Cultural Diversity Day: American Sign Language and the Deaf Community

Tomorrow is the United Nations Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development. While in the process of developing video for our upcoming Essential American Sign Language course, we had the opportunity to work with Lydia Callis, owner of LC Interpreting Services LLC and advocate for deaf rights. For Cultural Diversity Day, we decided to speak with her about Deaf culture and how we can work to bridge the communication gap between hearing and Deaf communities.


Tell us a bit about what it is you and your company do.

My name is Lydia Callis. I am a sign language interpreter, the owner of LC Interpreting Services LLC, and a proud advocate for deaf rights. I am the Only Hearing Child of Deaf Adults (OHCODA) from 3 generations of Deaf family strong, so American Sign Language is my native language; it is the language of my family and my roots!

For as long as I can remember, I have been helping to bridge the communication gap between the deaf and hearing worlds. I founded my company as a way to not only provide top quality communication services, but also to offer the kind of cultural education that fosters meaningful relationships across language boundaries.

Why is it important to you to work as a bridge between Deaf and hearing communities?

When I think of deaf consumers, I think of my family. There is this whole group of Americans who are denied access to the kinds of basic services that hearing people take for granted. From parent-teacher conferences to hospital visits to theater events, people who are deaf often endure a substandard level of access, if communication access is provided at all. This is not right.

I strive to open the minds of the hearing community by showing them that deafness is not a limitation. There are successful deaf people in all fields: engineering, teaching, driving cabs, waiting tables, acting, dancing, practicing law, running their own businesses. The possibilities are endless! If we can put an end to the stereotypes and assumptions, there will be more opportunities for deaf people, which in turn creates a truly diverse society that benefits everyone.

What do you wish most hearing people understood better about Deaf culture?

I wish more hearing people understood that Deaf culture is a linguistic minority group. People who are Deaf don’t consider themselves “broken,” nor do they want to be “fixed.” They have a beautiful rich language (ASL), along with their own traditions, norms, stories, slang, and social groups. At the end of the day, Deaf Americans are no different than hearing Americans in their dreams to live a good life, they simply use a different method to access the world around them.

How do you think our society as a whole can benefit from a better understanding of Deaf culture?

Researchers who study communication are starting to recognize the true importance of non-verbal communication. What people say out loud is often only a small slice of the intended message. From Deaf culture, I think hearing society could learn to be more observant of body language and more direct when communicating.

How did you personally benefit from growing up in a Deaf community?

I am bilingual. But I am bilingual with the most beautiful language out there. A silent one. I am able to see the world through an amplified visual lens, that helps me to notice nuances in each layer of society.

What can the hearing community do to connect better with the Deaf community?

Educate yourself about deafness and Deaf culture. Read stories and articles written by people who are deaf, watch Deaf webseries and subscribe to their YouTube channels, follow deaf advocates on social media and amplify their messages to your own audience. Learn a little bit about Deaf history and open your eyes to the contemporary issues that the community faces. The best way to understand the Deaf community is to go right to the source!

You spend a lot of time facilitating this communication and dialogue; what are some of the best examples you’ve seen of a healthy dialogue between Deaf and hearing communities?

The healthy dialogues happen when the hearing community is inclusive to the deaf community as a before-thought, not an after-thought. When access is provided, deaf people can be a part of this dialogue, as they are often not included because they are deaf and communicate by other means. But, on the contrary to what hearing people may think, people who are Deaf have so much to give with a diverse perspective to share.

Lydia Callis blogs regularly for The Huffington Post. Living Language Essential American Sign Language will be available online this fall. Sign up for our newsletter on our homepage to receive updates on upcoming courses. 

(Photo courtesy of LC Interpreting Services)