People who do not hear well, or at all, are often distinguished by their degree of hearing loss. According to Medical News Today:
“Hearing loss refers to a diminished ability to hear sounds like other people do, while deafness refers to the inability to understand speech through hearing even when sound is amplified.” (What is Hearing? What is Deafness?)
Degrees of Hearing Loss
Persons who are described as deaf (with a small “d”) generally have little or no hearing. These folks rely on the English language (either spoken or signed), speech reading (sometimes called "lip reading"), print, and/or other visual materials as their primary means of communication.
Another group of people called Deaf (with a capital “D”) use a distinct language—American Sign Language (ASL)—and identify themselves with a cultural group—North American Deaf Culture. Some persons who identify themselves as Deaf may be able to hear some sounds around them, including some speech sounds. However, they consider their natural language to be sign language and are most comfortable through using this language.
Hard-of-hearing persons have mild to moderate hearing loss. See our Hearing Impairment page for resources on including these persons.
Communicating Across Cultures
For English-speaking individuals who know no sign language, sign language interpreters may facilitate communication between the deaf and hearing communities. This typically means interpretation between ASL used by the Deaf community and spoken English used by the hearing community
Congregations can approach the inclusion of Deaf persons in the same way as they would provide for any person who communicates in a language other than that used by the majority.
True integration requires English speakers to become intentionally cross-cultural.
While some may prefer churches that are monolingual (in Spanish, English, or ASL, for example), true integration requires English speakers to become intentionally cross-cultural.
This means not only the presence of competent ASL interpreters to allow Deaf members to participate in the flow of worship, but also hearing members who are willing to learn ASL and join ASL worship services or congregations. This requires learning another language, and the majority hearing culture must be ready to understand, support and join in Deaf culture in order to build relationships with Deaf brothers and sisters.
Resources from others
“The Deaf: An Unreached People Unlike Any Other” by Chad Ettinger, from Mission Frontier Jan/Feb 2014)
Leaning on the Everlasting Arms. A blog by Nancy Marshall, pastor of Jesus’ Deaf Church in Orange Walk, Belize. In partnership with Virginia Mennonite Missions, Eastern Mennonite Missions, and First Deaf Mennonite Church, Lancaster, PA among others.
Deaf Missions. A Christian mission dedicated to helping deaf people SEE Jesus Christ, so they may accept Him as their Savior and grow in Him. Deaf Missions produces and distributes many Bible-based resources, including DVDs, books, tracts and more. They have completed an ASL translation of the New Testament and are continuing work on the Old Testament.
DVC Christian Television Network produces biblical dramatizations, Christian teaching materials, sermons, Bible studies, children’s programs, and more. Most videos are produced natively in American Sign Language (ASL) and feature Deaf pastors, missionaries, or lay leaders. Videos are available free-of-charge to the Deaf, Hard-of-Hearing, and their families, friends, schools and churches through the DVC Lending Library and through online YouTube videos.
DOOR International. DOOR International’s vision is to bring God’s Word and biblical Christian fellowship to Deaf communities worldwide. DOOR is a non-denominational Christian mission organization of many Deaf people (and a few hearing people) with a big vision and a big God.
"Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One." Signing the Shema in ASL, American Sign Language. A video by Rabbi Darby Jared Leigh.