First Contact with the Deaf Community
“HOW ARE YOU DOING!?” This is one of the possible reactions someone may have when making first contact with the Deaf Community. They realize that someone is deaf, so they begin to over-enunciate their speech and talk loudly thinking this will get the message across. Put yourself in their shoes. Imagine being in France. You do not speak French. But every time someone finds out you don’t know their language, they just speak louder. Does this make you understand them easier? Sometimes Deaf and hard-of-hearing people feel similarly when a person who can hear first meets them.
Showing Interest/Making First Contact
Here are a few tips for making first contact with someone who is Deaf or hard-of-hearing. First, if they are someone who relies on lip-reading, they will need to be able to see your face and mouth clearly. If they, however, rely on sign language as their first language you may consider learning even some basic signs to communicate. Be ready for first contact by picking up some of the signs in the video below.
Vocal Accent/Signing Accent
Someone who learns English as a second language often has an accent. Some are easier to understand than others. When you first meet someone who is Deaf, their voice may sound different than what you typically hear. This is because they do not hear English and thus have to rely on matching the look of a word to the actual sound without being able to hear it. As you get to know them, it will get easier to understand them. In the beginning you may have to rely on writing back and forth. But also, as above, consider learning some sign language to more easily communicate.
Additionally, as you learn sign language, a native user of ASL may say you have an “accent.” Second language learners may not use signs as naturally as someone who is Deaf or hard-of-hearing. So just as you must have patience with them, they must have patience with you. The goal is communication as whatever speed.
The key when making first contact with the Deaf community is communication and inclusion. Just because their first language is not English does not mean they should be excluded from company activities, school clubs, or public events.
American Sign Language is a language in and of itself. Read more in our article about Differences Between Our Cultures. Also, check out the video below for more on why ASL is considered a Deaf person’s first or preferred language.