After my last blog post, which all my deaf friends thought was hilarious, a lot of my hearing friends came to me and asked: “Well… how DO you talk to a deaf person if you don’t know ASL?”
So… I’m not going to be as funny this time and I’m going to take this question seriously: How do you talk to a deaf person?
The answer is: You don’t talk to a deaf person if you don’t know ASL. You talk AT a deaf person in that case.
Everyone talks to themselves. Even the deaf (though they do it with their hands). If you are talking to someone who can’t understand you–you are talking (having a conversation) with yourself. Sometimes it just feels good to hear (or in the case of the deaf: visualize) yourself thinking.
Talking (using your voice) with the deaf is not, necessarily, a faux pas if you are talking just to give yourself some sort of comfort. It does nothing for the deaf person but make them feel as if they are missing something important, which, in all honesty, they feel quite often in the hearing world. But if you are interested in actual communication, and in making the deaf person as comfortable as you are (even if that’s not very much), pick up a pen and pad.
When my husband ventures out on his own, without his seeing eye wife, he brings a pen and pad so that he can communicate with the hearing when necessary (and obviously when there isn’t an interpreter handy). Because he is nearly blind, nice big letters with a thick black sharpie on a white pad works best, but for other deaf people, just a regular pen and any sort of paper will do. They almost always have a pad with them for such occasions.
For the younger generation, texting is the best solution. My young deaf friends communicate with their hearing peers that are ASL illiterate with their cell phones. Typing out a phrase on the screen, showing it to the hearing person, then clearing the message and letting them reply on the same screen–or alternately exchanging cell phone #’s and just texting back and forth.
I remember growing up and having everyone around me at family reunions speaking Spanish. I was lost and I didn’t feel completely part of the family I was with. You have been in situations like that–someone you know starts to speak a foreign language in front of you. You felt completely disconnected, didn’t you? You may have even wondered if they were talking about you.
It makes everyone feel less awkward if we all understand what is being discussed. If you want to have a conversation, especially if you are going to ask a deaf person a question–short of learning some basic ASL (there are some great videos on youtube and try aslpro.com)–please do it by spelling it out, either on a paper or on a digital device that can be read. It’s your best bet at actual conversation and not being laughed at and mocked by CODA’s.
Here is a great video from youtube that talks a little about this issue.