Learning the nuances of Deaf Culture can be difficult for new American Sign Language students. There are many differences between hearing culture and Deaf culture. Below you can find some tips and insights about interacting in the Deaf community submitted by signers, interpreters, Deaf people, and more!
Hearing Culture vs. Deaf Culture
by Tamra Goleman (Ashford University) | June 15, 2011
Can we communicate effectively with one another without the use of speaking or hearing the spoken words of another person or gain knowledge about a different language without understanding their culture? People who are deaf have a different way of communicating and have their own language that differs from hearing cultures. While there are ways of communicating in both hearing cultures and in deaf cultures there are differences in the way language is used where the concepts studied in class to evaluate those differences are beneficial to learning why respect and ethical communication is important, and to gain an appreciation for those differences. (Jay, 2011).
There have been positive changes in the last 40 years for deaf people. Where they were once put down, called names, and degraded they are now seen as having their own culture which is called deaf culture. Aristotle had a theory which discriminated against people who were deaf when he thought that the only way a person could be educated or could ever learn anything was through words that were spoken. Deaf people were seen as having a handicap and were thought of as being incapable of learning and were treated badly because they could not hear. They were not allowed to attend school because they were thought of as not smart enough and were not capable to learn. Communicating effectively and language is important to all cultures, however, deaf people were thought of as not being psychologically or mentally capable of learning or communicating unless they could hear people speaking to them. Their language and culture was not respected. Even the law didn’t recognize deaf people as equal. According to Jay, (2011) “The law had them labeled as “non-persons” (par.4). They were criticized and belittled for not being able to hear or speak. (Jay, 2011).
Differences of hearing culture and deaf culture
First, there are differences in the way language is used in different cultures because culture affects communication behaviors. You cannot have one without the other. According to Jay, (2010) states “… deaf culture is exactly what Carol Padden defines as a culture: a set of learned behaviors of a group of people that share a language, values, rules for behavior, and traditions” (par.3). Hearing cultures use language to communicate one with another by using the spoken word alternating with listening. Deaf cultures communicate in the way of sign language. For example, the culture I was brought up in taught me how to speak English. The way I speak, my communication skills, my values, morals, behaviors and attitudes came from the culture in which I live. People that are deaf have learned to communicate in sign language (which is different from English and is a language all of its own) and their communication skills, values, morals, behaviors and attitudes came from the culture they live in. (Jay, 2011).
Additionally, the differences of communication of hearing cultures and deaf cultures are to be respected which will help in social interactions to avoid negative assertions; such as biased opinions, criticisms, and judgments. In hearing and speaking cultures nonverbal communication such as body movement and facial expressions are subconscious. In deaf cultures their communication skills depends greatly on moving their bodies, hands, arms, heads, and outwardly show expressions on their faces which are both conscious decisions and efforts in order to communicate. In hearing cultures one of the basic principles of communication is to avoid degrading, negative, hurtful, and disrespectful comments to others. It is important to know the culture of the persons we come in contact and interact with, as well as appreciating their language. To label or call people names such as saying that they are stupid, for example, or use snide remarks for the way one may look, dress, act, or behave is not an ethical means of communicating effectively. According to Hybels, & Weaver (2007) states “As the Credo states… ethical communication is fundamental to responsible thinking, decision making, and the development of relationships and communities with and across contexts, cultures, channels, and media” and “Ethical communication enhances human worth and respect for self and others” (p.20). To respect these differences is an important part of communicating effectively with deaf cultures. (Hybels, & Weaver, 2007).
Finally, another concept of the use of language in the deaf culture according to Hybels, & Weaver (2007) is to “Protect freedom of expression, diversity of perspective, and tolerance for dissent” (p.21). If someone refers to a deaf person as ‘having a handicap’ because they are deaf and do not speak is considered degrading and a negative, criticizing statement about who they are. In my culture it is unethical to call a Mexican a wet-back, a gay person a lezbo, a white person a white cracker, or a religious person a bible-banger. People who are deaf have their own set of values, morals, and beliefs just as people who can hear and speak have within their culture. Deaf cultures should not be discriminated against just as it is immoral and unlawful to discriminate a person’s culture of religion, race, creed, color, or gender. Discrimination goes against the law, principles of ethical conduct, the value of equality, and can destroy relationships, as well as a person’s self-worth. (Hybels, & Weaver, 2007).
Indeed, while there are differences in the way language is used in different cultures the understanding of the differences of hearing cultures versus deaf cultures is important to applying ethical communication skills. According to Hybels, & Weaver (2007) ethical communication is to “Help promote communication climates of caring and mutual understanding that protect the unique needs and characteristics of individual communicators” (p.21). Though communication comes in different forms of language in different cultures essentially one of the most important reasons for being open to the differences in the way language is used in different cultures is according to Hybels, & Weaver (2007) is to “Commit yourself to the courageous expression of your personal convictions in pursuit of fairness and justice” (p.21).
Hybels, S., & Weaver, R. L. (2007). Communicating affectively. (8th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill
Jay, M. (2011). Start American Sign Language: ASL American sign language. Article retrieved May 6, 2011 from https://www.startasl.com/deaf-culture
Jay, M. (2011). Start American Sign Language: ASL American sign language. Article retrieved May 7, 2011 from https://www.startasl.com/history-of-sign-language
I work in a prison as an interpreter. I am having a problem with the employees I’ve tried to educate them to understand that just because a deaf person wears a hearing aide this does not mean that they can understand you. Do you have any articles or something I would be able to share. I would like to Train these Hearing people in just how much a deaf person can understand through speaking to them. Get them to realize that not all deaf can understand through writing notes or lip reading. The Inmates that I work with require an interpreter and I am trying to be an advocate and stress awareness in the facility when it comes to the deaf.
Handicapped or disability is NOT the preferred norm. Deaf or hard of hearing is preferred.
Brilliant. Well thought out and gives clarity to a culture most of us know little or nothing about. Written from a caring perspective, clear thoughts and information, food for thought. I enjoyed the article tremendously.
Communicating with the hard of hearing
by Chey | January 2, 2013
I am a hard of hearing teen living in a hearing world. I have one fully functioning ear, while my other eardrum is damaged from tubes and surgeries. It still can be difficult for me however to communicate with hearing people. I would like to offer some do’s and don’ts based purely on my own difficult experiences (many of them in school). While I say “me”, these rules for the most part should apply to verbal communication with any hard of hearing person with some amount of hearing.
- Speak slower than you would with a hearing person. Often times sounds don’t come through as “clearly” and I have to make jumps and assumptions to get the sentence, much like a person with poor eyesight would be able to tell what a far away sign says, not from actually reading the letters, but making assumptions and filling in the gaps. So it takes longer for me to process what’s being said.
- At least face me when you are speaking. (Personally, I don’t have much issue with the eye contact thing, but you need to face me!) When you are facing me your sound comes to me. If you are facing away from me, I cannot hear you. It also has to do with lipreading. While I do not rely on it completely, I do tend to use it as an aid.
- Learn to sign! (I know, I know. I said “verbal”. Oh well.) While I am just beginning to breach ASL, the result of growing up surrounded by hearing people, I find that I would much rather sign than speak. Showing an interest in learning the language best suited to me is a huge gesture.
- Ask questions! I know some deaf/Deaf/hard of hearing people might find questions rude, but I personally feel flattered when someone wants to take the time to find out more about me and the thing that makes me a little different.
- Do not, ever, ever touch my ears. I’ve found that hearing people do that when they discover that I am hard of hearing. My ears do not feel any different than yours, and while the ONE does not hear as well as yours do, that does not affect feeling. I will feel it if you run up and grab my ear, and I do not like it. (This has been done to me, believe it or not.)
- Don’t try to sneak up on me. For one, I can feel your footsteps. It’s extremely rude to me to have someone try to sneak up on me, regardless of whether or not they succeed.
- Don’t whisper into the ear that doesn’t work! The first reason being the obvious one: I can’t hear you! The second being maybe less obvious, I find it very offensive.
- Don’t ask me how much hearing I have. For one, it is likely that you are seeking some sort of percentage answer, and that is not how decibels work. Second, it’s rude. I am not better or worse either way. I am hard of hearing and that’s all you need to know.
- Don’t scold me for not wearing my hearing aid. (Though my “hearing aid” currently is just a sound amplifier, and I will soon get an actual hearing aid fitted specifically to my needs which I will be more likely to wear.) I’ve only ever worn mine, but I do have to say that it is uncomfortable, and falls off frequently, as well as emitting feedback in the form of horrible squealing.
