“The Net just allows them a different way of communicating.” Estimates of the size of the deaf community vary wildly — both Haines and Marais say there are between 20 and 25 million people in the United States who face some kind of hearing loss.
And the need to connect goes beyond shared experiences, said Pollard, of the University of Rochester.
Those who communicate with American Sign Language are quite literally using a different language, one that is as distinct from English as French.
And with that distinct language comes a distinct culture.
“It’s better to think of sign language users as you would think of a language minority rather than a disability group,” Pollard said.
Online dating is a natural fit for the deaf, he said.
“They are so used to being able to communicate by typing when they talk to someone on the phone,” he said.
She likes the niche sites, citing the difficulty for single deaf people to find each other.
She considered trying the larger dating sites after her divorce, Berke said, but decided they wouldn’t work for her.
There's nothing new about the Internet being a connection tool for geographically disconnected niches.
But there’s something a little more important about these new services that are attracting thousands of single deaf people seeking companionship and love, experts say.
“I’m doing it as a hobby,” Marais, a full-time computer security specialist, said.