loss’.
- Deaf Gain was coined by Aaron Williamson, a performance artist, when he shared his story of going deaf later in life. He consulted many doctors who repetitively told him he was losing his hearing. Never was their response something of a gain—never it was “gaining his deafness”.
- This concept was further developed by H-Dirksen Bauman and Joseph Murray (in 2014) that aims to counter and challenge the idea that being deaf is a ‘loss’ and instead encourage people to see deafness as a strength. Through this lens, deafness is approached as a distinct way of being.
Think of it this way, most deaf people were born without hearing. Can you lose something you’ve never experienced or known? Rather than focusing on what might be considered as missing, Deaf Gain focuses on what is present in deaf people’s lives.
For example, deaf individuals tend to have unique capabilities in:
- spatial and facial recognition
- peripheral processing
- the detection of images
The host of visual-tactile processing acuities have the potential to provide insights into the wider practices of architecture, filmmaking, video game design, bilingual education, monitoring surveillance, etc.
Deaf Gain and Transnationalism
One aspect of Deaf Gain is transnationalism. The deaf community’s reach goes beyond national boundaries. In this way, deaf people around the world, regardless of a dominant hearing culture surrounding them, have a unique connection to each other that hearing people will never have.
A hallmark of deaf transnationalism is the ease of communication between deaf people from different parts of the world. I can assess to this from my trip to Iceland where I met with the Icelandic deaf community. Within the same night, we were able to have full meaningful conversations where we could understand each other.
It is a common experience for deaf people who travel to other countries and be immediately able to communicate using improvised and international signs (with only minimal frustration). This is in stark contrast to hearing travelers who must take the time to learn each other’s language before they can hope to communicate successfully.
For deaf people, such formal training is not needed. This can be attributed to the shared features of signed languages, such as role shifting the body and using classifiers, and the facial expression skills that deaf people have. It does not take long to figure out what the other person is saying. Leah Katz-Hernandez, the first and only deaf White House secretary to the President of the United States, once said, “Being deaf transcends the boundaries of countries, cultures, and languages.”
Deaf people, while a linguistic minority group, are united not by geographical boundaries, but by a shared language and identity. That is what makes the deaf community so powerful. This is what it means when I say that culturally Deaf people aren’t lacking anything and certainly do not define their lives by loss.
Deaf Gain Benefits
Deaf Gain also refers to the contributions of deaf individuals, communities, and their languages to humanity as a whole. In the most general sense, society at large has benefited from the existence of deaf people and sign language.
One significant example of Deaf Gain is closed captioning. Closed captioning is designed to help the deaf access audio content in media. Today its usefulness is universal. It is everywhere.
- It helps viewers learn English as a second language, and for children to enhance their English.
- With the increase of reality television, dialogue is spoken quickly, sloppily with accents, or mumbling. Closed captions provide clarity.
- It also helps viewers with learning disabilities, attention deficits or autism.
- Captions allow viewers to watch TV in sound-sensitive environments, like offices, libraries, or even noisy bars.
Other Examples of Deaf Gain
In mainstream society:
- The signals used by baseball umpires to call balls and strikes, as well as the plays, were developed by Dummy Hoy, a deaf person.
- Gallaudet University, the world’s first and only university for the deaf, created the huddle in football.
- Research shows that “baby signs” and sign language practiced on and with babies speeds up speech development and increases parent-child bonding.
- Being in a noisy environment can be quite annoying sometimes. Deaf people have the choice to turn their hearing aids off. Hearing people don’t have this choice. They have to deal with the noise.
- In a work environment like a factory, or a place that has a lot of noise or machinery, deaf workers are able to focus better because they are not bothered by the noise and don't require the use of headphones or ear plugs.
- Whenever you’re asleep, you could be woken by noises like the rumbles of rolling thunder outside, or dealing with somebody who is snoring loudly.
Signs for Deaf Gain
In American Sign Language, Deaf Gain can be signed in 3 different ways:
- DEAF INCREASE: the opposite of hearing “loss”
- DEAF BENEFIT: deaf people have something important and unique
- DEAF CONTRIBUTE: all the ways that deaf people contribute to society
Deaf Gain Potential
This term, “Deaf Gain”, can be seen as a reframing of “deaf” as a form of sensory and cognitive diversity that has the potential to contribute to the greater good of humanity. As we move towards 2024 and a more interdependent world, the hearing world can only gain from learning about the deaf world and what it has to offer.