Deaf Etiquette – Dos and Don’ts You Need to Know

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.

There are so many benefits to learning ASL. 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 just say Deaf, 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.


Flicker the lights.jpg

  • During introductions, always introduce yourself first and use the sign language alphabet to 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).

How Do You Get a Deaf Person’s Attention?

  1. Make and maintain eye contact and then approach.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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!

learn asl Don’ts

Sun shining.jpg

  • 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 language. 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 ring, 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 a 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.

Sign with steady hand.png

These ‘Dos and Don’ts’ should give you the confidence to properly address a Deaf person and the understand the correct way to get their attention. These tips will also help you avoid things that are considered rude to a Deaf or Hard of hearing person,

Learn more about Deaf etiquette and the most common signs with our American Sign Language courses. 

About the author

Cudoo By Cudoo

Recent Posts

Posts by Topic