Posted by: learnsignlanguage | May 5, 2010

Communicating with Deaf People

  Getting attention

To start communicating with a deaf person it is necessary to get their attention. This can be done in various ways. If the deaf person is quite close to you and is looking away, you can gently tap him on his shoulder or arm (if you tap anywhere else then this is considered rude). If he is further away you can wave your hand. Another possibility is to make a vibration that will go through to reach that person- for example banging your fist on a table. The first 2 options are quite common- i.e. a wave of the hand or of an object to get the visual attention. This is usual for individual people.

In a group it is slightly different. It could be a possibility to get the attention of a bystander with the methods above to relay your tap to the person you want to get the attention of. This could in effect result in a domino effect and have a whole chain of people tapping each other in order to get the attention of the desired person.

With larger groups another possibility is to flick the lights on and off which would then attract the attention of the whole group- which is useful obviously for announcements of some kind to the large group.

Some ways of getting attention are not considered polite. For example you may see children trying to get the attention of their Deaf parents by trying to turn their heads by tugging at their chin. This form of attracting attention is not acceptable – unless the deaf people concerned are in the middle of an argument and NEED the attention!

Talking of incorrect methods……this also applies if people flick the lights on and off purely to get the attention of only 1 individual…….this must be for a group.

Once the person has been contacted by a tap or a wave and it is evident that communication is desired then the person receiving the signed message is expected to keep eye contact until a natural break occurs. It is normal for the signer and the recipient to be engaged in signed conversation and at least for one of them to be nodding (the equivalent in the spoken language of saying  ‘oh oh ok alright etc) Normal phatic communication as described earlier is classed as being engaged in a conversation throughout indicating that they are taking note of this signed conversation.

Both signed language and spoken language still follow the same rules of etiquette and turn taking but obviously in a slightly different way. For example in signed languages it is customary practice to ‘catch’ the signers’ attention when wanting to make a contribution/interrupt or take your turn by just raising your hands ready to sign. If the person who was originally signing is happy for you to take your turn then his hands will drop down…allowing you to contribute.

The receiver can interrupt the sender by looking away or by waving for attention. He may also catch the sender’s eye by shaking his head or using a sign to indicate disagreement…….this is similar to the spoken language.

The sender shows that he has finished by dropping his hands from the signing space and looking at the receiver.

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