8 Things You Should Never Do or Say to a Deaf Person
These are considered cultural norms for deaf people, but it’s easy for hearing people who don’t know deaf culture to be rude without meaning to be.
You don’t acknowledge deaf culture
Many people view the deaf community as a group of people with a common physical condition. But to the deaf, their community is their own culture. According to Carol Padden and Tom Humphries, authors of the book Deaf in America: Voices from a Culture, deaf people have developed their culture over many generations and have found ways to express themselves through their “rituals, tales, performances, and everyday social encounters.”
You refer to deaf people as “hearing-impaired” or “deaf-mute”
Using the term “hearing-impaired” is considered very negative. It focuses on what people can’t do. It implies that people who can’t hear are “impaired” or substandard or damaged. The term “deaf-mute” is also highly offensive. It implies that deaf people don’t have a voice or are silenced and can’t learn to speak orally, while, in fact, deaf people have functioning vocal cords. Deaf people prefer to be referred to as “deaf” or “hard of hearing.”
You suggest cochlear implants (CI) or hearing aids (HAs)
It can be hurtful to deaf people to ask them why they don’t have a cochlear implant or wear hearing aids. For many people, they aren’t beneficial and for others, they are too expensive. Watch out for these common manners that are actually considered rude in other countries.
You touch the hands of a deaf person using ASL (American Sign Language)
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In the deaf community, hands are extremely important. It’s how people communicate. Touching a deaf person’s hands is equivalent to putting your hand over the mouth of someone who is speaking.
You don’t maintain eye contact while you have a conversation
Eye contact is considered a key to communication among the deaf. Not making eye contact suggests disinterest and boredom. This may feel uncomfortable, but to a deaf person it is a cultural norm. Looking away equates to covering your ears while having a conversation with a hearing person. Don’t miss this heartwarming story about a Disney character that surprised a deaf little boy.
You walk around two deaf people signing to each other
It is actually polite to pass through a signed conversation. If you feel uncomfortable doing this, simply sign “excuse me” by extending your left hand, palm up, and brushing your right hand fingers out, pinky first with your knuckles slightly bent, two times, and pass through. Here are more “rude” manners that are actually polite in other contexts.
You intentionally hide your conversation from a deaf person
Hiding what you are saying from a deaf person in the room is considered to be extremely rude to the deaf culture.
You’re not an open book with your whereabouts
Because there is no such thing as “whispering” in the deaf community, people are very open and easily share information. It is considered rude to temporarily leave a meeting or social gathering and not tell another person in the room where you are going. Deaf people tend to describe in greater detail why they are late or need to leave early. Next, make sure you know the 12 things you should never, ever say to the parent of an autistic child.