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Tag Archives: Introduction to American Deaf Culture

Is there a “Tipping Point” in Deaf Culture?

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How many times have you gone to a restaurant with a group of Deaf people and found yourself dismayed and embarrassed at the poor tip left on the table despite the good service you received? Is poor tipping a characteristic element of Deaf Culture or the insensitivity of individuals?


As I discussed in my book, Introduction to American Deaf Culture, there are three categories of social behavior that can be attributed to a culture – Explicit, Tacit, and Emblematic. Some cultural norms are explicitly stated through formal documents such as a constitution, laws, and policies. Equal rights, traffic laws, and age of consent are examples of behaviors that are explicitly dictated by formal documents.

By contrast, many other cultural behaviors are tacitly monitored by community members. Even without formal rules in place, people are expected to follow the expectations of their society. For example, in the United States, people typically walk to their right on a crowded sidewalk, eat with a fork, and wash their hands after relieving themselves.

Yet another category is labeled emblematic. The behaviors in this category are the ones that are not necessarily required or expected of community members, yet are associated with a particular group due to their visibility or uniqueness.   For example, even though most Americans might not order super-sized meals at fast-food restaurants, these huge portions are emblematic of the United States, as they are rarely found elsewhere in the world.

It seems that poor tipping is emblematic of American Deaf people. While most of us would tip appropriately commensurate to the level of service received, servers in restaurants have been known to dread working at tables with deaf patrons due to their past experiences of receiving poor tips.

In discussing this phenomenon with my Deaf students at Ohlone College, I noticed the same pattern among many in the logic of poor tipping. They often consider tipping as an “extra”– a bonus to what the servers are already earning as their regular pay. Therefore, many of them have no guilt about leaving a small tip or none at all, since they consider themselves rather poor as compared to hearing people in general, including those who had served them.

Hallstatt,_Achtung_KellnerThis perception may be surprising to many people, but not to me as a Deaf person. Most hearing people have some experience with the restaurant industry, whether it be working as a server themselves or hearing from family members or friends who have. They either had the first-hand experience of being stiffed by poor tips or had the opportunity to discuss this frustrating experience with others. They know very well how hard people in restaurants have to work to bring home a living wage given the current pay structure, most of which is dependent on the generosity of their patrons. (Many states still allow tipped workers to be paid just $2.13/ an hour, see this fact sheet)

By contrast, most Deaf people do not have any experience with the restaurant industry. They do not understand how tips constitute the bulk of a server’s earnings. Furthermore, many Deaf people are unable to partake in family conversations due to the inability of their relatives to communicate effectively with them. Consequently, they miss out information about the cultural expectations of tipping associated with the restaurant industry and think nothing of leaving a small tip or none at all, after enjoying a meal at a restaurant.

So while poor tipping may be emblematic of Deaf culture, it’s often due to a limited awareness and exposure to the American culture of tipping, rather than insensitivity to the work that servers do. Therefore, I believe that Deaf culture is not to blame for this inappropriate restaurant behavior, but rather the families who have failed to communicate effectively with their Deaf children.   What do you think?

Announcing New Resources for Instructors – sample curriculum and PowerPoint

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Tom and Anna:

We want to make it easy for instructors to use our materials and have just added a new feature to Deaf Culture THAT: a RESOURCE page where we will be adding items to give you ideas and support in making the most of our books and  DVDs.

To start, Tom has contributed a Sample Curriculum for an entire semester of a Deaf Culture class, utilizing his textbook, Introduction to American Deaf Culture and our Workbook and DVD set, A SIGN OF RESPECT.  He outlines 15 weeks of reading and homework assignments for a complete Deaf Culture class.

Anna is offering a Power Point Presentation entitled, CULTURAL SENSITIVITY FOR ASL STUDENTS that she presented at a national ASLTA Conference. It suggests exercises from her READING BETWEEN THE SIGNS WORKBOOK  and our DVD, SEE WHAT I MEAN.

We plan to add more resources soon and would welcome your suggestions. If you have used any of our materials in a successful class experience, please let us know and we may feature your ideas.

Please check out our new RESOURCES FOR INSTRUCTORS page.

Meet Tom Holcomb at Upcoming Book Signing Events

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Due to excitement about Tom’s long-awaited and unique contribution, his book, Introduction to American Deaf Culture, he is starting a series of lectures and book signings. The first three take place in Northern California and Seattle, Washington. Come and meet Tom and get a signed copy of his new book. Will update more book signing events as they become finalized.

Tom’s lecture and book signing schedule

1) Saturday April 13, 2:00 – 4:00pm  – San Francisco Public Library

Lecture and Book Signing

Deaf Culture: An Obsolete Concept or A Timeless Solution?

