Deaf Etiquette

When speaking with deaf people, the most important item of etiquette to remember is that they deserve the polite respect that would be given to any other person. A person’s deafness doesn’t mean that he or she deserves any less consideration than anyone else. Furthermore, many deaf people prefer not to receive any special treatment other than the use of an interpreter, if needed. For instance, a well-meaning host who goes out of his or her way to introduce a deaf person to every guest at a party will likely be making the deaf individual feel uncomfortable. The person may not want to share information about his or her life or deaf culture with everyone at the party. Talking to a deaf person in an easy, friendly manner is the best way to approach the situation. The following are a few other practical points of etiquette to remember when speaking to deaf people. 

First, some people in the deaf community use interpreters to help them communicate with others. For example, a student in a deaf education classroom may have an interpreter with him or her during a lecture. Some people with deafness have interpreters with them for doctor’s appointments, during work hours, or while conducting a business transaction. When a deaf individual has an interpreter, it’s important to talk to the deaf person and not to the interpreter. If a person faces the interpreter and talks to him or her, the deaf individual feels edged out of the exchange. The situation would be similar to one person speaking with another while staring out into the distance. The deaf person is still the one participating in the conversation even if there is an interpreter present.

Another point of etiquette to remember when speaking with deaf people is to get their attention in a polite way before trying to speak with them. A person may tap a deaf individual on the shoulder or give a quick hand wave to get his or her attention. There’s no need to go through any exaggerated movements or do anything to startle the person. Members of the deaf community understand that people will need to get their attention before speaking with them. Part of deaf education is learning to focus on the person who is speaking especially if the member of the deaf community is trying to lip-read.

Lip-reading is another topic of etiquette to consider when speaking with deaf individuals. Deaf people who lip-read need the individuals they are conversing with to speak distinctly. The person doesn’t need to speak in an unusually slow manner, but should say words clearly so the person with deafness can understand. Also, a deaf person will have an easier time lip-reading if there are no obstructions between him or her and the other individual. In short, there are several little things a person can do to make the lip-reading work of a deaf person easier. 

Finally, students who go through deaf education discover the most efficient ways for them to communicate. In fact, people in deaf culture communicate in a variety of ways including sign language, lip-reading, and even by speaking aloud. A person who wants to speak with a deaf person should be respectful of the way he or she wants to communicate. By talking with a deaf person, an individual can learn about deaf culture and get to know something about the person’s background. The person may even find that he or she and the deaf individual have many common interests. With a little consideration, speaking with a deaf person can be as natural as speaking with any other friend. 

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