Complete ASL Beginner’s Guide

Complete Beginner’s Guide to Manners in the Deaf Community

It’s great you’re learning Sign Language and practicing on SignOn, but do you really know how to act around Deaf people?

Before running off to the Deaf Coffee Chat, here’s some basic Deaf manners you need to know.

(we need to create our own pictures, so hard to find copyright free pictures related to ASL)

Don’t Assume that All Deaf can Lipread

Did you know that only 30-45% of a sentence is actually clear on the lips? The rest is pretty much guesswork based on – the topic, facial expression, body language, and for a few people, audio clues.

So if you’re having trouble signing a conversation, don’t assume that lipreading will be a good substitute. If you’re struggling, ask the Deaf person if they have another preferred method of communication to help with your signing. This could be fingerspelling, using pen and paper, or texting.

On the other hand if the Deaf person can lipread, please don’t start enunciating your words. This is a big pet peeve among Deaf people.

Don’t Over-exaggerate Getting their Attention

When getting a Deaf person’s attention, a few short gentle taps on the shoulder, a few times on the tabletop, or a gentle wave in their view, will suffice. No hard taps, pounding,  or wild waving around please (unless it’s an emergency).

When you tap hard, wave wildly and so on, not only is it rude, we assume you are angry and will respond accordingly.

You may see Deaf people do it to each other, but they’re accustomed to their friends and it may be a lively discussion (akin to Hearing people talking louder while excited).

Don’t Stop Signing When Talking to Another Hearing Person

This happens more times than Deaf people care to recall. In a group, two hearing people start a conversation, one or both stop signing and carry on chatting, leaving out the Deaf participants.

Many Deaf people have grown up, or are still, experiencing being left out of conversations, especially with their own hearing family members. When they try to participate or find out what’s happening, they’re usually met with “I’ll tell you later”, “It’s not important”, or “Don’t worry about it”. They surely don’t want to experience it in their own environment. So, either sign your conversations, or excuse yourselves and find a quiet corner away from the group to carry on your conversation. People with hearing impairments may also find it difficult when it comes to having a conversation over the phone, as it can be hard for them to distinguish what the person on the other end of the call is saying. If you know someone who is hard of hearing and think that they may benefit from having a new phone, then why don’t you check out these reviews of phones for hearing impaired so that it becomes easier for them to speak to someone over the phone. Little things like this could do wonders for their confidence as they will feel included with other people in the community. But you must be wary of other things to watch out for.

Don’t “Duck” Under a Conversation

This is another pet peeve among Deaf signers. Hearing people trying to pass between two signers feel the urge to duck down and walk under a conversation. This is due to not wanting to interrupt the conversation.

This is totally not true. If you just walk through at your normal walking pace and just sign “excuse me”, it doesn’t interrupt us at all, a 2 second blur, and we’re back to signing.

If you duck down and walk  we’re more likely to stop and look at you because we’re seeing something which is usually an unnatural behavior.

Don’t Ask if the Deaf Person Should get “Fixed”

With the influx of Cochlear Implant “miracle” videos appearing throughout Social Media, hearing people are inspired and wonder why aren’t Deaf people flocking to get cured or fixed. So, whatever you do, please refrain from asking Deaf people why they don’t have hearing aids or cochlear implants.

This is equivalent to receiving Salespeople (or other types of visitors) at our door. It’s intrusive into our lives, no one’s business, and shows a lack of understanding of Deaf Culture.

On the other hand, if the Deaf person does have hearing aids or a C.I., don’t ask why it’s not working as they’re “still deaf”. Again, it’s due to a multitude of reasons and still no one’s business.

So keep these manners in mind while socializing and enjoy yourselves.