The first day of class, I taught about different deaf cultures, deaf etiquette, different sign languages, and some introductions in sign language. Its important to know how to communicate with the deaf and how we talk without misunderstanding. Its really screwed when anyone is misunderstood, especially the deaf. We think almost different from how you think. If you say its raining cats and dogs and some of us will take it literally. Take this little story on accidental mis-communication as example:
It is very easy to mis-communicate
Back when I was younger, we would sometimes eat spaghetti for dinner and like most any kid I would sometimes slurp my noodles. Until this one time when my mom signed to me, “Don’t slurp the spaghetti, it will mess up your (hand patting on stomach). So from that moment on I thought that if I slurped my noodles then it would somehow mess up my stomach. I have not slurped them ever since because I was worried that it would mess up my stomach, and I still don’t.
During our first year of marriage I noticed that Edwin would slurp his spaghetti. This habit bothered me, but I didn’t say anything. Then one day, I just had it because I loved him too much to hold back any longer so I asked him not to do it for fear of injuring himself. Needless to say he was confused, perplexed even. Edwin asked me to sign it again and I signed what I remembered my mom telling me. It dawned on him to explain to me what my mom truly meant; that if I slurp the noodle, it will mess up my “SHIRT” (being more careful to clearly communicate the sign for “shirt”). OHHH!! Imagine my surprise and embarrassment to realize I had misunderstood this for so many years!! Now Edwin likes to “gracefully remind” me of this “lesson” in misunderstanding and communication.
Most of us have to be taught on what idioms, analogy, teleology, and concept really meant through the picture language. If I didn’t learn what “I have a lemon car” really meant or I would have thought you mean that your car is lemon yellow.
As for “Deaf Etiquette”, we do have some things that are important to us when it is not for you. Here are some things:
1. ALWAYS look into their eyes. We want to be heard and understood and taken seriously. Most of us will consider it rude if you don’t look into our eyes and listen. You don’t want to hear what we want to say if you look at other things. I’m usually little bit hurt in every family events or group events, because they are so distracted by what they’ve heard. Every time I tried to talk, they’d get distracted and look elsewhere. In the end, I usually just gave up because they’re not looking (listening) to me. Sign language is a visual language, so we are VERY visual people since we can’t hear and look at other things at the same time.
2. Be truthful and understanding. If you don’t understand what we’re saying, please ask us to repeat. We will not be offended and we know the other way to communicate (writing notes, mime, act out, or pointing). Don’t bluff your way out. Guilty, I do that sometime with hearing people. I pretended that I understood, nodded my head, smiling, and hoped that they’ll go away. I don’t want to proclaim to the world that I am deaf and they pity me. I do NOT take pity. We don’t have problems, only can’t hear.
3. Tap on our shoulders, tap on the table (if our contact is on the table), flash lights, wave hands to get our attention. Please don’t ever throw anything at us to get our attention (if absolutely possible). I’ve NEVER like it when anyone threw pillow, shoe, paper, book, or food at me to get my attention. I consider it rude. I understand if you broke your leg and can’t move, OK that’s the exception.
4. Please don’t sign behind light. We depend on our sight. If you have flashlight on our face, we can’t see you. If you sign in front of the sunlight, we can’t see you. If you sign in front of the stage light, we CAN’T see you. Please don’t get frustrated if we stopped you in mid-sentence and move. It’s because we want to be able to see you to listen.
4. NEVER, NEVER, NEVER mistreat the language! Ex: A girl knew a sign language for “coffee” and taught a man to sign, “Do you want some coffee?” So, the man went up to a deaf woman and asked that question, in respond, she slapped him. He went back perplexed and asked what he signed. The girl laughed and told him that he signed, “Do you want to make out”. If you teach anyone sign language as a joke, trick, prank, or any ugly reason, please DON’T! Please respect our language because its our method of communication.
Please don’t panic, freak out, or be afraid to talk to us. If you talk to someone and they don’t understand, say it again and again. If he or she says that he or she is deaf, DON’T freak out. Try to work out the communication in any way you can. We will truly appreciate it.