- Don’t suggest cochlears. (A cochlear for me would be pointless anyways.) I know a child whose parents are getting her a cochlear implant for each ear. I don’t even have the desire to go into the details of why I find it disturbing. If the subject isn’t breached by the hard of hearing person, then just leave it alone.
- Don’t chastise me for turning my headphones up loud. (I will not listen to music in inappropriate situations where others will be distracted/disturbed, just to get that out of the way first off.) Turning my music up loud did not make me go deaf. A hole in my eardrum and three surgeries did that. I hear things quieter than you do, therefore volume for me needs to be turned up. As a hard of hearing person interacting in the hearing community more than the Deaf Community (and perhaps people with whom the opposite is true might agree with what I am about to say as well) I find it extremely offensive when someone suggests that my being hard of hearing is the cause of something I did.
- Don’t assume that I’ve heard something that you said when you weren’t speaking directly to me, facing me. One of my teachers often yells at me for not responding to something he said, even though I did not respond because I didn’t hear him. It can get exhausting to constantly explain this to people, so just take the courtesy and save the hard of hearing person the grief. It really does hurt us.
I also have a don’t for hard of hearing people. Don’t immediately take offense if someone asks you if you are hard of hearing or deaf, because that person may be hard of hearing or deaf themselves! I know that whenever I see someone with hearing aids or someone signing I get very excited. It’s not often I find a kindred spirit after all!
Those are just some of my beliefs. I have a lot more to say on the topic of hearing people and hard of hearing people communicating, but I will stop at that.
I feel your pain and frustration. I have profound sensoneural loss and deal with the exact same issues dealing with normal hearing people. They simply don’t get it. I am curious about the cochlear position, but I just don’t know much about them – as I still have enough lows to not justify.
Good luck, and thanks again for your article.
I don’t know much about the technicality of the cochlear either, all I know is that I disagree with permanently changing your deaf child like that . . I have no feuds with people who choose to get cochlears for themselves, it’s when the decision is made by the hearing and not the deaf. I personally would never get a cochlear, and I disagree with them in general, though I would always tolerate, because I tolerate everyone and even accept the majority.
The most I know is that as far as appearance goes, a wire comes out of your head and goes into your ear much like a hearing aid would.
Reading your page felt like it came from my own soul. I also am losing my hearing due to tubes and ear infections, etc. I loved everything you said and I wish it could be spread to more people.
I’m 45 years old and recently had Cochlear Implant done on my left ear. I chose to have it because I grew up listening to music which I love and hearing birds chirping and among other things. Over the years my hearing started to deteroriates and was losing touch with music and not be able to talk on the phone like I used to. All I wanted is to be able to hear again so I can sing and enjoy the sound of many things. I do call myself Deaf because I am Deaf. I’m also fluent in ASL which I will always prefer to use ASL as my communication mode. I feel so comfortable signing rather than speaking and I will always feel that way. Nothing will stop me from using ASl even with Cochlear Implant. ASL is my heart in a very BIG way. I’m so fortunate that my friends supports me all the way and know that I will never change who I am. Only thing that changed me is my ability to hear. Having Cochlear Implant still means I’m Deaf because once you take your connector off at nighttime before you go to bed you are Deaf period!!!!. Cochlear Implant is just an aid. It’s not 100% hearing improvement which never will be.
Tell it, Chey!!! Aside from the sneaking up behind me thing (simply because I’m one person that doesn’t really get scared or I know it’s a joke), I feel the same way about everything you said!!!
What a relief to see that I’m not the only person living with a foot in 2 worlds! I was born hearing and had full hearing until 8 years ago when a tumor required the removal of my left middle ear bones and eardrum. The auditory nerve is still functional, so a cochlear implant could restore my hearing, but I really don’t want more surgery (I’ve had other brain surgeries for other tumors since the first one, but they didn’t impact my hearing — nonetheless, surgery isn’t much fun!).
Here’s the thing: I still have full hearing on the right side, so most people have no idea that I’m completely deaf on the left. My right side has over-compensated so well for the left, that I usually “pass,” though I have trouble with telling from which direction sounds come. I still have to remind family members not to whisper to my left ear! I also have to remind my husband not to leave the room while he’s talking to me! I’m not accepted in the tightly-woven deaf community, but I’m not the hearing person I once was. It’s a very strange existence.
I appreciated your tips, and I can very much sympathize with the frustration of trying to get people to see that you really are “normal,” just not hearing! I started taking ASL when an infection in my right ear made me realize how quickly I could go to completely deaf. I am loving the learning and have a great teacher. She is connecting me with working with kids in her ASL Club at school — some hearing, some hearing impaired, some deaf — and I’m loving it! I hope to feel more balanced in my own life by being useful to both sides.
I am hearing. I will be doing a summer job this year where I will be working with other teenagers who are hearing, as well as deaf/Deaf kids. It’s great to figure out what not to do, as I don’t want to offend anyone while I’m learning more about Deaf culture.
I am incredibly interested in Deaf culture and ASL. Your post was very helpful.
First of all thank you. Loved every word! We found out 6 months ago that my 4 yr old daughter is deaf in her left ear and has moderate hearing loss in her right. Hers is hereditary, since her father and I carry an abnormal recessive gene. I’m currently enrolled in an ASL/Deaf studies program at a local college and she is also in a program that helps her speech since she is prelingually HOH. Reading you post gives me insight on how to help her ( and others!) in the future. And I know what you mean by getting excited meeting a kindred spirit. I get that way( even tho I’m hearing) because I know that she has someone who will “get” her, help her, and in general, be there for support. The Deaf community is wonderful, I have met so many fantastic people, even tho our journey has just begun. So again thank you for the insight, and rock on!
Hello. My name is Carmen. I am hard of hearing. I can’t hear from my right ear because I don’t have it completely formed. Insecurity kills, but trying to fit in when you’re not the same kills even more, but I’m learning sign, and I love it! 🙌
I am mostly deaf due to the same problems you have had. Then I hit an IED and it was donezo for me. I got the BAHA and let me tell you how amazingly not awesome it is. I get afraid of my own footsteps because you can’t tell what direction it is coming from. So, it is a personal decision and it was the BAHA or seal the ear which oils have been awesome. It gives me headaches. I can stream movies and music, so that is a plus. Trying to hear what people say all day is exhausting. You continuously have to focus and concentrate on the person. I read people’s lips even with my BAHA because I know it won’t work forever. Just wanted to say great read.
I’ve been hard of hearing sine I was 10. I was in a terrible car accident. I told my family and the EMT I couldn’t hear but they didn’t believe me until fast forward 5 years I’ve learned ASL and how to lipread really well. The hearing exam results come up bad and voila! Mom believes me now. However my teachers and classmates don’t believe me ever when they discover I’m hard of hearing because nothing was initially done. I can relate to everything you’ve said but if I can add, just because someone doesn’t get I taken care of immediately doesn’t mean they’re not hard of hearing or deaf. Sometimes they can’t afford it or other obstacles come up.
Helping or Caretaking?
by Anonymous (Fullerton, CA, USA) | March 8, 2013
It’s okay to help someone you know who is Deaf if they ask for your help. However, if they do not ask, do not interfere. When my fiance and I go out to a restaurant, I let him order for himself. The waiter may look at the hearing person for help (with quite a terrified look on their face) but I know my fiance can get across that he wants a hamburger with no onions and a coke.
So, let the Deaf person take care of themselves unless you are asked for some reason to jump in and interpret for them. Treat your Deaf friend like you would any hearing friend you have. Do not feel sorry for them because it looks as though they are having a hard time because the hearing person is not understanding them. This is their chance to teach the other hearing people in the world about the Deaf and perhaps teach themselves patience (if they don’t have a ton of it already from dealing with so many hearing people who don’t know what to do when faced with their first Deaf person).
However, if you are in customer service such as waitressing or a department store and notice that someone who is Deaf has come into your store or restaurant — and you know ASL, then by all means, do switch tables with your co-worker and take the order. I know my fiance does appreciate it when this happens, even if the person is just beginning to learn sign, they at least know how to act with him and can make the experience a little easier.
Don’t tell me “Never mind” or “I’ll tell you later” because I do mind and you won’t
by Anonymous | June 16, 2010
Many moons ago, I worked with a lovely woman in our corporation. Her hearing was so bad that we’d tell her when to replace her ear molds because of the feedback and she couldn’t hear it. I was just hard of hearing back then. I remember our impatient attitude sometimes with Marilyn. We all used to tell her, “Never mind,” or “I’ll tell you later,” but we never did. One day Marilyn put a stop to it all with me. She told me rightfully so, that I never tell her later and she wants to know what’s going on, so knock off the “never mind.”
