While we are all taught manners and politeness from a very young age, we soon grow up to learn that what may be polite in one culture may not be polite in another. The wonderful thing about living on this third rock from the sun is that we are all surrounded by a wonderful diversity of people and cultures. I was introduced to such a culture in 1997, the Deaf culture.
While taking American Sign Language (ASL) 101 in college, I was asked to attend some events that would give me the opportunity to interact with the Deaf community. If you have ever learned a foreign language and then tried to attend an event in which everyone only communicates in that foreign language, you know what I’m talking about when I say I wasnervous. Nervous in that I was about to test my limited ASL skills with actual users of the language.
Important tips for communicating with the Deaf
Here are a few things that I quickly found out were very important when communicating with people who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing:
- Keep eye contact: We “hearing” people often speak to each other without keeping constant eye contact.
- “Deaf” is not a bad word: Hearing individuals grow up learning politically correct (PC) terms like hearing impaired. In the Deaf community the word “Deaf” refers to a community with a shared language, values and traditions. Deaf individuals don’t see themselves as impaired.
- Facial expression: Be mindful of your facial expressions. In ASL, facial expression is a very important part of the language.
- American Sign Language is not universal: Each country on our planet has its own distinct form of sign language.
Test Time! What do you do in this situation?
Now what do you do if you don’t know any ASL and you have a Deaf person coming in for an appointment who uses ASL as their primary language? Do you…
A) Smile nervously and break out in a cold sweat when you meet them.
B) Smile and speak very loudly and s… l… o…w…l…y to the person.
C) Have paper and pencil handy.
D) Have a certified ASL interpreter standing by (VRI or live).
If you picked “D” then come on down and get your gold star! Making sure you use a nationally certified ASL interpreter is not only important for the individual but also the company you represent. It shows the Deaf of Hard of Hearing individual that you are aware of national standards set forth by the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) and are culturally sensitive to their communication needs.
So when interacting with a Deaf or Hard of Hearing individual who is using an ASL interpreter, make sure you Do and Don’t do the following:
|Speak directly to Deaf individual||Speak directly to interpreter|
|Use I, you: “What’s your name?”||Use her, him: “What’s her name?”|
|Speak in a normal tone||Speak loudly|
Here are a few ASL signs that could be helpful.
And here is sign language resource site that can help you build your ASL vocabulary.
At the end of the day… We’re all human!
There’s no reason to be afraid of interacting with the Deaf or Hard of Hearing. Just remember that at the end of the day, we are all human, and a smile and an eagerness to communicate goes a long way whether we communicate in the same language or not.