Tuesday, April 17, 2012

How To Behave Around a Deaf Person

How (to) Behave Around (a) Deaf Person? 

It was a certainly a learning experience for Stu to live with a Deaf person when we first moved in together. Aside from my Deafness; our relationship was pretty normal and just like everybody else....except that we had to come up with different ways to overcome certain obstacles! 

The biggest obstacle was to get my attention when I was not looking at Stu.

Even though I am profoundly Deaf, I still retain some hearing in my left ear (about 30-40% hearing left), and I am able to hear loud noises. More often than not, when I am intensely focused on something such as working on my blog post, reading, or crafting; Stu has a tendency to dog-whistle at me which scares the bejesus out of me or he sneak up behind me to tap on my shoulder, with an intention to get my attention, only to cause me jump good 2 feet up in the air. Tired of being scared out of my wits because I am not expecting to hear a loud noise or a tap on my shoulder and to turn around to see a person right there by me, I ask Stu to sit down for a lesson called......


  1. Flashing the light switch up and down 
  2. Slowly approach a Deaf person especially if her back is to you, turn around to face her, and tap on the table or stomp foot on the floor for vibrations to be felt by a Deaf person (Also pretty good for Deaf-Blind). 
  3. If the room is crowded then use a third person nearby to wave or tap to get attention. 
  4. Hand waving 
  5. Throw a soft object, such as a wadded up piece of paper, at a Deaf person's back. 
The next obstacle was maintaining eye contact. 


In the hearing world; to look more than several seconds at a person's face can cause some sense of discomfort because hearing people are unaccustomed to having to look at each other's faces for lengthy period of time unless if they are attracted to each other. If a person is staring at your face without breaking away eye contact then you probably will find yourself feeling awkward. 

In Deaf world; it is not how it works. To look at person's face/eyes doesn't mean you are attracted to that person or to cause awkwardness. It is a VITAL form of communication especially among signers. Deaf people pick up nuances of facial expressions that is easily missed (eyebrow raising, corner of the lips twitching, opening mouth, eyes widening or narrowing, cheeks pulled in or poofed out, and many more subtle features that is read on the face). 

Stu had to learn this really quickly. Initially, Stu felt silly to be looking at my face and trying to watch my signs. He knew he had to wait until I was done signing before breaking eye contact or getting up to retrieve something. To break eye contact while I was still signing considered a HUGE FAUX PAS in Deaf world. It was not only Faux Pas, but also very rude. Fortunately, he picked it up pretty well. 

Lastly, the final obstacle was greeting upon meeting other Deaf person. 


There is one thing that I have to constantly adjust from Deaf world to Hearing world or vice versa is physical greeting. In the hearing world; it is not often required to express a physical greeting other than handshaking. A verbal expression of greeting is often sufficient. 

In Deaf world, a greeting is like a party. 

Oh, you're Deaf too? 

Yes, I am Deaf. Are you? 

Yes, I am! That's great! 

Then we are hugging or patting each other on the back or grasping handshakes rather than polite little handshake. We all are grinning and smiling. There is an instant connection among strangers. I love this and it is one of my favorite thing about Deaf culture. More often than not, when I see other Deaf person; we tentatively ask each other if we are both Deaf then once we find out the answer, yes we are both Deaf....and we are talking like we have been friends for years. Never mind that I have only met that person a few seconds ago! 

Stu is often taken aback by this because this is so drastically different than his culture behavioral norm. He is always amazed how Deaf people, from other states or countries, fall into an ease of chatting and physical greetings. 

This is often how we can tell if a person is hearing or Deaf--just by observing their behavior of their cultural norms.

How we all behave makes a world of difference especially in Deaf World. 

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