Getting close to a Deaf person requires a little vulnerability on both sides. Many Deaf people are just as insecure about not being understood as you are, but most are patient and incredibly skilled at getting their point across to you.
Think about how would you feel if you were living in a foreign land where the language, customs and culture weren’t native to you? Deaf people often feel this way when surrounded by hearing people. Read on for Dos and Don’ts of the Deaf etiquette, thanks to ASL author and teacher, Colette Abi Rached
American Sign Language (ASL) plays an important role in facilitating communication within the Deaf community and enabling them to communicate with each other, and others around the world.
“Deaf and dumb” is an insulting way to label a Deaf person. You should instead say Deaf and Mute, a scientifically proven and respectful way. When writing or exchanging correspondence, the word Deaf should always start with capital “D”, as if you are addressing the “Mr.” and “Mrs.” titles.
- During introductions, always introduce yourself first and simply fingerspell your name. The Deaf Community gives name Signs to people. Those who can hear don’t invent their own, nor do they give name Signs to each other.
- When fingerspelling or Signing, keep a steady hand. Your Signs are easier to read when your hand is not shaking.
- Maintain eye contact and make your approach (non-Signers may view this action as staring and think that it is rude, but in the world of Sign, making and maintaining eye contact is a necessary common practice).
- Getting a Deaf person’s attention:
- Make and maintain eye contact and then approach.
- Waving: to get the Deaf person’s attention, wave your hand in his or her peripheral vision field. Wave casually; a frantic wave means something is wrong.
- Tapping: If you are close enough in distance to the person, a tap on the arm is a sure and preferred way to get a response.
- Flickering the lights gets everyone’s attention. This custom is equivalent to yelling for everyone to ‘listen up’. You can also use it to draw attention when you enter the room if his or her back is turned towards you.
- Pounding and stomping: These actions release vibrations; a Deaf person can feel them and turn to see its origination. Be careful if you have a habit of tapping your fingers or your feet as this will send the wrong message!
- Don’t grab or poke when you walk up behind a Deaf person. This action is commonly used as a warning that something is wrong or in an emergency.
- Never throw objects at a Deaf person to get his or her attention. Besides being just plain rude, it is also dangerous.
- Chewing gum is a no-no in Sign. Mouth movement is an important part of Signed communications.
- When you see two people are Signing secretly, don’t stare. They might be having a private conversation.
- When visiting Deaf people, don’t just walk into the house since they can’t hear the doorbell. Deaf people have strobe lights connected to the doorbell and the phone. When either rings, a light will flash.
- If you are out for a meal with a Deaf person, don’t order for them unless you are asked. They are accustomed to pointing at an item on the menu to the server.
- Never initiate a conversation about a Deaf person’s hearing loss. Questioning implies that you don’t view that person as whole, but broken, incomplete, or inferior. It is a sensitive subject.
- Don’t stand where bright light or sun is directly behind you because whoever is watching you Sign will only see your silhouette – a big giveaway that you are a beginner.
Learn more about this and how to Sign with our American Sign Language Beginner course. Welcome to the world of language without words.