Visual Culture

Some deaf people identify themselves as deaf with an inability to hear, and Deaf as in deaf people who are culturally immersed in the community, language and more. So no longer see themselves as deaf but as Deaf, redefined by their “disability” but feeling a part of something private and visual culture that sits within the hearing world and is a community united by experience and shared experience….” Saduf COO Lingoing.

 Saduf wrote this to explain the use of d/Deaf in articles that will be used on the different social media platforms for Lingoing. It brought about a very interesting discussion. One little phrase used “Visual culture”; there are a lot of reasons why I love Saduf, but the main one has to be how complex her brain and thinking process is! We have all heard about Deaf culture but Visual culture? A debate was started. It was interesting how we could not explain the link visual culture has in the deaf community and how it can be used. As hearing people involved in the deaf community and use sign language, “deaf culture” and its definition is easy to explain, but “Visual culture”?? that was a new one.

So off I went to do more reading about it. The first thing that came to mind was how in my BSL training, our tutor often talked about iconicity. “The state of being iconic in all meanings” This would usually follow with visual examples of famous people and what they are visually identified by.


We all knew who he was talking about without him finger spelling their names. Evidence of a shared culture that can be described visually.

The research began. After having an idea of what Saduf was talking about, I looked up some articles that covered the subject. It made for an interesting read. The definition that was very popular was by Nicholas Mirzoeff and it seemed to sum it all up nicely.

“Visual culture is best understood as a tactic for studying the functions of a world addressed through pictures, images and visualisation rather than through texts and words”.

Many academic fields study this subject, including cultural studies, art history, critical theory, philosophy, media studies and anthropology. They explain it as “the aspect of culture expressed in visual images”

In his book, Mirzoeff went on to explain that visual culture does not depend on pictures but on this modern tendency to picture or visualize existence. Having experienced meeting Deaf people from different countries who use different sign language being able to communicate just 30 minutes of meeting is truly amazing. They relied on this “Visual culture” to start their communication, and in no time, where able to carry on a conversation. The BDA (British Deaf Association) on their website, when talking about the Deaf community and what it is, said “Deafness here is a description of a state of being: it defines a group of people who share a perception of the world through an emphasis on visual and kinaesthetic input” (Tactile learning) Hearing people have come a long way understanding the importance of Deaf culture, but may not understand that visual culture is equally important. It unites Deaf people from all over the world enabling them to communicate with each other in no time and enriches them in their own country.

So how can I implement this in my own practice? I will strive to embrace Visual culture and not shy away from using iconic states and images when I am signing. This will help Deaf people I come across feel comfortable with me as hopefully they will recognise that I am aware of their culture. When a Deaf person does not have to work hard understanding what I am signing, then I can truly say that I have given a good service interpreting.

So, Saduf, looking forward to seeing what pops out of your brilliant brain next…. lol

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