I remembered and I’m going through it myself now. I beep but I don’t hear it so am told. I’m told never mind and feel the sting. I understand it and it’s dismissive and makes me feel less than who I am.
Comment by Anonymous:
Good point! I like your comment. The one thing that I would add at this time would be that I am sorry for the lost knowledge that you and your friend may have shared…I hope that just as you have shared this with us; you also will share it with those who miss out on your words of wisdom, due to their own lack of patience and understanding.
I’ve been deaf for almost my whole life,since I was 4. So often it seems that I get left out of the loop, Ireally dislike it. Sometimes I wish that I could hear, especially to see what my voice sounds like, but then I remember how many friends I would’ve never aquired. Also, now that my friends are used to me, I’m always kept up with what’s going on.
Now I know that I’m blessed to be deaf.
‘NEVERMIND’ makes me IMMEDIATELY want to punch someone. Thank you so much for writing about it.
I grew up as a swimmer, and continue to swim (have for 24 years of my 28 year old life). I had massive ear infections as a child, and my wax develops abnormally because of this.
Anyway, long story short I didn’t know that wax was impacting my hearing. I thought I was slowly losing my hearing in my mid-twenties. I had 10% and 40% hearing in each ear respectively.
My significant other would tease me playfully when I would ask “what?” several times. I would try to make a joke of it and pat my left ear and say, “Talk in the good ear!”
However, every now and then he’d get tired of repeating something, of speaking louder than he was used to, or he’d just be plain tired, and the joking would stop. This was when he hurt my feelings.
It hurts to make the decision every time you don’t quite hear somebody – Do I make a pain of myself and ask them to repeat it over and over until I hear it, or do I just let it go.
Let me tell you, you certainly master the art of responding in ways that make sense to the other person, as if you understood them, even if you didn’t. You also become a master of context, perhaps understanding the previous and last sentence, and a few words in between.
Luckily for me I discovered what was wrong with me, and now get my ears flushed by a nurse twice a year! It HURT to be able to hear again, and sometimes I almost miss my wax!
A Hearing sMother
by sMother (New York, USA) | March 8, 2013
I am the hearing Mother of a Deaf daughter. She was born Deaf because of Usher Syndrome. I thought it would be hard to raise and teach a Deaf child, but she has taught me so much about a culture I thought was sad and bleak. WOW was I wrong!
The Do Not’s my Daughter has taught me through the years are DO NOT grab hold of a Deaf person’s hands while they are signing. It is the same disrespect as covering a speaking person’s mouth.
DO NOT underestimate the Deaf and don’t assume All Deaf people want the cochlear implant. But most of all…DO NOT give up on your Deaf Child. They grow up to be the most amazing adults you will come across.
Deaf people sometimes rude to new signers
by Nancy | July 16, 2014
I love sign language. I am hard of hearing and a student of ASL. I can sign fairly well and love to do it but find when I am around deaf people I am afraid to sign because they correct me constantly and even laugh at me. I find this very rude and not productive at all. I am teaching my family and friends to sign with me but would love to branch out into volunteer work with the deaf… but I’m afraid because of this issue.
I would say, “Please stop laughing. I’m still learning. It would be more helpful if you corrected me without laughing. That’s rude don’t you think?”
Do not be afraid to get picked on, that is very common and normal within Deaf culture to pick on each other. If you want to work with the Deaf people, you will have to get rid of your “hearing” mindset that this is rude and accept it from a Deaf viewpoint as social-binding with others. Laugh with them and pick on them back. Otherwise, you will never be able to reach out to them properly.
I know it might be rude to you but it is normal to them. You have to know the culture and role with it. Like dating someone from another race you have to educate yourself in their culture or you will not survive in it. Same here. Dont get frustrated or you will never learn.
I have been told when I was first learning that my head is hard. Honestly from their body language they are happy you are trying to learn. Please don’t try to bend them to conform to your culture you will lose too much. Deaf and their culture is awesome. Try to learn and accept. Learning a new language you need to accept being laughed at and please laugh at yourself.
I have a Deaf coworker who has taught most of our area ASL. I’m still struggling after only a year, but when I sign something wrong, I’m glad that he corrects me, even if it’s a stupid mistake. I equate it to learning a second language to fluency: you’ll make a mistake and the native speakers will help you with the word or context. I sometimes get embarrassed, but he always smiles and lets me review.
Being hearing, is it okay to sign in public?
by Kali Wright (New Jersey) | January 11, 2016
Actually the opposite of sharing my knowledge; I need someone else’s. Is it okay for me to sign or practice in public? I’m hearing and very quickly learning ASL and Deaf culture. I have a Deaf friend that I see about once a month and I get so emotionally satisfied when she tells me my signing has improved since the last time. I began learning to sign before knowing her. In Deaf culture, myself not being part of that community, is it acceptable for me to sign all of the time in public to practice all of the time? Or is that seen as culture appropriation?
However, I do on occasion. Especially when I am in the learning zone and really trying to remember things. I enjoy it and don’t really see the harm in it. I am also deaf in one ear and signing with my husband in loud places makes things way easier. I wish I would have learned this 13 years ago when I lost my hearing to begin with!
Do Learn To Communicate With Deaf Co-Workers!
by Diane (Texas, USA) | November 13, 2009
I have known a few people that were deaf over the years and have enjoyed learning enough sign language to communicate. The best experience I have had was a co-worker that was deaf and had the best sense of humor ever! He brought me a postcard-size card with the alphabet in sign in case we got stuck and/or had to spell things. This was great, since he kept me laughing all the time at work! If I hadn’t made a little effort to learn signs than I would have definitely missed out on a lot of fun!
Don’t be afraid to try to communicate in sign even if you aren’t very good at it! It is worth the effort.
Thank you so much for sharing! What a great story and a fantastic point!
A lot of people don’t take the time to learn sign language to talk to co-workers. This is such a great “do” of Deaf Culture because in Deaf Culture, it’s more accepted to sign (or attempt to) than it is to use other methods (like writing back and forth). If you show an effort, it really does go along with the behaviors of Deaf Culture :)
I’ve always been interested in communicating with ASL, but as with other languages I’ve tried, I am afraid of messing up and frustrating the person I am trying to communicate with. I am afraid of messing up and embarrassing myself to the point of being made fun of for trying to learn this language. Can you tell me that deaf people really don’t mind my feeble attempt at ASL?
Do NOT cover your mouth!
by Anonymous (Northampton, Massachusetts) | January 4, 2013
One thing that happens to me at least once a week is when I am speaking to someone and I am having trouble understanding, I tell them “Sorry, I read lips, could you please look at me when you speak?” they cover their mouth and continue talking AT me.
These people are usually cashiers, customer service, even the managers when I complain to them. My coworkers do the same thing to me all the time. My Mother will cover her mouth or refuse to move her lips (you just need to learn to listen), or tell me to clean the wax out of my ears (she knows that is not the problem). These are things that should not happen anywhere, let alone in a city that hosts a school for the deaf (Clarke School for Hearing & Speech – Northampton).
So please, when someone tells you they read lips, DO NOT cover your mouth.
If I was able to talk, I’d do that for you.
It’s the thought that counts, right?
I’m sorry that happens to you. I don’t know why people are so rude! I’m hearing and if you told me that I wouldn’t cover my mouth! Especially if that’s the only way we can communicate. People can be so rude!
Do’s and don’ts with the deaf
by B.J. (Columbus, Ohio) | August 2, 2010
Treat them how you want to be treated.If you were the one deaf would you want someone to ask your friend what you wanted. They can talk they just do it in a different way from the hearing. I was brought up not by deaf people but the blind and people would always ask me how my mom, dad, aunt, uncle, or cousin were when they would be right in front of me and the person talking and I would always say don’t know ask that person that would be with me at the time. I work in a grocery store where a deaf school is and I get all ages of deaf including senior citizens and I would always try to talk to them and not know they were deaf they would sign that they are deaf so would sign to them and let them know I am learning ASL and they try to understand me and they are most always patient with me.
