Dr. Donald Grushkin gives a brief overview of what the term Deafhood means and why it is significant in presenting a positive view of our people.

Over the course of time, others have viewed Deaf people as a problem, focusing on our mouths and ears, and viewing us negatively in that we can’t do things…. Deaf can’t read, Deaf can’t write, Deaf can’t talk, Deaf can’t hear, Deaf are not smart, and the list of negative perceptions goes on and on.

Those negative perceptions come under the category of “deafness”. Deafness is a label that has been attached to us. But this is a label that we do not like and do not want to accept. We wish to turn that label around to its flip side – “Deafhood”, which we will proudly wear.

What is Deafhood? Deafhood is the sum of all the positive aspects of us as Deaf people. Under Deafhood, Deaf are seen as being able to do things… Deaf can read, Deaf can write, Deaf can sign, Deaf can socialize with others, Deaf people have a community, they have a culture, they have a whole list of things that go on and on.

All these things are positive, and this is Deafhood.

Deafhood is about understanding ourselves as Deaf people, looking inside and examining ourselves, understanding and recognizing the oppression that has occurred over the centuries which has come to take root in ourselves and eradicating those traces of oppression and resisting it while at the same time recognizing and resisting the oppression that is still occurring in the present day.

Deafhood is understanding that we are Deaf, not Hearing, and that it is okay to be Deaf! We are equal in all respects to Hearing people! Hearing people have their ways, and we have ours, and one is no better or worse than the other. They have their language, and we have our sign language. They have their ways of socialization, and we have ours. They have their culture, and we have our culture.

Both are equal, and both are equally valuable. We can socialize and get along with them, and they can socialize and get along with us. But we recognize that we need not conform to their ways to be “equal”. We do not need to be able to hear and talk to become equal to a Hearing person.

We can be equal to Hearing people on our own, Deaf terms.

Deafhood is about envisioning a future, a positive future for ourselves. A future in which our academic levels are higher, our community is uplifted, stronger and more cohesive. Our language, our signs are not deteriorating, but rather, elevated and fluent. Economically, instead of struggling and being poor, we can raise our economic level to work together and improve our community and gain political power to lobby our government.

These are all positive futures which we aspire to. However, it is not enough to just dream, we must work to achieve those positive futures and claim them for ourselves, and more importantly, for our Deaf children and their future.
That is Deafhood.

The organic cure for deafness.


Deafhood has two components:

  • It is a way of gathering together and framing what we already know of Deaf culture, life, politics etc.
  • The framing process itself reveals ways in which we can move “beyond” present Deaf cultural limitations resulting from the colonialism of Sign Language Peoples (SLPs).


  • the total sum of all positive meanings of the word “Deaf” — past, present and future —
  • all the largest meanings of what Sign Language Peoples have been, are, and can become. Including:
    • all that Deaf people have created in this world,
    • all that they created which has been lost to sight (because of colonialism).
    • all that they might create in future


The word “Deafhood” was first developed by Paddy Ladd in 1993. The concept was further developed through his doctoral dissertation on Deaf Culture in 1998. Ladd published a book on the subject in 2003, “Understanding Deaf Culture – In Search of Deafhood”. One of the book’s main aims is achieving Deaf unity.

Understanding the concept of colonization is an integral part of the Deafhood philosophy. The term “Deafness”, and others like it, are seen as arising from the colonization process. Hence there was a need to develop our own Deaf-centered term, “Deafhood”.

Deafhood acknowledges that ALL Deaf people embark on a journey towards deepening and refining their Deaf selves. Many are content to reside within the “boundaries” of existing Deaf cultures, yet some press on to stretch those boundaries.

Why another word for Deaf people?

—Adapted from original article written by Nancy Mitchell Carroll and Ella Mae Lentz published in California Association of the Deaf Newsletter in 2006.

You have probably seen other people talking about the word “Deafhood” lately.

Why another word for Deaf people? What’s wrong with terms such as “deafness”, or “deaf and hard of hearing”? Deafhood is a term created by Dr. Paddy Ladd, a Deaf scholar in the Deaf Studies Department at the University of Bristol in England. Deafhood is found in Ladd’s book “Understanding Deaf Culture: In Search of Deafhood” (2003).

