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Interacting with Deaf People
One thing that may surprise people who are not exposed to Deaf people is
that many deaf do not really consider themselves to be disabled and are
actually proud to be deaf. Some say they would not want to be able to hear
if they had their choice.
Just imagine if aliens landed from outer space and were shocked to discover
we couldn't see through walls with x-ray vision. Although the aliens might
feel sorry for us, since we're so used to life without x-ray vision, most
people would probably not think they're missing out just because they can't
see through walls. Not all deaf people feel this way about being deaf, but
Here are just a few tips to help people who are new to interacting with
people who are deaf, as well as to introduce them to what is known as "Deaf
culture" or "the Deaf world." Knowing how to better interact
with each other can help us respect and understand one another and help
bring together the Deaf world and the hearing world, which are really one
world with many different people.
Just as you would not ask someone you are meeting for the first time if
they have always been fat or other personal questions, remember it is generally
inappropriate to ask deaf people how they became deaf or if they have always
been deaf, at least when meeting them for the first time, unless the deaf
person brings up the subject.
Don't worry about using such English terminology as "Did you hear about
what happened?" or, "I bet you hear that a lot." Not only
is this non-offensive to deaf people, but also if there is an interpreter
interpreting such phrases, the deaf are familiar with this use of the English
word "hear." Besides, if there is no interpreter, it's not like
they'll hear it anyway.
One quick way to put up a barrier between yourself and Deaf people is to
say you're too embarrassed to try to learn any sign except in private. Do
not be afraid to try to use whatever sign language you know. Deaf people
who sign will not be offended but rather very happy and excited to meet
someone who is smart, outgoing, and culturally sensitive enough to know
even just a couple signs. Since the majority of the population does not
know sign language, they are happy to see someone they can communicate with,
even if it's just saying "thank
Remember that not all deaf people use sign language. Some rely solely on
reading lips. In such cases, remember that the deaf person must be able
to see your mouth in order to understand what you are saying. They cannot
understand what you are saying when you cover your mouth or if one of you
has your back turned.
If you are having trouble communicating with a deaf person, remember
you can usually resort to writing. Grab a pen and paper, a chalkboard,
a computer, etc. Keep in mind that some deaf people do not have very good
English because they have never clearly heard English and perhaps because
their native language is sign
language. One way to make communication easier as well as to start
learning sign language is to learn how to finger
spell the alphabet. Then you can at least spell out key words without
having to find something to write on.
The medical definition of deafness is a physical condition in which a person
has profound or severe hearing loss; the cultural view of being deaf is
a person with varying degrees of hearing loss who interacts with the Deaf
community. Often, when referring to being culturally Deaf, the word is capitalized,
and when referring to people with hearing loss in general, it is not capitalized
(as not all people with hearing loss interact with the Deaf community).
Very few deaf people have been absolutely deaf without any perception of
sound their whole lives. Many people who are "Deaf" by culture
are medically "hard of hearing," meaning they have a certain degree
of hearing ability. Refer to this comparison of the Medical
& Cultural Views of Deafness.
It is generally not offensive to ask someone who is considered deaf if they
are deaf or hard of hearing. However, some Deaf people understandably refrain
from disclosing that they can hear some sound for fear their hearing counterparts
will assume they can hear more than they actually do. A good rule of thumb
is to assume the person cannot hear you unless the deaf person tells you
Also, keep in mind that not all deaf people are mute. Some people become
deaf after speaking their whole lives. Just because a person can speak does
not mean they are not deaf.
Keep in mind that some deaf people may have a tendency to feel left out
of conversations between hearing people. When talking in groups with deaf
people present, continue to sign while talking even when you are not addressing
the deaf person, or make sure continuous interpretation is provided. (Keep
in mind also that not everyone who says they know sign language is a good
interpreter.) Although this does not necessarily allow them to fully participate
at the same pace of the conversation, the effort can mean a lot.
In turn, deaf people often at formal gatherings have a person "voice
interpret" what they are signing for the benefit of people who do not
sign, with the exception of some Deaf clubs who prefer no talking. This
is a reciprocal courtesy with signing for the deaf when hearing people speak.
However, although deaf people are generally considerate in making sure there
is interpretation provided for those who do not sign, if no one voice interprets,
you do not want to complain how that is unfair that you are left out of
the conversation. Having lived with the same challenge in the hearing world,
most deaf people would be unsympathetic to such complaints. However, usually
if you simply ask for voice interpretation, they will be more than glad
to have someone provide it. Just keep in mind that sometimes there is no
one around who can voice interpret.
As mentioned before how many deaf people don't consider themselves to
be disabled, one thing to avoid is expressing feeling sorry for deaf people.
Of course, people don't mean to offend, and many deaf people will be gracious
enough to excuse such patronizing. However, just as you would not appreciate
someone complimenting you on being such an honest person despite your
background or ethnicity, deaf people in general do not care to be told
how great it is that they are outgoing, good church goers, smart, etc.
despite their being deaf, nor do they like people telling them how sorry
they are that they can't hear. Don't let worrying about offending deaf
people preoccupy you though; just remember deaf people are pretty much
like other people, and they just want to be treated the same as other
people as much as possible.