I agree whole heatedly. Someone who is deaf needs to be thought of and interacted with as we would anyone else, just with any necessary “aid” that might be needed. It helps me when I am faced with communicating with anyone with a disability to interact as I do with someone without obvious disabilities: Just like I would want if I were in their shoe(s). Three things help me: 1)remembering we ALL have disabilities, some are just more obvious or difficult at times to accomadate. 2)putting myself in their shoes – would I appreciate being approached and knowing they want to communicate? 3)Remembering that their disability changes nothing about them (their feelings, desires, needs, etc.) other than some obstacle that may need accommodating.
Sorry to rattle on but THANK you for your post.
I lost my hearing as a child
by Taylor (Italy) | December 5, 2014
When I was little, my first language was Italian, after I turned 8, I started learning English. But I also lost senses as a reaction to this medication I was taking. I lost most of my eyesight, my sense of smell, and my hearing. But after a few months my mom got worried and took me to the doctor. He took me off my meds.
Little by little I got my sight back first, at this point I could actually see some things (I wasn’t even able to clearly see my own hand held within a foot away). Next I got my smell back, but never all of it, I could now smell certain things like bleach, vanilla, cigarettes, and some other things. So I waited for the last thing to come back. Then it did one morning, I could hear my brother laughing downstairs. But I couldn’t hear very well. All of my senses are still tainted. I have to wear contacts or glasses everyday, and I have to wear a hearing aid. I never went to a deaf school because I didn’t even know English that well, so especially not ASL.
So my grandmother taught me English. And with every English word, she taught me the ASL version of it. But then she died. So I had to continue learning English from my mom, who didn’t make the effort of learning ASL. And to this day still doesn’t know a word in ASL. But because she’s in the Army I moved to my native country, in Italy where I met my best friend and my boyfriend. And they both started learning ASL for me.
Now I have conversations with my best friend everyday in ASL. And my boyfriend isn’t really a fast learner in languages but he always learns nice things to sign to me like “morning beautiful” or “I love you” things like that to brighten my day.
by Ansh | November 13, 2009
Make sure you maintain eye contact during a signed conversation. Look straight into his/her eyes without getting distracted. You also need to avoid eating or chewing anything while signing with a deaf person.
You should also make sure the lighting makes it easy for the person you are signing with to see your signs.
It is OK to turn the lights in a room on and off to get the attention of everyone in the room. To get the attention of one person, though, tapping him/her on the shoulder is the best way. Don’t tap another part of a person’s body or throw something at them. That is considered very rude and can be dangerous.
Yes, you’re absolutely right. Eye contact is extremely important as well as not chewing gum. In Deaf Culture, lighting is important as well. You will notice that the most common place for Deaf people to converse in a house is the kitchen. This is because the lighting in a kitchen is normally the best in the house.
Tapping someone on the shoulder is the most accepted way to get someone’s attention. You can also slightly wave your hand in the person’s train of vision. But, yes, make sure you don’t throw anything at anyone! Unless you want it thrown back at you ;)
In ASL it is essential to look away during role shifting, personification, and using some depicting verbs.
E.g. when telling a story about a parent and a child having a conversation the signer will role shift into each character. Eye gaze breaks and goes up to the “parent” when depicting the child, and vice versa when depicting the parent.
So in general yes keep eye contact, but there are grammatical exceptions.
Please be very understanding if someone deaf asks you to repeat
by Ashleigh Boone (Mississippi) | October 23, 2011
I saw this the other day and it bothered me. I saw a deaf man and a hearing man trying to communicate and the hearing man was trying to do ASL. But the deaf man didn’t understand what he was trying to say and asked him to repeat this time slower and the hearing man got angry and said nevermind it does not matter. And the deaf man got very upset and almost started crying.
When a deaf person asks you to repeat what you are saying don’t get upset just repeat a little slower mouthing your words. Please don’t get rude, because it is not necessary. I know it can be frustrating but just be calm and nice. I am not Deaf but I have deaf family members. And when they could not understand what I was saying I learned sign language and have been fluent in it ever since. I actually prefer it. Because most of my family knows it and it’s just easier than trying to speak.
My uncle said he’s happy I learned sign language because it made him more comfortable. And yeah I used to get frustrated but I wouldn’t get rude because there is nothing wrong with being deaf. And when I realized that no one could understand what I was saying I learned ASL and it’s been good ever since no need in being rude to someone.
My uncle said that when he doesn’t understand what someone is saying and they say something like forget it or nevermind it really offends him and makes him feel dumb. And he said a lot of his deaf friends say the same so please think about that and don’t say that before you actually try to talk to someone who is deaf.
My father was an amazing man. Though not deaf himself, he was raised by deaf parents and he later married a deaf woman. Every where they went he would always speak and sign at the same time for her benefit. Even while watching TV, he would sign it all for her. When with friends that were not deaf, he would speak and sign at the same time. I never got the mastery of this skill.
The Deaf are an amazing group of people. Don’t be rude by trying to ignore them. Make new friends by learning Sign Language.
Yes I agree with you, but there’s another way to get one to understand: paper and note. I always bring a notepad and pen with me. I’m only deaf around here. Not many people learn any sign language but one or few. Also body gestures to show. I sometimes get someone who knows me but not signs to try to explain what’s being said.
Not many want to be patient with other..but sometimes we don’t have a choice but if still not being understood, and say “never mind” if not really that important.
Notes and pen, body gestures, and a closer friend’s help (“who understands you”) are always good advice…
I’m new to studying ASL. Being patient also needs to come from the deaf person when a hearing person is trying to communicate with them. I have had several experiences when trying to talk with deaf people that they get frustrated with/at me when they can’t understand me. I will keep trying or even finger-spell a word and ask what a sign is for that word. I always assumed that deaf people would be happy that a hearing person is trying to learn when there is so little communication around them in the hearing world aspect. I have had people try to help me with what I’m trying to say and are very patient and understanding, but I have also had a handful of deaf people who become impatient, angry, rude, or even walk away. Some deaf, it seems, don’t want you to learn ASL because I’m not deaf and that I have no right to because I don’t know all of their culture. With those kind of deaf people, it seems like all or nothing–either you’re deaf in the deaf community or stay in the hearing world.
I am not deaf, but I am almost deaf in one ear. It is hard for me to hear people, espiscially ( sorry for the bad spelling I don’t know how to spell that)in loud places. I try to lip-read, but I’m only good at that with people I’ve known for a while. People often say mean or rude things when I ask them to repeat what they said. It really frustrates me when they do that to me and/or other people. At least we try to communicate.
I’m with your uncle on the feeling dumb and feeling incompetent when someone says something like “Forget it” or “Never mind.” It literally makes me want to go in another room and cry. That’s how offended I get and people don’t understand that it hurts when they’re asked to repeat certain words or phrases, because I didn’t catch all the sounds, and they just say “Forget it.”
Having lived abroad for many years, I find that often people have little patience for those who are not fluent in their mother language. It is not strictly a Deaf issue. But do think of this next time you feel slighted in the Deaf Community. Many hearing people “try out” their signing on Deaf acquaintances and expect that the person “should be grateful they are trying”. And how would you like to always be listening to adults who sound like they are infants, babbling away, when you are trying to engage in an event where there are people with whom you can communicate fully and easily? While there’s no call for rudeness, no matter what your culture, it’s certainly easy to understand why a person would gravitate toward someone who is competent in their heart language… don’t you think?
I am learning how to sign so I can communicate better to my friend that is deaf. I met her this year. It is very nice to have a friend like her because I am very shy and have a hard time making new friends. I have moved a lot.
Some Deaf Culture Do’s and Don’ts
by Martin | November 16, 2009
Here are some do’s and don’ts I’d like to add!
- Be patient with communication.
- If a Deaf person does not understand you, try again to convey your message, but do not dismiss them.
- Be friendly.
- Don’t assume deaf people are not intelligent.
- Don’t assume all deaf people know ASL.
- Do not kick or throw things to get someone’s attention.
- Don’t pretend to understand if you do not.
These are just some common do’s and don’ts in ASL conversation that I’ve experienced.
Thank you for these additions! You’re absolutely right. Being patient with communication is definitely something you need to do. A lot of new signers who have difficulty getting their point across often give up on communication and end up leaving the deaf person out. This is not ok and definitely a “don’t” in Deaf culture.
And, yes, not all deaf people have excellent English skills. Don’t assume these people are less intelligent. That’s like them assuming you’re less intelligent because you aren’t that skilled in ASL.
And it’s true that not all deaf people know ASL. 90% of deaf children are born to hearing parents, so many of them don’t grow up learning ASL.
