An Introduction to the Arts in American Deaf Culture

The term deaf culture is commonly used in the deaf community. Deaf culture is used to describe unique characteristics found among the population of deaf and hard of hearing people. It's reflected in art, literature, social environments, and much more.

Two friends socializing through sign language
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What Is Deaf Culture?

Cultural Arts







Deaf Artists

American Sign Language (ASL)

What Is Deaf Culture?

In order to define deaf culture, we must first understand the definition of culture in general. Culture is typically used to describe the patterns, traits, products, attitudes, and intellectual or artistic activity associated with a particular population.

Based on this definition, the deaf community can be said to have its own unique culture. Deaf and hard of hearing people produce plays, books, artwork, magazines, and movies targeted at deaf and hard of hearing audiences. In addition, the deaf community engages in social and political activities exclusive to them.

American deaf culture is a living, growing, changing a thing as new activities are developed and the output of intellectual works increases.

Deaf Cultural Arts


Anyone could easily decorate their entire home with deaf-themed artwork. Art with American sign language (ASL) and deafness themes is readily available through vendors focusing on products for and by deaf and hard of hearing artists. Many deaf artists also run their own websites.

Throughout the country, you can find exhibits of deaf artists, including painters, photographers, sculptors, and more. While some incorporate a hearing loss theme into their work, others do not and you might not even know that they cannot hear.

Look around for art displays at local deaf community organizations and schools. The National Technical Institute for the Deaf's Dyer Arts Center in Rochester, New York has some fantastic examples of deaf art on regular display.

Deaf Theatre

For years, deaf theater groups have developed and produced plays with deafness and sign language on the stage. There are professional deaf theater companies that entertain deaf and hearing audiences alike. 

Deaf West is just one of the notable deaf theater companies. They were so successful in the production of "Big River," that it made it onto Broadway. This show included both deaf and hearing actors.

You will also find a number of amateur and children's theater troupes specifically for deaf people. These are a fantastic way to get involved in your local deaf community.

Books on Deafness

A number of deaf and hard of hearing people have written and published books with themes on sign language and deafness. Several of these have become required reading in deaf studies classes.

Deaf Cinema

Deaf people have produced movies and hold their own film festivals. These often focus on a celebration of deaf culture and are a great time for the community to gather.

In fact, in 1902, ASL was the first recorded language in cinema, predating spoken films.

Poems on Deafness

Deaf people use poems to express their feelings about having a hearing loss or to describe their experiences. Some poems are online and others have been collected in books.

ASL poetry is a special form of poetry that uses sign language. Research shows deaf students benefit from studying ASL poetry and learning to express themselves creatively through poetry.

Deaf people have also created their own form of deaf humor that focuses on the deaf experience. Likewise, ABC stories can be told using the sign language alphabet and there are many unique idioms in sign language.

Sign Language

Sign language is the aspect of deaf culture most closely identified with deafness. Deaf and hearing people who are native signers—that is, they grew up with sign language—tend to have the most fluent signing skills.

Each country has its own sign language. Even within countries, you will find sign language dialects.

Perspectives on Deaf Culture

Deafness is caused by the loss of hearing, which is a medical condition. Yet, people who are deaf have created all of the above. This has led to the argument: Is deafness pathological or cultural? If deafness is cultural, is it a disability? This is an interesting topic and one that is discussed regularly in the deaf community. 

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. The Outreach Center for Deafness and Blindness. Understanding the deaf culture and the deaf world.

  2. Durr P. Deaf cinema. In: Gertz G, Boudreault P, eds. The SAGE Deaf Studies Encyclopedia. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications; 2016:158.

  3. Arenson R, Kretschmer RE. Teaching poetry: a descriptive case study of a poetry unit in a classroom of urban deaf adolescents. Am Ann Deaf. 2010;155(2):110–7. doi:10.1353/aad.2010.0008

Additional Reading

By Jamie Berke
 Jamie Berke is a deafness and hard of hearing expert.