By Adan R. Penilla, Angela Lee Taylor

Being sensitive to Deaf people is a part of Deaf etiquette that’s really for the hearing. Deaf people already know what it means to be Deaf, but those who can hear probably never think about the day-to-day struggles that the Deaf have to overcome in this world.

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 of them are patient and incredibly skilled at getting their point across to you. Like all people, the Deaf come from all walks of life. Deaf men and women have the same careers that hearing people do — they’re doctors, lawyers, teachers, homemakers, construction workers, and so on.

Living together in a hearing world

Here are some tips and hints to keep in mind when interacting with Deaf people:

  • As your signing progresses, a Deaf person may ask if your parents are Deaf. This is a high compliment about your signing. It doesn’t mean that you’re fluent in ASL, but it does mean that your signing or facial expressions have characteristics of being influenced by someone who’s a native signer.
  • When visiting Deaf people, don’t assume that you can just walk into the house because they can’t hear the doorbell. Deaf people have strobe lights that are connected to the doorbell and the phone.
  • If you’re out having a meal with a Deaf person, don’t feel obligated to order for the person unless you’re asked, even if it’s just to practice your Sign. Deaf people have been eating in restaurants longer than you’ve been friends, and they’re accustomed to pointing to an item on the menu for the server.
  • As you learn more signs, do your best to sign when you’re talking with your hearing friends and a Deaf person joins the conversation. Signing what you’re saying may be difficult, but you’ll be able to do it in time with practice, and doing so helps the Deaf person feel included if 0068e or she knows what you’re saying.

Getting the Deaf perspective

No doubt you see that knowing Sign is just one piece (albeit a large one) of the puzzle to understanding the Deaf community. To really get a grasp on Deaf etiquette and culture, you have to get involved with the Deaf community. One sure way to get involved is to take an introductory ASL course from a Deaf instructor. Although you can find some awesome Sign instructors who can hear, a Deaf Sign instructor can teach from the Deaf perspective and is most likely a native signer.

An introductory class gives you exposure to signs, interaction with others and, hopefully, an opportunity to learn from Deaf guest speakers. You also get an understanding of the many signing styles that different people possess. An instructor can guide you as to where Deaf activities are taking place, who Deaf community leaders may be, and issues concerning the local community. Consider this class to be a segue to the Deaf community.