SF Main Library – Koret Auditorium – 100 Larkin St., San Francisco, CA

For more info:

2) Friday May 3, 2013, 6:45 – 8:30 pm – University of Washington, Seattle, WA

Lecture and Book Signing

Deaf Culture: An Obsolete Concept or A Timeless Solution?

For more info:

3) Friday May 10, 2013, 6:00 – 8:00pm – Deaf Community Center, San Leandro, CA

Presentation and Book signing

DCC, 1550 San Leandro Blvd., San Leandro, CA

For more info:


Tom’s book is here!


I’m pleased to let you know that my book, Introduction to American Deaf Culture, is finally out!  After 12 years of preparing the manuscript, it is ready for public perusal.  Please click on this link for details about the book.
I believe this book provides a unique, contemporary look at the Deaf experience.  Instead of discussing Deaf culture from a traditional perspective such as the importance of the residential school experience and Deaf clubs, the book details the ways that Deaf people lead their lives today.  Accordingly, a new definition of Deaf culture is proposed which includes 4 core values that have long been the hallmarks of the Deaf community.  They are:  Having full access to communication, the importance of information sharing, the necessity of healthy identity formation, and a desire for self-determination.   
I would love to get your feedback on the book.  Please feel free to share your thoughts.

Artwork of 18 Deaf Artists featured in the new textbook


Along with Nancy Rouke’s vibrant expressionist artwork on the cover of the new textbook, Introduction to American Deaf Culture, 17 other Deaf artists’ works are also prominently featured throughout the book.  They include:  Iris Aranda (Two People and a Hand), Chuck Baird (Tyger, Tyger), David Call (Awakening), Matt Daigle (That Deaf Guy:  Poop), Susan Dupor (The Family Dog), Maureen Klusza (The Greatest Irony), Leon Lim (Killing My Deafness), Tony “Mac” Gregor (A Tribute to ‘Fingershell’ painting by Chuck Baird), Betty Miller (Ameslan Prohibited), Warren Miller (Embrace), Mary Rappazzo (Celebrating Deaf Culture), Roy Ricci (Two Eyes), Shawn Richardson (Terp Remote Control), Ann Silver (A Century of Difference), Scott Upton (Butterfly), Mar Valdez (Set Me Free), and Larry Yanez (I Love You).  While some of these works are well known to the Deaf community, others are relatively new.   Each chapter begins with one of these art pieces, corresponding to the subject being discussed.

Oxford just posted on their website, Introduction to American Deaf Culture’s official page, with ordering information. It will be released October, 2012.


The Future is Already Here — in Montana

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I just returned from Great Falls, Montana where I gave a workshop on how Deaf culture can benefit families with deaf children.  While there, I learned that almost all deaf children in Montana receive cochlear implants.  The procedures are now so routine, that there is no need for specialized cochlear implant centers.  Instead, specially trained ENT physicians perform implant surgeries at regular hospitals.

Most of these children are mainstreamed in local schools with the support of sign language interpreters.  Every year, their families travel to Great Falls, where the school for the deaf is located, to participate in a Family Learning Vacation.  Many students look forward to the annual event as it provides them with rare opportunities to meet and interact with others just like themselves. Parents get to network with other parents in addition to learning from experts in the field and Deaf adults about raising deaf children.

My message to them was that Deaf Culture is full of solutions to help create an environment that would allow for fuller integration of deaf children in their families.  Since Deaf people and their families have “been there and done that” for decades, I encouraged workshop participants to tap the wealth of these experiences.

My presentation was based on the information I have gathered over the past twenty years from teaching in the Deaf Studies Department of Ohlone College. I have taught several different Deaf culture courses, including one that is exclusively for Deaf students.  In this course, Deaf students often share their frustrations and the challenges of living in a hearing household where they frequently feel left out.  This feeling of exclusion is common even among students with cochlear implants.  These students have told me that my class was helpful in finding solutions related to defining their identities and their attempts to be more fully included in their families.  With cochlear implants becoming more widespread, and deaf children and their families struggling to find solutions, I hope my new textbook, Introduction to American Deaf Culture, will provide them with the information and support they need to become a better integrated family.  I believe this book is timely because the situation in Montana is becoming the norm for the rest of the United States.

Book in Production Now

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Good news!  The new college-level textbook on American Deaf Culture is almost ready.  I was just informed by my editor at Oxford University Press that Introduction to American Deaf Culture has now moved into the production stage, which means they are working on the design and layout of the book.  Over the past year, the manuscript has gone through several steps before reaching this point, including reviews by three anonymous experts in the field, pilot testing by three college professors, as well as professional editing.  But they still haven’t told me the official release date. Will let you know when I find out.