Thank you for these additions! I’m sure everyone who reads this will truly appreciate it. :)
by Megan Arhart (USA) | November 14, 2010
I was a fifth-grader couple years ago. The kids in my old classroom teased me about my hearing loss. It hurts my feelings about myself, but Ms. Lisa* took care of them. She helped me out by just doing that and tell me if they do it again, I just go on and tell her. As far I know of school’s history, I am the only one that has hearing loss, and also first one too. I cried every once a while during that time of the year, but I managed to get through everything. My Special Education manager that year, she was a great help to lift the burden off my shoulder. I was shocked by that by the end of third semester, I get another helping system that includes Ms. Lisa and other teachers and I understand each others the most, but me mostly. The teasing still at it to me today, but I just ignored it. It is very important to teach others about yourself and your hearing loss. I still teach ever since from Preschool, back then I didn’t know that I was doing it, about Hearing Loss, both Effects and Causes. I want everyone to realize that this isn’t the world they always dreamed of. This is the opposite of their, but a same world that we are sharing with disabilities, cancers, and sickness. There is always others like Ms. Lisa helps many others out in simple way, even they don’t realize it, too. This is my story and will tell more, sooner or later.
You are such a great inspiration to me and I will try to do more teaching instead of withdrawing when my feelings are hurt. I look forward to hearing more of your story.
I was in a speaking school once… the students were nice and friendly. They learned sign language from me and a friend of a 4th grade teacher speaking for me. If you are teased by speaking kids from your class, you should try to make friends with them by teaching them sign language. I am also Deaf. I am proud of ASL!
Wanting to understand
by Anonymous | May 13, 2011
I work at a school where there are a few students who cannot hear at all. The school where I was for many years had a couple of children and parents who communicated through some sign language. Some made audible sounds. The ones at my school now do not speak at all. They write everything for me. I want to be able to communicate with them through the language they know, just as I would like others to communicate with me through English. I’m not a young chickie anymore and don’t know how long it will take me to learn ASL, but I will surely try. Bear with me please! I want to communicate properly.
Age is not a barrier to learning. I read a journal the other night while searching before I found this wonderful site. It is linked to a paid sign language course I had been contemplating joining…someday. Now I might not need to thanks to this site. The blog starts when the man bought his first ASL book and goes on chronicling his studies and experiences. I found it very informative. The man started learning in his 50’s https://www.lifeprint.com/asl101/pages-layout/reflections.htm
Under-estimating Others Only Means Over-estimating Your Knowledge Of Them
by Janeel Hew (Molokai, Hawaii) | October 29, 2010
In the silence of the night I do my best thinking and creating. The noise of the world is a distraction at times. The wisdom from within is most active for me in the calm silence.
When we go into the Library; we see a sign that asks us to stay quiet. I like that sign!
So, if the brain can be fed most efficiently with out the distractions of outside noise…would it really be wise to underestimate the intelligence of one who can not hear? I think not!
I have an Aunt who can hear very little. Yet, she is the smartest, deepest, most talented, and loving person I know. She is so humble and would give her last dime to someone in need. I get so very frustrated when people act like she not in the room while they are talking, and treat her like she doesn’t have anything important to say. I know her better than her own children. And if they can underestimate her like they do; then they only think they know her. And are missing out on a wealth of wisdom.
Some of the wisest and deepest thinkers tend to choose their wording carefully. And most of us that can hear, take words for granted. There is not a word that was not meant to be understood. Be it in signing or speaking; we learn from one another. No one person can speak for everyone. We can only think we know someone if we don’t take the time to learn from them.
My Aunt has told me on more then one occasion that she sometimes feels like she is just a shadow to them…ask yourselves this… “When we underestimate others; who’s really in the dark?
You Rock!! and I KNOW your aunt is as proud of you as you are of her! I know I am :-). So, keep your light from within shining bright for your auntie and maybe you can guide her children out of their darkness… into the sweet sound of silence. *Warm Hearts*
I really liked this comment. Thanks for sharing, the analogy was brilliant.
Thank you so much for your post. I am considering learning asl and have seriously wondered how deep of a conversation I could have with a deaf person. I am excited to learn! This has really helped put aside some fears I had. Thanks again. You seem like a lovely person and very insightful.
VERY BLUNT: Interpreters in an Academic Setting
by An Anonymous Interpreter (Texas) | September 23, 2010
I’m an interpreter at a University.
CARDINAL RULE 1: I’M NOT HERE. DON’T TALK TO ME, talk to my client. “Tell her/ask him” is really annoying for the interpreter and the Deaf client. And talk DIRECTLY to them. Don’t look at me, look at THEM.
Don’t ask the interpreter personal questions about the client. The interpreter can’t answer, WHICH INCLUDES “What is their name.” I really CAN’T answer that. I can’t answer a SINGLE question about that person.
Don’t ask an interpreter to not sign something. They’re going to anyway, and it’s only going to make you look stupid. On top of that, you’re talking about someone behind their back WHILE THEY’RE IN THE ROOM! If you want to say something in private, leave the room. If I hear it, my client hears it.
If you’re the professor, DO NOT ask the interpreter to do anything else. “Close that door” “hand me that stapler” “watch them to make sure they don’t cheat” is not part of my job. I do one thing only. Interpret. How would you like doing a mentally and physically complicated task and then be asked to juggle live snakes. That’s a pretty good equivalent, and puts the interpreter in an awkward position.
If you want the door closed and ask me, I’m just going to stare at it. Same with the stapler. And the “watch them” scenario has resulted only in numerous occasions where I see an entire class cheating. Know what I do during tests? I read the latest Patricia Cornwell novel. And no, I’m not going to tell you if they cheated or not. That’s not my job.
Don’t make cute little “sympathy smiles” at the Deaf person. They’re not cute little characters. They’re people who do NOT have a disability. Even if they DID it’s not appropriate.
Do NOT ask the Deaf person how much hearing they have. It’s none of your business and along the same lines of asking a guy if he’s circumcised, and a woman how much she weighs. It’s highly personal. (I’m also Hard of Hearing and that is a sore spot for me. My level of hearing has been a source of peoples curiosity since childhood.) Compare this to if you’ve had weight problems throughout your life and every time you go to class some loud mouth in front of everyone screams at you HOW MUCH DO YOU WEIGH!!!!!
If a class is an hour and a half: I’m fine. No break necessary. ANY class more than an hour and a half necessitates a break. You HAVE to provide that break. It’s an accommodation. Would you like to hold your arms up for two hours straight, and on top of that translate one language to another? Holding class without me in the room: you just violated the ADA.
In work groups in classes: TALK ONE AT A TIME!
Do NOT tell me where I can and can’t stand/sit. It’s your class, but that’s not your call, it’s mine and my clients. A note on that: if you tell me that I’m “distracting” your class… you’re telling me that that Deaf students presence is an annoyance for you. There’s a word for that: bigotry. Once I hear the D word, I know you, Mr. or Mrs. Professor are one of “Those Kinds of Professors” and I will report you to the University’s behavior officer for violating the University’s Diversity policy. (During my career I’ve had three professors fired. And hate to point this out, but I’m more rare and valuable than you are.)
Going along with the last point, don’t say “God Bless you” etc. 9 times out of 10 I make a LOT more money than you. I don’t work for minimum wage. I average 7 grand a semester per class.
Finally, the most important thing to remember. If I’m working for a person who doesn’t voice for themselves, when you hear my voice, it’s simply my body making the sounds, but it’s NOT me talking. Don’t look at me like I’m interrupting your class.
SERIOUSLY A HUGE thanks. I read this as basically “these are the things people need to hear but nobody will say.” And when reading it I said outloud many times “AMEN!”
And I didn’t see this as negative at all and the person also felt pretty calm to me. It’s simply a list of faux-pas, and unlike other sources, EXPLAINS WHY these are faux-pas. Blunt, yes. A little rude, maybe, but “this is blunt” was the opening line title. So what’s more important? Knowing this stuff, or complaining it’s not more palatable?
And as a terp and coda I’m guessing he/she is a coda too. When you’ve terped basically ALL your life, like I have and presumably the writer, some of these things just plain need to be said. And sometimes the truth hurts or is rude.
I’d rather be told I look horrible in my white dress and that people can see through it (along with my anatomy) and i look silly in it rather than “oh sweetie you look nice.”
And to the person who wrote about their being a writing teacher: you write about persuasion but actually I as a reader of the article and your comment found your comment quite condescending. I don’t think it was the writer’s intention to persuade, but to inform, and basically as a terp who is also in deaf culture I applaud the writer for writing in such an honest way.
