What would you do
If I sang outta tune
Would you stand up
And walk out on me?

– The Beatles (Joe Cocker’s version….)


I’m reaching out in this post, simply because I don’t really know what to do in a certain situation and I know there are people reading this that might be able to help me out…

What’s the best way to start a conversation with a deaf individual?

I honestly have no idea where to start; you can make eye contact, wave, smile, and sit next to them…but then?

Since I don’t know very much ASL, I already know I’m at a severe disadvantage.  Even when I do take a basic sign course, there is no way I’d become fluent enough to sustain any developed conversation, however, I do hope to learn some of the customs of deaf culture.

A few months ago, I got chewed out for clumsily finger spelling a word that a deaf person wasn’t able to understand as I was talking with her.  She told me that I didn’t know ASL and that I should learn because it’s insulting to her that I don’t know her language or culture.  This is kind of discouraging and a little bit frustrating for me.  Mind you, this happened in my first month at RIT, so I was still getting used to the culture of the school (which includes the mass concentration of deaf students).

So what’s your opinion?  How can I be more respectful of the deaf culture and also communicate without the help of an interpreter?

Not only will this be helpful for interactions with deaf individuals, but also interactions with others who speak languages other than English.  Your help is greatly appreciated! =)

    • Elizabeth
    • February 23rd, 2011

    If you see a deaf person you know, for instance, me. Just wave and smile because it doesn’t hurt to say hello. If you want to go up to a stranger who is deaf to make a conversation, this is a tricky one because a lot of deaf people have huge deaf pride and they don’t give crap about hearing people. They will chew you out like the girl did. I think that was rude because I will never do that if a hearing person is trying to communicate with me. It shows a lot of effort you are putting in to communicate with me. There are some deaf people that are nice and will correct or show you the sign for the words that you are fingerspelling.

    How to make this easier, the best way to learn sign language is through a deaf person because that will help you become fluent in sign language and learn sign language faster because you practice with the deaf person. Every deaf person will tell you this. If you have no time or no way to hang out with a deaf person, a website that teaches sign language or a book that looks really helpful. BUT the problem is, how will you remember the signs? Who will you practice them with?

    I think it’s the same for learning foreign language. Hope this answers some of your questions. 🙂 Interesting blog, I’ve never heard anything like this from a hearing person’s perspective.

    • Kari
    • February 24th, 2011

    Great posts this quarter Will. You’ve shown thoughtful insight into your communication interactions. It’s clear that you’ve been observing and thinking about the ways in which we communicate. I’m glad that you kept up with this pretty regularly throughout the quarter. I think it helps to keep it a bit more meaningful.

    I hope that Elizabeth’s response is of some use to you. There are some resources available through RIT. I was trying to find a few online for you, but wasn’t having any luck. I know they exist though because I’ve used them in the past.


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