“[We are]… people of the eye.”
— George Veditz

Deafhood is described as a journey that each Deaf person undertakes to discover their true identity and purpose here on the Earth as a Deaf person. This journey is for anybody who is what George Veditz calls “first and foremost, people of the eye”.

We are visually oriented in dealing with the environment. We feel most at ease using a signed language rather than a spoken language. If you fit that description, you have begun the search for Deafhood. The degree of your hearing or speaking ability does not matter. Each person’s search for Deafhood occurs on all levels: physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, cultural and linguistic. And through that search, each Deaf person is linked to the amazing collective experience called the Deaf community and culture.

However, the search is not without obstacles. Those obstacles are Oralism and Audism which peaked in the early 1900’s with the activities of eugenicists such as Alexander Graham Bell.

“Deafhood is a process to decolonize our mind, body, and spirit from colonialism.”
— Paddy Ladd (2003)

Oralism and Audism were counteracted somewhat when Sign Language had a resurgence in the 1960’s, 1970’s and 1980’s.

Eugenics is the science of controlling the population by eliminating certain characteristics that are considered negative. This is done through selective breeding, sterilization, and at its worst, genocide. Oralism and Audism have come back more ferocious and dangerous in the 2000’s with rampant mainstreaming, cochlear implants, and genetic engineering. At a 2005 California Association of the Deaf Conference, Patrick Boudreault called these tactics “neo-eugenics” because when it comes to Deaf people, their ultimate goal is to eradicate the
“deficit”, that “horrible isolating disability,” through technology and education.

Oralism is the educational philosophy and practice that focuses on developing speech and listening skills. This practice degrades Sign Language and claims it interferes with Deaf people’s acquisition of speech and listening skills.

The word “Audism” was coined in 1975 by Dr. Tom Humphries, a Deaf scholar currently working at the University of California in San Diego. Audism describes the behavior and/or attitude of an individual, profession, or institution that believes that being hearing is superior to being Deaf.

As an example, at the 2005 California Association of the Deaf conference, members voted to replace the term “deaf and hard of hearing” with “Deafhood” or “Deaf” in the CAD by-laws and other publications. The main reason was that the term “deaf and hard of hearing” has been very contentious in the Deaf community as we have tried to find an appropriate label for ourselves. The term has fostered unhealthy competition based on our varying levels of Deafness and language use. One result has been different groups of Deaf people accusing each other of rejection. The greatest success of Oralism is that groups of Deaf people are divided and one group accuses the other of being “brainwashed” into believing people with better hearing or speech are superior. This has caused resentments to arise.

The true success of Deafhood is when Deaf people feel “at home” with being Deaf and find a commonality with other Deaf people in their visual orientation and use of Sign Language. When we are secure with our own natural language and community, we can be healthier, more creative and more able to embrace the diversity that surrounds us.

The Deafhood Foundation desires to fight neo-eugenics, the oppression by Oralism and the arrogance of Audism by unifying into a political bloc those of us who seek our Deafhood. We begin by celebrating the many gifts springing out of our community, history and language. We vow not to fight against other Deaf people, but to support each other in our journeys towards Deafhood, and to challenge the influences of Oralism and Audism in our lives. We will fight against the systemic Audism prevalent in our schools, jobs, and families. We will also fight against financial interests and remove the masks of benevolence of the hearing companies or professionals that “think they know all about … the Deaf, but know nothing about our thoughts and souls, our feelings, desires, and needs.”

We acknowledge there are people who do not see the need to search for their Deafhood. Some of those people are the ones who became Deaf in their later years, and feel they have no use for Sign Language or a Deaf identity. We understand that their primary language is spoken, their culture is hearing and naturally they may desire to restore their old identity and abilities. We know there are other organizations catering to those people and we do wish them the most happiness possible.

However, we declare that those people are also welcome to initiate their own journeys into Deafhood. To begin the journey, we encourage those people to learn and use our vibrant and exciting Sign Language, and to open themselves up to the challenges, joys and friends among other Deaf people. We will encourage them and welcome them, but we will never try to manipulate or control their bodies, their minds, or their souls as the Audists and Oralists have done to us for years.

It is essential for Deaf people to participate in this discourse as we collaborate to protect our dignity as a people, to protect our language and the right to use it and to share our Deafhood with the future generations.

For more information, e-mail info@deafhoodfoundation.org.