The deaf community is the group of people who take part in the cultural and linguistic values built around sign language and a visual conception of the world. The deaf community is made up of both deaf and hearing people, of any personal or social condition, that share the same linguistic and cultural legacy.
2.2 The Deaf Community
In Spain there are 1,064,000 people who are deaf or have some hearing disability (that is 2.3% of Spain’s population) according to the data from the survey of the National Statistics Institute (INE) in their study “EDAD 2008”.
Deaf people are those with hearing loss who find communication barriers in their everyday life (a limiting environment). These barriers often make difficult or impede the development of their capacities and their equal participation in society.
Deafness has traditionally only been analyzed from a pathological point of view, considering the condition as the only factor that determined everything that a deaf person is and needs. But limiting one’s understanding only to its sensorial aspect is ignoring a reality, and it has caused, and still causes, social, cultural and work exclusion for deaf people.
Deaf people are a lot more than just hearing loss, they are people who, with more or less hearing loss, have the same capacities and rights as other citizens, but have to deal with barriers that impede their full citizenship daily.
Throughout history and around the world, deaf people have naturally developed sign languages, a creative alternative to a sensory limitation. That has created certain cultural and linguistic values associated to the sign language of each country. For a great number of deaf people sign language is their mother tongue, placing the oral and written language as a second language.
In Spain, sign language has been discriminated against for many years, forbidden in the classrooms. Most deaf people attended schools where sign language was forbidden, and only acquired that communication tool much later, which affected their personal development and social participation.
The European Council, on the 1st of April 2003, urged its member states to recognize sign language officially as the main tool towards the complete social integration of European deaf people. Currently, the European countries that have recognized their respective sign languages are: Finland, Denmark, Sweden, United Kingdom, Northern Ireland, Germany, Portugal and Spain, where the demands of the CNSE were finally acknowledged with the approval of the Law 27/2007, by which Spanish sign languages are recognized and the means of support for oral communication for the deaf, hearing impaired and deaf-blind are regulated.
The Centre for Linguistic Normalization of Spanish Sign Language (CNLSE) was founded on the 21st of December 2010, in compliance with the Law 27/2007, according to which the Spanish sign languages are recognized and the means of support for oral communication for the deaf, hearing impaired and deaf-blind are regulated. The CNLSE is public and it is a part of the Royal Board of Disability.
Its goal is to work on the normalization of Spanish sign language, providing a space for reference and diffusion that ensures its proper use and contributes to guaranteeing the rights of the people who use this language, as well as promoting research in the area.
- How to Learn Sign Language:
There are courses on Communication in Sign Language, both Spanish and Catalan. There are three levels (Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced)
These courses, addressed both to deaf and hearing people, as well as to entities who ask for it, can be face to face or online.
For more information, you can contact the Federation, or the association for the deaf closest to you. You can also get information at the Fundación CNSE.
- Communication Barriers
By that we refer to all the obstacles and impediments that make it more difficult or limit the communication of those people whose capacity to communicate orally and through hearing are limited, either temporarily or permanently.
Examples: lack of subtitles on television, lack of sign language interpreters in the different areas of public and private life, etc.
This refers to the discipline that guarantees that the means are available for everyone, whether or not they have any kind of disability.
Human and material resources that allow accessibility to deaf people:
Sign Language Interpreters
Professionals who interpret and translate information from sign language to oral and written language and vice versa, to ensure successful communication between deaf people who use sign language and their surroundings.
Sign language video interpretation allows both deaf and hearing people to communicate through the figure of the video interpreter. It allows long distance and real time communication both for deaf and hearing people, however they choose. Working hours are from 8am to 8pm Monday to Friday (7am to 7pm in the Canary Islands) and 11am to 7pm Saturdays, Sundays and holidays (10am to 6pm in the Canary Islands).
- The deaf person dials the number for the Centre of Telephone Mediation on a visual terminal.
- The operator receives the call at their work place, and immediately establishes communication with the requested number.
- Through the service, communication is established between the deaf and the hearing person.
- 24 hour service, nationally and internationally.
Mediation Centre contact numbers:
- Hearing: 901 55 88 55
- Fax: 901 51 50 11
- SMS: 610 44 49 91
- DTS: 901 51 10 10
- DTS Emergencies: 900 211 112
- Amper: 901 56 88 66
- Through a sign language interpreter, who works as a mediator in communicating with a deaf person who uses sign language
- There are various ways of communicating with a deaf person: e-mail, text messages, fax, letter, video interpreter service (SVIsual), centre for mediation with deaf people, etc.
- To establish communication with a deaf person:
- You should call their attention by touching their arm, shoulder or thigh (if both people are sitting down). You should never touch a deaf person’s back or head.
- If physical contact is not possible due to a big distance, you can call their attention different ways: waving an arm in the deaf person’s line of sight, tapping the floor hard or the table softly, for them to feel the vibration, or turning off the lights.
- During a conversation with a deaf person:
- The deaf person should be strategically situated so that they can have a general view of the place where they are. The place must also be well lit, so that the deaf person can see well.
- It is important to establish eye contact with the deaf person. You should not move around or stop wherever you impede visual contact between people.
- You should not talk too fast or too slowly. You should vocalize clearly, without exaggerating, and you should use simple and short sentences to ensure comprehension of what is being said.
- You should speak without covering your mouth so the deaf person can read your lips.
- Facial expression helps a lot, as well as the other components of verbal discourse: miming, gestures, writing, etc. In case the deaf person does not understand, you should repeat the same thing with different words.
- You should respect the divided attention of the deaf person if you want them to follow a full explanation. You should not give information orally at the same time that you point to a visual aid, like a text, an image or an object; you should wait for the deaf person to finish looking at it to proceed with the explanation. And if you are reading a text, you should try not to look down so that the deaf person can read your lips.
- Depending on the level of hearing loss of the person, it might help to raise your voice a bit. You should not shout, though, as it makes you lose your facial expression and it will not be of any help for those people with severe hearing loss.
- You should inform the deaf person about the acoustic information of the place (alarms, bells, horns, etc.) so that they are not excluded from the messages directed to the hearing majority.
- If several people are going to participate in the conversation, it is best to sit in a circle, as it improves visibility.
You can always ask for help, guidance and advice at the federations and associations of deaf people about how to optimize communication depending on the characteristics of each deaf person or group of deaf people.