1.2 Deaf Identity


Welcome here to learn more about Deaf as an Identity.

You have previously learnt briefly about the Deaf Community, and here you will learn a bit about what it means to identify culturally as a Deaf person.

While all people who identify as Deaf have some degree of hearing loss, not all people with hearing loss identify as Deaf.  Deaf identity is a function of perspective and attitude towards deafness and is not at all correlated with degree of hearing loss. 

To be culturally Deaf is to see oneself primarily as an Auslan user, and member of a Deaf community with shared experiences and social barriers. It is to see deafness as a positive cultural attribute personally, rather than primarily a disability or medical problem.

Regardless of level of hearing loss, identity as a Deaf person, is acculturated through participation in the Deaf community, which can happen at any stage of life.  It reflects their understanding and acceptance of their deafhood, and living as a Deaf person.  Integral to a Deaf identity is also a strong sense of belonging to a Deaf community, and the adoption of the collectivist ethos of that community – a recognition that the actions of the individual affect the community as a whole.

This doesn’t mean that Deaf identity is homogenous.  In fact, there a numerous subsets, such as the deafblind identity and others.  It is also not an exclusive identity, and many people who identify as Deaf also claim other identities, such as being First Nations, LGBTIQ+, or neurodiverse.  This is particularly so where the intersectional identity is also a marginalised group within broader society.  This is important to keep in mind, as this toolkit focuses on the Deaf perspective, but may not necessarily cover the extent to which those intersectionalities influence a particular individual’s identity. For this reason, it is always important to consult with the deaf individual concerned where there is a specific cultural sensitivity.

We must keep in mind that Deaf identity is also not static for an individual.  A few people are born deaf into Deaf families and identify that way their whole life.  But most people are not born deaf into Deaf families. Most deaf people are born into non-deaf families. Some of these might be educated orally but then feel left-out and isolated as teenagers in the non-deaf world.  These teenagers and young adults often experience a profound sense of relief on discovering the Deaf community through this process of seeking language and belonging, then gradually adopting a Deaf identity for themselves.  Others may be deafened later through accident or illness, or experience progressive hearing loss.  Many such people will never identify as Deaf, but some may.  Some may identify as Deaf for a while, but then drift away from the Deaf community.  Some go back and forth in that process several times in their life, depending on their situation and fluctuations in their social networks and connections in both the Deaf and non-deaf communities.  In any Deaf community there will thus always be members joining and leaving at different stages of their lives.

Here you will find two downloadables: 

  • Snapshot of Deaf as Identity pdf 
  • Position paper on CALD pdf

Next you will find info about Auslan, the main sign language used in Australia.

Visual description

Deaf interpreter has long curly blonde hair and is wearing a grey plain long-sleeved shirt. She is signing in a friendly and informative manner towards the camera.

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