First, the Deaf share a language and even though each country has its own Sign Language, there is a significant percentage that is commonly shared among Deaf people around the world. Deaf people “have found ways to define and express themselves through their rituals, tales, performances, and everyday social encounters. The richness of their sign language affords them the possibilities of insight, invention, and irony” (Padden & Humphries). The relationship Deaf people have with their sign language is a strong one, and “the mistaken belief that American Sign Language is a set of simple gestures with no internal structure has led to the tragic misconception that the relationship of Deaf people to their sign language is a casual one that can be easily severed and replaced” (Padden & Humphries).
Second, the Deaf share a common culture. They perceive themselves as Deaf, first, and then they will recognize their national identity in a secondary way. This cultural identity includes common factors like shared educational experiences at Deaf schools; marrying Deaf people; a socio-political network centered on the Deaf community (locally and internationally); and a shared experience of discrimination within every culture. The reality is that the Deaf around the globe, wherever they exist in community (and often in isolated situations), share a common worldview. Their suspicion of hearing people typically lends itself to an “us versus them” attitude.
Third, the Deaf perceive themselves as a People Group. Many books, articles, and postings have been written about the Deaf, their culture, their identity, their language, and their uniqueness as a people. There are many videos produced by Deaf individuals about their culture. Their “ethnicity” is not defined through a blood lineage but through a disability, yet they do not see themselves as disabled. They see their community as regenerative through their common characteristics. Padden and Humphries comment, “this knowledge of Deaf people is not simply a camaraderie with others who have a similar physical condition, but is, like many other cultures in the traditional sense of the term, historically created and actively transmitted across generations.”