Curious Eyes’ comment in ACE’s blog

clipped from

I hope this isn’t getting too long, but I want to share one story. Twenty years ago almost to the day, I attended a deaf culture workshop at Gallaudet. A famous Deaf presenter showed a pyramid of the hierarchy of Deaf culture, with ASL-using Deaf of Deaf at the top, then deaf of hearing who use ASL, then oral deaf, and then hearing. The Deaf of Deaf at the top, of course, are the most valued by the Deaf community because they are presumed to transmit Deaf cultural values from one generation to the next.

Another pyramid showed the hierarchy of hearing people, with hearing at the top, then oral deaf who speak and hear pretty well, then signing deaf who speak somewhat but don’t hear, and last, deaf who don’t sign or speak.
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15 Responses to “Curious Eyes’ comment in ACE’s blog”

  1. Amy Cohen Efron Says:

    Hi Ann_C,

    I have the reference to this and it is from Dr. Barbara Kannapell. She wrote a paper that was published in 1993.

    “The Power Structure in The Deaf Community” DEAF STUDIES III: Bridging Cultures in the 21st Century. College for Continuing Education. Gallaudet University, Washington, DC. 1993.

    Amy Cohen Efron

  2. Dianrez Says:

    It might have been true at one time, but we know today that culture isn’t always transmitted generation to generation. In today’s changing world, one can adopt or share cultures as one moves around or become affiliated with different groups through friendship, marriage, parenthood or education.

    In fact, sociologists that study cultures, document it, analyze it, and talk about it are often not members of that specific culture. This is also true of Deaf Culture, beginning with Margaret Mead in early sociology and William C. Stokoe in linguistics. The people who generate the culture are the people who live it.

    Just to mention it…I would not wish to see Deaf Culture become the sole property of a closed group of people, nor to have people get the idea that it could be so. It’s something to be joyfully shared and showcased with a wide variety of people while we live it.

  3. Robert Alfred Hawkins Says:

    I’m Deaf and a native user of ASL. I’m close to the bottom of what many won’t admit which is more and less a Deaf caste system rather than a “hierarchy” or power structure as explained in such pieces of work or discussions. I am not Deaf of Deaf; not a Deaf graduate of Gallaudet University; not a Deaf member of the Kappa Gamma Fraternity and many more other Deaf identities revered by the Deaf-World. I never even applied let alone been employed at any Deaf school. I worked with a few Deaf-owned businesses but almost all are falling apart if not six feet under. Many thought I was all of this “Deaf” and multiple generation ASL-Deaf. During the Unity For Gallaudet (better known as Better Deaf President Now) I was busy working with the mainstream and I was more often than not given dirty looks because I’m none of the Deaf above. After all said and done more underlying “sticky” and long-avoided issues beneath the pieces of work needs to be attacked, acknowledged and remedied if the ASL Deaf community can even progress further to point of reaching critical mass in genuine acceptance recognition by the global mainstream. Enough said.

  4. DEAF WORLD AS EYE SEE IT » Kannapell’s 1993 Paper Revisited Says:

    […] blog entry is to follow up with Ann_C’s i.Reflections blog entry that was posted today. Ann_C used one of the commenters’ comment from my blog discussing about […]

  5. Ann_C Says:


    I clipped this comment that Curious Eyes put under Amy Cohen Efron’s “The World As Eye See It” blog article regarding the Fernandes and Myer’s articles in JDSDE. Thank you, Amy, for giving us the source (Dr. Barbara Kannapell) for the two pyramids presentation.

    I’ve had a long frustrating day– my DIY remodeling project of my 80-some-year old house hit some snags today. Not to mention that when I used this clipping program I couldn’t figure out how to add remarks directly under the clipped comment in my blog. Nevertheless, I’m interested to learn what readers think about this observation.

  6. mcconnell Says:

    I guess being pretty much in the “middle” of that pyramid example is the best position to be in by allowing you to be close to the top as possible, if need be, in either pyramid examples if you’re a person with a hearing loss along your preferences and/or comfort zones.

  7. Gamas Says:

    I am “hoh”- DOD and could have been up there if I wanted to, but, I wanted no part of it. I am content seeing my doh running the show. In essence, I am really at the bottom right this moment…..but, things could change. Even a DOD at the top can change history to make life for the deaf as simple as being one. Let’s say, sometimes one does not want to be part of the hierarchy. I could…I could have…but, I didn’t. Yet, I have this burning desire to be part of making a difference…a difference that is different. 🙂

  8. Terry Goffman Says:

    I am glad to know about Barbara Kannapell’s endorsement of the hierarchy (or caste system) in the Deaf community. This lends support to the article forthcoming in the Journal of Deaf Studies and Education by Fernandes and Myers. It is good to get support for that concept from such a distinguished Deaf scholar.

    I don’t know if it is best to be in the middle of the pyramid. My reading of Fernandes and Myers is that we would be better off with a flattening of the pyramid. A structure where everyone is on equal footing would be a better place to start. If we had that, we could really study ways that people live deaf lives objectively.

  9. kim Says:

    First of all, since the workshop was 20 years ago, I don’t think the pyramids accurately reflect the impact modern CI’s have had. The CI is so good now that many deaf people can be on top of the hearing pyramid.

    Secondly, I think the Deaf pyramid is self-defeating, which explains why so many late-deafened people are getting implants and why so many parents of deaf children have their kids implanted as young as possible. No one wants to be at the bottom of someone’s pyramid. No parent wants to impose limits on how successful their child will be in any community. With an implant a deaf person can be at the top of the ‘hearing’ pyramid and can also be in the middle of the Deaf pyramid by practicing ASL. Without it, the best one can hope for is the bottom of the hearing pyramid and the middle of the Deaf pyramid. It doesn’t take a scientist to guess what most former hearing people would choose, or what most hearing parents would choose for their children.

    I absolutely agree that a ‘flattening’ of both pyramids would be best for everyone, however that isn’t going to happen any time soon.

  10. Ann_C Says:

    This is getting really interesting, y’all.

    Dianrez, you make an excellent point that the “people who generate culture live it”. Researchers are only observers and one wonders if researchers’ categorization of a certain group will alienate others within a community.

    Robert, you’re an example of a person who has lived your culture and desire that all d/Deaf can celebrate that culture without having to jump thru hoops. You can make a difference, so hang in there!

    McConnell~ dawg, I know where you’re coming from. Smack in the middle. 😉

    Gamas, you know both DOD and hoh spaces, that’s a unique position to be. Bruggemann speaks of that hyphen, that in-between that can bridge different worlds. You’re already there.

    Terry, it was Kannapell who came up with this pyramid presentation and who also called for a different paradigm due to the hierarchy problems.
    A “flattening” of the pyramid is what I’d like to see too. The deaf community would be so much richer for it.

    Kim, you bring up what blows up the preconceived notions about both Deaf and hearing pyramids. Indeed, cyborgs scare the hell out of Deaf culture, and the hearing people will be scratching their heads, “WTF? a CI cyborg can hear better than I can?” That’ll be turning hearing “supremacy” on its head! Lol.

  11. mcconnell Says:

    That’d be “CI-borgs.” Resistence is futile.

    “Heh..heh….my plan is working!!”

    Carry on.

  12. Ann_C Says:

    Lol, Mike, CI-borgs, I stand corrected.

  13. Paotie Says:

    Ann ..

    You said: “That’ll be turning hearing “supremacy” on its head!”

    By implication, you suggest there is a “Deaf supremacy” that exists. And also, the KKK is a “hearing” hierarchy – “White supremacists.”

    AFA? DBC?



  14. mcconnell Says:

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