Instead of saying why it’s considered rude to say “God Bless you,” the writer explained WHY it was rude, and that information is valuable to anyone. It’s alon the same lines of “this is nice of you to do.” Well, not really, the writer, like me does this for money. Enjoyable and fulfilling, yes, but no interpreter would work for free, though I do volunteer at my church. And I don’t think it was a slam on Christians, either.
In short, the article rocked and I think many of you who criticized it missed the point: he/she “warned” it was blunt, listed the do’s and don’ts, and further EXPLAINED WHY they were do’s and don’ts which is INVALUABLE, FANTASTIC information.
And my only criticism is I would ADD THIS:
If you can’t control your classroom, you must have patience with the interpreter if asked to repeat a word, or sentence, etc., and it is perfectly acceptable for a terp to ask a student to lower their voice, stop talking, stop giggling with their friend, etc. As a matter of fact that’s in the job description at the university where I work (of what authority the terp has and doesn’t have) and is pretty explicity. And I’ve had to ask students to leave a class before. Its your classroom but if someone makes it impossible for me to do my job, I must by nature of duty to do so. (Terps CAN be sued for malpractice for gross violations. missing chunks of lecture because of loud students and doing nothing to remedy that is a gross violation)
That’s really interesting. I am new to ASL and am learning all the time. I have heard some of this stuff before, but not really the explaination behind it. Thank you to whoever shared this!
Very helpful, thank you. I’d like to speak for myself and say that Believer in God or not, when I say God Bless You its not a put-down. I say it out of love, not based on the person’s salary. If people said it condescendingly please don’t judge all believers on that experience. Everyone can use a blessing from God.
My son is Deaf. it seems like you view everything in a negative way. hearing people are just curious, it means they’re human so cut them a little slack. they dont know all the ‘rules’ and how would they until someone teaches them but hopefully in a nicer, much more conducive to learning sort of way than you did.
I agree with the previous comment: Calm yourself; Take it easy…
Remember, before you became an interpreter you were a student and before becoming an interpreter student you were most likely as lost as the beginning students who make mistakes as they learn proper Deaf culture etiquette. Unless the educational institution provides literature to the beginning student — where will they learn??? Shouldn’t the classroom be conducive to students’ questions??? Be nice — you might be valuable now in your eyes — but you never know others (including the university) views you — just as you complaint about students or professors — who knows who is complaining about you — the upcoming students just may replace you in the near future — careful — no one is indispensable. Take care and continue learning.
Aptly titled, your submission begins on a strong and forthright note. But I’m a teacher and writer, and I know that there is a difference between being trenchant and being overbearing. Readers could learn a lot from you, but your last few lashes might distance them enough to forget all the helpful advice you offered earlier in the piece. The cardinal rule of persuasive writing is: never alienate your audience. There are good reasons for your bluster, but is venting through your writing an efficient strategy? If you want to be effective, dial down on the scolding. Try to smile as you write. Avoid the money issue altogether.
Reading through the comments here, I’m reminded of how tedious, frustrating, and (let’s face it) awful being different is, how often one must continue to smile in the face of abject ignorance and insensitivity, how often one is called upon to answer the same questions, be agents of all the epiphanies of the ignorant, or be (insultingly) deemed a “good example” of that difference. Welcome to the world of the marginalized. Embrace it. You have no choice.
Retired Language teacher who “happens to be” black. :)
Thank you for sharing this information with us. I’m starting school in September to become an Interpreter and I’m so glad I found this. You’re honest and I’m sure there are 100’s of people in the same field as you who feel the same way. To everyone telling this person to calm down and don’t be negative… you need to simmer. I don’t find her negative in the least but I find you haters annoying as hell.
“You’re not listening!”
by Nena (Indianapolis) | March 1, 2014
I have had hearing issues for most of my life. I’ve had multiple ear infections since I was a week old. I lost count on how many times I’ve had perforated eardrums. I’ve had doctors ask me if I was near an explosion.
Growing up, I would either speak too loud or too soft. I was never able to know the volume of my voice. People would make fun of me all the time.
Now, at the age of 41, I have Meneiere’s. I have awful dizzy spells and sometimes people think I am drunk. Or sometimes I feel so motion sick that all I do is stay in bed with a garbage can by my side to puke into. My hearing has become worse, but it fluctuates. If I’m having an attack, my hearing can be pretty bad. Allergies add to this because of fluid build up.
I work at a front desk at a hotel. Guests are downright NASTY to me because I can’t always understand them. If a housekeeping person is vacuuming in the lobby, then it’s really bad. Some guests are super hard to understand on the phone. Sometimes I have to have my coworkers take the phone if a guest is being nasty.
Most of the time when a guest gets nasty and saying “You are not listening.” I quip back. “I am listening. I am hard of hearing. Speak slower so I can understand you and read your lips.”
Then they apologize all over themselves. I want to say “Take that, creep!”
Why do people who have their full hearing get so snotty at those of us who don’t? It’s not like we are trying to be annoying or difficult.
We DO listen. YOU hearing folks need to speak clearly if you want us to understand you!
I am 31 and have gone through the same thing! I grew up hard of hearing with a progressive hearing loss. By the time I was age 3-4 I was deaf unilateral in my right ear. Not discovered however until the audiologists came to our school in 2nd grade. My other side is still slowly loosing hearing. Here and there. I learned American Sign Language while in high school from a Deaf friend. However I didn’t understand too much of it until I took college courses. Which weren’t that intensive to meet my needs. And so I took a residential program for interpreters for two years and got my associates degree. I am now in a residential program for Deaf education for my Bachelors degree.
A few years ago I had extreme vertigo, and was also prognosed with Meneires. However, that ENT was wrong, they didn’t do enough extensive testing even though I specifically asked for them to. They said I was being paranoid. I was literally falling down I could not even walk. It turns out I had an awful inner infection that was mastoiditis. On the mastoid bone. Which is rare and only happens when the ear infection is not controlled or caught by the ENT. It required surgery to remove it. Which was my number 6 ear operation. I have had a number of rare infections and I let that ENT know. Long story short I went back to an old ENT that I didn’t like (his attitude) but what do you do, he is the best.
By the way I also live in Indianapolis, IN born and raised. I’d like to meet you someday!
Addressing the Deaf
by Rochelle (El Paso, Tx, US) | February 3, 2016
I work at a company that employees many deaf. To accommodate and assist them we have several interpreters on staff to aid with communication. We are having issues with the deaf treating the interpreters with disrespect or acting like the interpreters are their possessions instead of people. I want to address the deaf about this but I don’t want to offend them. I understand there are cultural differences between the hearing and the deaf but I cannot allow the interpreters to be bullied either.
Deaf Father and Son
by Mike Kahler (Plattsmouth) | February 5, 2016
My father and my son are both deaf. Neither of them sign they both read lips. My father has no assistance devises my son has a cochlear implant. I have discussed many times I would like all 3 of us to learn ASL. I think it would open a whole new world to both myself and my family members. My son does know how to read other people’s sign he just doesn’t sign himself. I don’t want to force them to learn ASL I just want the best for them and think it would greatly help them to communicate.
When I met my husband he read lips. Never learned ASL. His mom learned very little SEE sign, but that was his only exposure to anything non hearing. He grew up in a very small town. When I was dating him I was taking beginning ASL at a community college. I would show him what i was learning and my excitement about it was catchy. Because I was enjoying it and exposing him to my learning without pushing it on him. Just sharing because I loved it. He ended up being interested and sitting in on some classes with me and started helping me practice. I was top of my class, study ,study, study and He would sit in class with me once, in two weeks and remember EVERYTHING.
I guess my point is if you enjoy it, others around you will naturally be interested and it can spark interest. Possibly from their point of view… It’s very scary to be willing to embark on something that potentially could change your entire life but when another does it your close too, it becomes much less scary.
Brenda Dawe, NAD IV interpreter and ASL instructor
by Brenda Dawe (Michigan) | May 12, 2010
One important thing to know about Deaf culture is that no matter how long, nor how close a hearing person is involved with the Deaf, he/she will always be an “Inside-outsider.” Many mainstreamed deaf people who later find their way to the cultural community circle feel the same way. It’s all about that shared life experience. My Deaf husband (45 years) is my best friend, but there are times when I would take a back seat to his peer connections. I’ve learned in some instances not to make him choose.
