The Deaf have a lot in common with oral people groups, even though they don’t use spoken language. For example, oral communities prefer to receive and share information through stories instead of written text. Deaf people groups share the same characteristic.
Additionally, Deaf people “tend to process information together. They value having multiple people in a room and talking through things,” DOOR International’s Rob Myers says.
“Many Deaf leaders often want to get together and exchange information when making a decision.”
While Deaf and oral communities have multiple commonalities, it’s important to note one critical distinctive.
“The word ‘oral’ in Deaf communities often has a very negative connotation because [in the Deaf context,] ‘oral’ means lip reading and not being allowed to sign,” Myers says.
In dark chapters of Deaf history, Deaf people “would be punished for using sign language. Deaf people’s hands would be slapped; their hands would be tied behind their backs.”
Members of Deaf culture have a shared history; unfortunately, a significant portion of this history was oppressive. There were many eras when sign language was forbidden, speech was forced, and Deaf people were looked down upon. Schools that emphasize lip reading and voicing (and forbid sign language) are called oral schools. Many students struggle to understand material presented to them, as it is done through written means. Students are sometimes punished for signing within the classroom.
Yet, hope remains. Similarities between Deaf and oral communities allow techniques like Oral Bible Translation to fuel Deaf ministry.
“This is an integral part of DOOR International’s history. We wanted to have approaches and techniques that would meet the needs of Deaf leaders who did not have much access to education,” Myers says.
DOOR International connected with Dr. Grant Lovejoy in the mid-90s, Myers says. Lovejoy introduced Deaf leaders to “approaches that people were taking in sharing the Gospel in oral communities.”
Tomorrow, learn how Bible translation and church planting reach the Deaf for Christ.
Header image depicts a young man’s baptism in a Deaf Nigerian community. (Photo courtesy of DOOR International)