Communicating with Deaf People: A Primer
This is designed as a basic guide for hearing people who want to communicate with deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals. It is condensed from the National Technical Institute for the Deaf's publication "Celebrate Diversity. "
Customs and Courtesies of Conversation
Deaf people appreciate the efforts of hearing people to learn and use sign. The slow communication speed is a common experience of anyone learning a new language. A deaf person will understand a hearing person's message even with mistakes, just as a hearing person will usually understand the spoken message of a person just learning English who makes some mispronunciations and grammatical errors.
Good lighting, unobstructed vision and a non-distracting, non-glare background are essential environmental conditions for successful and comfortable visual-based communication. A table in the middle of the room forces people to stand in a circle and provides them with a full view of each other. Loud noise interferes with successful and comfortable auditory-based interaction.
Facial expressions are a critical part of communication because they convey the emotions and tone of the conversation. Signing without facial expression is similar to monotone speech. Also, using voice and mouth movement helps a deaf person who has some lip-reading skills and/or residual hearing. However, a loud voice and exaggerated mouth movement interferes with understanding the voiced message.
Some of the ways to get the attention of a deaf person are to tap the person on the shoulder, wave hands, flash lights or stomp feet on the floor. Deaf people may use these methods to get the attention of others. If one person can't get the attention of the intended person but does get the attention of someone near that person, the signaler may point to the person wanted and the nearby person may tap that person on the shoulder. Your shoulder may be tapped in the process of getting someone else's attention.
Interrupting a Signed Conversation
Deaf people usually do not have private conversations where they can be "overseen," so a deaf person knows it is OK to watch for a pause in a signed conversation, interrupt with a gesture, deliver the message and leave. Hearing people, however, will not watch what they believe to be a private conversation, and will stand by, waiting to be acknowledged. If you do this with deaf people, they will not understand your intention and will continue their conversation. To interrupt a signed conversation, make your desire known by eye contact and gesture without waiting for a pause, then stand by without observing until the person you want to talk to turns to you.