Comment by Michelle Jay:
Brenda, thank you for mentioning this. I do think this is something that is important to know about Deaf culture and the Deaf community. I’ve kind of kept from mentioning it, though, because I thought it might scare some ASL students out of involving themselves with the Deaf community.
I just want all ASL students to know that Deaf people do not “look down” on you for wanting to be involved. The only expectation that you can’t have is that you will be considered “one of them.” Normally only people born into the Deaf community are seen that way. It is, like Brenda said, about a shared life experience. That is what the Deaf culture and community thrive on. 🙂
Thank you, Brenda. I am glad you posted this. I have a niece who was born deaf into a hearing family, and I have had similar experiences with her. Over the years, I have learned not to be so sensitive and take things personally. I now realize there is a common bond shared, and it would be wrong for me to expect I should be part of that bond just because I am family.
Newly Diagnosed And Feeling Isolated
by Sophie Douglas (Farmington, CT, USA) | October 21, 2014
I’m stuck between the hearing and the hard of hearing. Because I wasn’t diagnosed until recently at age 50, people think I’m too absorbed in dealing with it, just seeking attention. All I would like from people is to understand that this is a huge experience for me. It won’t be forever that I will be adjusting to my hearing aids, but this will always be a part of who I am. I’ve had moderate/severe hearing loss all my life but it was never diagnosed so I thought everyone heard the way I do. Now that I finally know the truth, my life is not sad for what I don’t hear, but full of joy for knowing the truth. All the things that weren’t quite right in my life, I attributed to everything except hearing loss. It was obvious I had some hearing loss, but I didn’t expect it to be at a significant level. I’m very happy and lucky to have hearing aids now, and the ability to connect with the world so much better. I’m just plagued by a lot of people’s attitudes that I’m too “into” the hearing loss issue and everything about it. So, please, a little understanding.
I’m Deaf (Notice the Capital D) with a deaf friend
by Alex (Buffalo)
I’ve been learning sign language for four years now, and have just recently started considering myself OK at it. When I first met my deaf friend, Issac, I expected him to shut me out and look down on me for totally messing up everything I sign (Because I do). I’ve found it’s the exact opposite, he actually encourages me to work at it and get better, and he always says I’m doing fine even when I know I’m totally mucking it up. He signs slowly for me and repeats things when I need it.
If you’re learning signing, I would highly suggest signing with, well, a deaf person. They know the language better than any hearing person does and they’re usually just happy that you’re trying to learn and communicate with them, because most hearing people don’t care.
Good luck and keep going! It’s really rewarding when it finally clicks and you get it, I promise :)
Thank you to Alex and those who have commented to help me learn Deaf culture from the experience of others. It really helps me as someone who is hearing and also learning ASL. This is very helpful so thank you!
Alex, thank you for your original comments. Thank you to the others who have given more clarity on the “Big D”. This site does make it seem like someone who is hearing and not related to a deaf relative can be considered part of the Deaf community. I thought that was kind of a strange thought but to hear the others indicate this is incorrect brings perspective I really need. I am just starting to learn ASL because it could have been useful in the past for communication with deaf people. I also think more people need to learn so we can all communicate more effectively so it is encouraging to see everyone’s comments here to help me learn not just how to sign but about Deaf culture.
Technically,YOU are not “Deaf” (or “deaf” either). YOU are a hearing person who is learning how to communicate with Deaf people and participate in Deaf culture events. (Your FRIEND is most likely “Big D” Deaf.) That would be the most accurate and respectful way to describe yourself. Though I understand how you might have gotten confused after reading the Start ASL article above. LOL. It is wonderful that you are learning this beautiful language to enhance your friendship. And, most members of the Deaf community are very patient and helpful to hearing people who show a genuine interest in learning about their culture and language. Keep up the good work!
Forgive me if I’m assuming, but are you hearing? Because hearing people who aren’t CODAs/KODAs don’t automatically join the Deaf community if they learnhow to sign. That isn’t how it works, and that isn’t what “big D Deaf” connotates.
Thank you, Alex. I am Hearing and have wanted to learn ASL for a few years after meeting a Deaf girl at a college I used to attend. After learning of startasl.com I have begun my journey with adamant gusto in becoming fluent.
And I wanted to say thank you for your comment because it inspires me to reach out to the Deaf community. Thank You!
Effort to communicate is appreciated
by Anonymous | September 17, 2013
Effort means the world to those of us who have English communication issues! I have a somewhat severe stutter. I can’t get many words out, I can’t say my own name. It got to the point where I wasn’t communicating with anyone because no one had the patience to deal with my stutter. I started teaching myself ASL two years ago. I have friends who learned a bit of ASL so that they could better communicate with me. I sign, they answer in English. The point of this is to say that the effort to communicate is very, very, much appreciated!
Deaf American Sign Language Teacher
by Laura KOschuk (Florida, United States) | July 13, 2013
I teach American Sign Language Privately and tutor it at a state college. I lost my hearing several years ago. I have met with a multitude of responses to me in my deaf community. Some feel I am not truly Deaf because I did not grow up Deaf. Others have said I don’t count that I am too English because I lost my hearing as an adult. I don’t tell people anymore that I lost my hearing as an adult. I found that if I just say I lost my hearing gradually, I have less prejudice against me. Still others who know me don’t care. I have friends that are Deaf and friends that are deaf. I understand and teach three dialects of sign language here in the United States. We require our ASL students to spend a minimum of five hours deaf interacting with the world and they must attend deaf events and activities. This gives them a variety of experiences and a better understanding of deaf culture and life. While this barely touches the depth of the culture it gives some insight.
I have gone out with my husband to restaurants and because I am deaf and he is not I have had servers ignore me and some try very hard to communicate with me. I do read lips but when I go out alone or am in a new situation I don’t even try. I can speak because I lost my hearing as an adult and if I speak it complicates the interactions I have with hearing people. I have been accused of lying about being deaf because I can speak, Or in some cases people have been upset with me because if I lip read it isn’t perfect. There are a lot of misconceptions about deaf people and I find that everyday I end up educating someone. Being deaf and living in the hearing community is exhausting.
I hope this information and shared experience will help someone.
A Negative Impact on Hard of Hearing Kids in a Hearing World!
by Arianna Belle (USA) | May 14, 2015
I am hard of hearing in a hearing world. I lost 80% of my hearing by age 4 due to many untreated ear infections and cannot hear at all in my right ear now in my mid 20s without a hearing aid. Being that I grew up in a hearing world, and went to a hearing school all my life, I grew up wanting nothing to do with the deaf community, because I was afraid of being judged and mistreated above all, I felt like something was wrong with me, and I felt ashamed, and nobody was really there for me to tell me it was okay to be hard of hearing. Because of this, all I ever wanted was to be treated like normal hearing kids, like everyone else, and I find it sooo depressing when I can’t hear what’s going on around me.
I didn’t grow up with deaf pride. I tried learning sign language at an early age through books, but it frustrated me, because that’s not my learning style, and there was nobody there to encourage me to keep on learning. As a child, I didn’t know what was best for me. I learn best through interactive-visual learning. I couldn’t go to a deaf school either, because my family was too poor to move to an area where a deaf school was located, where I could interactively learn ASL and be part of the deaf community.
Being that I’m in my mid 20s, and am finally realizing now that I missed out on such a wonderful community, and missed out on developing pride as a deaf person, I wished my family would have been more patient with me and encouraged me often and helped me to find the nearest deaf community so I could truly be myself.
Being that I’m hard of hearing, I feel like I don’t quite fit into the world of hearing, yet I don’t fit in the world of the deaf, and don’t know if I will ever lose all of my hearing. When one like myself doesn’t know where to fit in, in the world, it’s truly sad.
If you find you meet someone who is hard of hearing, keep in mind that not all us have pride, and some of us may feel shamed for something that is sooo beautiful and should never be ashamed of, so patience is necessary and so is encouragement if you don’t see the pride. If you give birth to, and/or adopt a child that is hard of hearing, please please PLEASE give them all the encouragement and support and all your love to them – as well as patience. Don’t let your child, and don’t let your friends, co-workers, family members, and anyone else you meet feel shame for being hard of hearing or deaf.
I myself am hard of hearing I was born that way but it didn’t get acknowledge till I was in first grade.Without my hearing aids the world sounds so peaceful and quite and have no idea why we complain about the peace most hearing people would find pleasing.I’m now 25, and I ask myself why do I struggle so much with the hearing world if ASL has always been right at my finger tips.
