Deafness has varying definitions in cultural and medical contexts. In medical contexts, the meaning of deafness is hearing loss that precludes a person from understanding spoken language, an audiological condition. In this context it is written with a lower case d. It later came to be used in a cultural context to refer to those who primarily communicate through sign language regardless of hearing ability, often capitalized as Deaf and referred to as "big D Deaf" in speech and sign. The two definitions overlap but are not identical, as hearing loss includes cases that are not severe enough to impact spoken language comprehension, while cultural Deafness includes hearing people who use sign language, such as children of deaf adults.
In a medical context, deafness is defined as a degree of hearing loss such that a person is unable to understand speech, even in the presence of amplification. In profound deafness, even the highest intensity sounds produced by an audiometer (an instrument used to measure hearing by producing pure tone sounds through a range of frequencies) may not be detected. In total deafness, no sounds at all, regardless of amplification or method of production, can be heard.
In a cultural context, Deaf culture refers to a tight-knit cultural group of people whose primary language is signed, and who practice social and cultural norms which are distinct from those of the surrounding hearing community. This community does not automatically include all those who are clinically or legally deaf, nor does it exclude every hearing person. According to Baker and Padden, it includes any person or persons who "identifies him/herself as a member of the Deaf community, and other members accept that person as a part of the community", an example being children of deaf adults with normal hearing ability. It includes the set of social beliefs, behaviors, art, literary traditions, history, values, and shared institutions of communities that are influenced by deafness and which use sign languages as the main means of communication. The fact that many able-bodied people continue to assume that deaf people have no autonomy and fail to provide people with support beyond hearing aids is something that must be addressed. Different non-governmental organizations around the world have created programs towards closing the gap between deaf people and able-bodied persons in developing countries. The Quota International organization with headquarters in the United States provided immense educational support in the Philippines, where it started providing free education to deaf children in the Leganes Resource Center for the Deaf. The Sounds Seekers British organization also provided support by offering audiology maintenance technology, to better assist those who are deaf in hard-to-reach places. The Nippon Foundation also supports deaf students at Gallaudet University and the National Technical Institute for the Deaf, through sponsoring international scholarships programs to encourage students to become future leaders in the deaf community. The more aid these organizations give to the deaf people, the more opportunities and resources disabled people must speak up about their struggles and goals that they aim to achieve. When more people understand how to leverage their privilege for the marginalized groups in the community, then we can build a more inclusive and tolerant environment for the generations that are yet to come. Members of the Deaf community tend to view deafness as a difference in human experience rather than a disability or disease.
Neurologically, language is processed in the same areas of the brain whether one is deaf or hearing. The left hemisphere of the brain processes linguistic patterns whether by signed languages or by spoken languages.
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