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When you first meet a deaf person or hard-of-hearing person it’s important to ask how they would like to communicate.  If they request an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter, ask if they have a preference for a specific person. Additional information on accessing interpreters

  • Deaf people often, but not always, use American Sign Language (ASL). ASL is a unique language that uses hand shapes, movement, and body language to communicate. It is a deeply nuanced language with its own set of grammar and shortcuts. ASL has no written form. Many people who use ASL also consider themselves culturally Deaf.
  • Some Deaf people may also use other forms of sign language, including British sign language and signed English, which differ from ASL. Some people may also lip read and verbalize.
  • No matter which communication mode you use, check for understanding. Each of these methods can result in miscommunication. Repeating back and paraphrasing can be critical to effective communication.

When using interpreters remember that you are translating between two very different languages.

When lip reading, context is critical since only a fraction of speech can be seen on the lips (try saying dime and time in front of a mirror).

When using pencil and paper you are also working between two distinctly different languages. For example, many Deaf people using ASL would not consider English a first language or a language in which they are fluent. In translation, “you me cross”, would mean “I missed you”.

  • For helpful tips on ASL, you might look for classes either in person or online. ASLUniversity has some great information on Deaf culture, and some easy-to-follow lessons for picking up a few signs.