I just found out the other day that September is Deaf Awareness month. It’s exciting that there’s a whole month dedicated to learning more about deafness. In honor of that, I’m going to jot down a few things that several of my Deaf teachers have said happen frequently to them that they consider extremely rude, or think people are nuts for doing.
First of all, there are two polite ways of getting a deaf person’s attention. If they are accross the room from you, you can wave your hand at them, or ask someone near them to tap them on the shoulder. If they are near you, you can feel free to tap them on the shoulder yourself, by using one finger and tapping two or three times. Don’t wave your hand in front of someone’s face, don’t ever throw things to get someone’s attention, and don’t tap someone’s arm incessantly until they turn around. Let’s face it, you wouldn’t like it if someone tried to get your attention those ways, so don’t do it to others and they’ll appreciate it a lot!
If two people are signing to each other and there’s no way arround them except by going through their conversation, it’s OK to do so. Just walk right on through as quickly as possible, and if you know the sign for excuse me, you can go ahead and sign it. If not that’s OK too, just try to be as quick as possible. If you try to go underneath their signing hands, people will look at you as if you’re nuts. Not only that, but you’ve disturbed their conversation because they’re looking at you and thinking ‘what the hell?’ instead of briefly pausing to let you through, then resuming their conversation naturally.
If you’re meeting a deaf person and you don’t know ASL, follow a few simple guidelines and your communication will be easier. First, always look at them straight foreward, and don’t let your eyes wander like they would in a hearing conversation. Don’t try to enunciate… it distorts your mouth shapes and makes it harder for a deaf person to lip read than if you were speaking naturally. Let them use paper and pencil, or whatever you have lying around to write with and on, and admit if you don’t understand something. It will save you lots of embarrasment later if you just admit you don’t know what they’re talking about, rather than agree to something you aren’t OK with or look like a fool by saying yes to something that isn’t a yes or no question.
So there you go… several simple things that will keep you from looking rude or completely nuts in the presence of deaf people. Happy Deaf Awareness month!!