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Best Practices in Caring for the Deaf Patient

This guide offers medical professionals information to understand Deaf culture and identify resources (databases, books, web sites, and more) to continue research topics in this subject.

What's here & how does it help me?

Welcome to the Best Practices in Caring for the Deaf Patient research guide! This guide will help you identify a variety of resources to assist medical professionals to communicate with Deaf patients and understand Deaf culture.


The term audism was coined in 1975 in an unpublished article written by American communication and language researcher Tom L. Humphries as a way to describe discrimination against persons who are deaf. 

According to Humphries, audism manifests “in the form of people who continually judge deaf people’s intelligence and success on the basis of their ability in the language of the hearing culture.” It also appears when deaf people themselves “actively participate in the oppression of other deaf people by demanding of them the same set of standards, behavior, and values that they demand of hearing people."

Deaf Culture

Learning about the culture of Deaf people is also learning about their language.

Deaf (with a capital "D") refers to embracing the cultural norms, beliefs, and values of the Deaf Community. The term "Deaf" should be capitalized when it is used as a shortened reference to being a member of the Deaf Community

American Deaf culture centers on the use of ASL and identification and unity with other people who are Deaf. A Deaf sociolinguist, Dr. Barbara Kannapel, developed a definition of the American Deaf culture that includes a set of learned behaviors of a group of people who are deaf and who have their own language (ASL), values, rules, and traditions.

Deaf Values, Behaviors & Traditions

Values, behaviors, and traditions of Deaf culture include:

  • Promoting an environment that supports vision as the primary sense used for communication at school, in the home, and in the community, as vision offers individuals who are deaf access to information about the world and the independence to drive, travel, work, and participate in every aspect of society.


  • Valuing children who are deaf as the future of deaf people and Deaf culture. Deaf culture therefore encourages the use of ASL, in addition to any other communication modalities the child may have.


  • Support for bilingual ASL/English education of children who are deaf so they are competent in both languages.


  • Inclusion of specific rules of behavior in communication in addition to the conventional rules of turn taking. For example, consistent eye contact and visual attention during a conversation is expected. In addition, a person using sign language has the floor during a conversation until he or she provides a visual indicator (pause, facial expression, etc.) that he or she is finished. ​Inclusion of unique strategies for gaining a person's attention includes:
    • flicking a light switch a few times to gain the attention of a group of people in a room
    • waving if the person is within the line of sight, or
    • gently tapping a person on the shoulder if he or she is not within the line of sight.​​


  • Perpetuation of Deaf culture through a variety of traditions including films, folklore, literature, athletics, poetry, celebrations, clubs, organizations, theaters, and school reunions. Deaf culture also includes some of its own "music" and poetry as well as dance


Rebecca Gagne compiled and developed the original version of this guide as a project during her internship at MCPHS library. (As of May 8, 2018, all content is still original.)

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