Rude in both speaking and ASL
by Virginia | March 8, 2013
I wanted to say that sometimes people are just plain rude in both speaking and ASL. I am hearing, but am very familiar with being excluded in conversations because I am highly logical (and I am looking to get diagnosed with autism) and when I don’t get or understand something sometimes people just let it pass even though I ask for clarification. Or worse they laugh me, “oh look at her she doesn’t get it”. (But sometimes they are laughing with me because sometimes I can be pretty silly!)
I think it is absolutely neccesary for people to think about how they would wanted to be treated. Once they learn that ASL is primarily communicated through eye contact, body language, and facial expression… they probably don’t have any excuses besides the fact that they were nervous (not used to the eye contact, for instance) or that they lost their footing with their signing for a while. (maybe?)
Thanks for letting me share!
Not just for the deaf
by Anonymous | March 8, 2013
During a recent volunteering event with the Special Olympics I ended up small talking with one of the competitors who was not hard of hearing or deaf, but simply unable to speak because of a problem unrelated to hearing. He used a lot of simple ASL with some short sounds to get his points across to me and we got along in our conversation very well, but I know that if I could have spoken ASL with him we would have been able to communicate even better. This event is one of the reasons I am here trying to learn and can’t wait to be able to sign with new people that I meet, whether they are deaf or not.
Raising a deaf child
by Melody (Howe, IN) | June 21, 2011
As a young woman, I knew there were deaf people out there. I just never understood how different things were for them until I had my oldest daughter. She was born with her hearing but it was never what the doctors said it should be. At a year old, she went completely deaf. I was devastated, I didn’t know what to do. I denied it for about a year and a half. We went through tests for almost two years before her insurance would cover the cochlear implant.
Those years were hard on me and her dad, we split up and had to watch our little girl grow more and more frustrated with the situation. There were days that she would smack herself in the head out of frustration and other days she wouldn’t even play with her toys. When the time came for the surgery, we were very nervous and scared.
Everything went fine during the surgery. About two months later, we went in to the hospital and they gave my daughter her head piece. Now she can hear again but everything is distorted and electronic sounding to her. She is now eleven years old and lives a very active life. She has learned sign language and has even taught her dad and I. She is a wonderful young lady who even though she is hearing impaired, doesn’t let it bother her in any way. She is my inspiration when things get bad.
I am an ASL student becoming an interpreter. I have not been involved with the deaf community very long but I do know that they prefer Hard of Hearing or deaf. Using the phrase “hearing impaired,” implies that they are broken and that is not the case. Thank you for sharing your story and I hope that I didn’t offend you by offering some information.
My deaf daughter is now 23. We found out when she was 18 months, but I knew it by the time she was 9 months. Because she was born deaf,she never responded like a hearing kid. She is severe to profound HOH, and wore hearing aids as a child. She is able to speak, but when she got to be a teenager, the tinnitus (ringing in the ears) which is very common for HOH people, became so severe that she actually appeared to be mentally ill. She elected to stop wearing her aids after much pain and severe depression. Now that she’s adult and I have met many other Deaf through her, I can honestly tell you that most HOH people eventually give up on any type of “hearing device” for a variety of reasons. Digital aids allow my daughter to “hear” sounds, but since she grew up not hearing, she has no idea what the sounds mean and it is more of a distraction to her than a help. Be open and accepting if she chooses to abandon auditory devices at some point… and above all, do learn ASL.
Another place to use ASL
by Candy Gatlin (Santa Rosa, CA, USA) | November 1, 2011
My oldest is dislexic, a teacher taught her the alphabet in ASL, she learned how to spell right, knew the difference between letters, was feeling good about herself and about learning.
We moved, she changed schools, second school said she could not use her hands to spell words because that would be cheating in class. I asked why, they said if other students learned ASL alphabet she would be giving them the answers, thus cheating.
My daughter lost interest in school, dropped out and could not tell you the difference between was and saw by sight, unless you finger spell the words to her.
She still remembers the teacher that taught her how to learn. A true teacher will find a way to teach a child in a manner in which they can learn. We all know the ASL alphabet.
When I’m older and lose the rest of my hearing I’ll still be able to enjoy my children and grandchildren as we all are learning the whole language. My family thanks her.
Your story touched so many emotions in me all at the same time. This gift that your daughter was given by her former teacher is worth cherishing. It is the key that unlocks her heart and her mind. She has the opportunity to communicate, to express her thoughts and feelings, to learn and ask questions. Just because she is not permitted to use this language tool at her new school, because of narrow-minded, biased, misconceptions, does not mean she can’t enroll in another school that fosters learning, encourages language development and enhances the potential of every student. This is one of those unavoidable bumps in the road, but not an engulfing quagmire.
You and your family can overcome any injustice that arises, if you trust in God and stand firm in the face of adversity. God will bless your families endurance.
Wearing hearing aids
by DJ (USA) | November 10, 2012
People in general can be mean. People speak kinda loud just because I wear hearing aids. They say, Can you hear me? When a person walks up to me they ask, Are you deaf? It is just so rude. I tell them I’m deaf but not all the way. I can’t hear everything but I’m not deaf. They say, so you’re hearing impaired and I say no. I get really mad at that.
Hearing people treat people who are Deaf kinda mean and they need to know the difference between asking a question and being rude. That’s what I gotta say. I like wearing hearing aids and signing ASL and if you have a problem, oh well.
DJ… BRAVO for taking this stance against being labelled “hearing impaired”. I preach this to my students each semester (college level ASL). The first chapter of vocabulary includes the three terms of HEARING, DEAF, HARD OF HEARING. I tell them these are the only terms necessary.
Kudos also for claiming your identity … it is not up to others to tell us we are only this or that… We are ALL many pieces of a quilt that apart from the whole would be just scrap in a pile, but God took all those bits and weaved them together to make a beautiful warm covering that is YOU.
I have been teaching and interpreting for over 20 years, married to deaf man for almost 50 years and have seen so much… explored so much … about deafness, history, culture, and the diversity of all people affected/blessed with hearing loss. I advocate for deaf and hard of hearing..for signers and those who don’t.
The joy in life is being at peace within ourselves and to embrace the unity of body, mind, and soul…and to wrap ourselves up in our own unique quilt.
by Devyn (Michigan) | June 6, 2013
I am a college student, almost finished with my 2nd semester of ASL. I absolutely love it. In fact I had just watched Through Deaf Eyes this week, for the first time. I agree, it was a very amazing film and an excellent educational tool! Along with college, I have put myself out there into a local Deaf community, have joined a Deaf forum community, I also watch Switched at Birth EVERY night (LOVED the ASL episode) and have purchased many books other than required text books to enhance my signing abilities and understanding of Deaf culture. I just love the language, history and culture!!!
I am not a deaf person. But I am learning ASL. I’m as new as they come, I cant sign very much or very well. But I have a desire to help the deaf.
Got any tips?
P.S. I love your comments.
You sound very much like me. Last semester, I completed an ASL 1 class at my college. I loved it, and now want to become a teacher of the deaf. I also have bought many extra books on ASL and Deaf culture. I love Switched at Birth as well, particularly the ASL episode. I have not however, interacted with the Deaf community at all yet. I haven’t joined a forum yet either, although I would like to. What forum did you join?
Do and not do
by Marvin Spencer (Redlands, CA, USA) | January 4, 2013
I’m a hard of hearing person who entered the hearing world with this loneliness of being deaf. To others, yelling is not an option and making fun of others without understanding is not worth doing.
Others should try to understand other languages than just their own language. Getting into the deaf world would bring understanding. Talk to others like you would like to be talked to. Unlike when one deaf person was signing to a hearing person then another hearing person pops up and changes the whole subject or news by speaking and not sharing it with their deaf friend. That is just plain rude.
Let me turn the table around and say a deaf person was speaking to a hearing person and then a deaf person pops up and changes the subject or news. And you were the hearing person watching two people sign to each other and you had no clue what they were signing. How does it feel to be left out without knowing another language but English? I personally know how it feels.
I know what it is to be left out. I can hear, and I don’t miss a thing… it’s the other side that causes me trouble. If I want to chip in, nobody knows ASL, and doesn’t want to take the moment to wait while I write.
I’m not one to brag, but I’m very intelligent with a lot of ideas. Most people don’t know this because they refuse to listen with anything but their ears.
I can’t talk. Since when does that mean I can’t think.
Have Experience with Deaf Culture? Help Others!
Do you have any Deaf Culture do’s and don’ts you can add to this page? Please do! This will help other visitors avoid embarrassment and learn the correct rules for behavior!
Share your knowledge in the comments below.