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6 things you may not have known about Deaf culture

We got an exceptional insight into the deaf community through deaf dance instructor Chris Fonseca. Here’s what we learned.

DID YOU KNOW that 8% of Irish adults have a significant, disabling hearing loss?

Or that one or two per thousand of Irish children born have hearing loss?

There could be more deaf and hearing impaired people around you or in your life than you realise. So isn’t it time we put ourselves in their shoes and found out a bit more about Irish Deaf culture?

1. *Deaf

First things first. Why are we capitalising the D in Deaf sometimes but not others? That’s very simple to answer – because deaf people have drawn a distinction between the state of being “deaf” and the idea of “Deaf” culture, as defined by a man named James Woodward. The capital means you’re referring to the community who all have varying levels of hearing acuity, but primarily communicate through signing and have shared heritage, identity and culture.

Unspoken __MaRiNa__ __MaRiNa__

2. Speaking my language

As mentioned, the most recent figures from the CSO indicate that there are over 92,000 people who are deaf or have hearing disabilities. According to the Irish Deaf Society, 5,000 Irish people use Irish Sign Language as their preferred language. One of the core values of the Irish Deaf Society is promotion of ISL and social inclusion for deaf people fostered by the provision of qualified ISL interpreters.

sign language : friend rye.bread rye.bread

3. Feeling the beat

Recently, we met a deaf man named Chris Fonseca, who does the very thing that hearing people might assume he can’t – works with music and choreographs routines as a professional dance instructor. He has had a cochlear implant, which helps with his crafting of dances, but also relies on vibrations and close attention to lyrics to “connect with the characters of a song”.

I have what is called a cochlear implant which means I can hear about 85% of music, but when I take out my cochlear implant at the end of the day I am profoundly deaf. With it on, I feel more vibrations, I put my hands on the speaker and it slowly works it way through my body and I can connect with it – and at the same time, I’m listening to the music as well.


4. Moving minds

I want to create a platform for deaf people in the mainstream and show that deaf people can dance and they can do the same things as hearing people.


Chris confounds people’s expectations – even those of fellow members of the Deaf community – by dedicating himself totally to an art that many people would assume is automatically not for him. He believes it is key for hearing people to look at someone beyond their hearing ability – to “see the skills and talent and not their deafness”.

The hearing world is very big. But the Deaf world can be very small. And the Deaf dance world can be even smaller than that.

5. Music and dance

Chris’s chief aim these days is to act as a role model to people in the Deaf community by showing them that music can be for them.


Chris says:

“As a deaf dancer, there are very few deaf dancers in the UK. The fact is, in Deaf culture, most deaf people don’t really listen to music. But that’s really dependent on who the person is. It depends on their upbringing, the school they went to. I have a few friends that really like music and connect with it well. “
Not only this, music has also been proven to have a positive effect on speech for deaf people. This is because it can help them gain insights into communication and verbal skills, such as “the rhythm of word production in a spoken sentence” according to, an organisation that promotes tech for social inclusion.

6.  Sign on you crazy diamond

Have we got you interested in Deaf culture yet? If you don’t know where to start, but want to find out more about Deaf communities near you or learning to sign, the Irish Deaf Society or should be your next stop. But for now we’ll leave you with this to get you started…

DITSignLanguageSoc / YouTube

And next: 6 brilliant Irish people who overcame the odds>

Now read: A high-tech backpack built for bass vibration – all in a day’s work for this deaf dance instructor>

Chris Fonseca doesn’t let his deafness stand in the way of his dance ambitions.  Smirnoff – We’re Open is all about including everyone, no matter what their circumstances.  Please drink Smirnoff responsibly. Visit We have used Deaf to refer to the Deaf community as a whole throughout, and “deaf” for hearing acuity.

SmirnoffEurope / YouTube