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Deaf Etiquette

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How much etiquette do we need to respect and understand each other without offending or patronizing others? Etiquette is essential to fostering mutual respect and understanding while avoiding any sense of superiority or condescension. “Etiquette is the art of seeing others and respecting them”, as described by Chinese philosopher Yixing Zhang: Etiquette can be fun or challenging when it comes to cultural differences. Interacting with an unfamiliar culture can be challenging, especially when it comes to etiquette in general.

As a world-traveler, I have a lot of experience in this area. The first one happened in Malaysia. Being American, I am accustomed to eating with both of my hands. However, during my first night in Kuala Lumpur with my Malaysian Deaf host family, I quickly learned that eating with two hands was not the norm around the world. As I sat on the floor eating dinner, my host family looked at me strangely. I soon realized that everyone held their food in one hand. The other hand was exclusively for bathroom use. It was then that I learned about Malaysian dining etiquette.

During my visit there, I discovered many aspects of Malaysian etiquette beyond dining, and I realized that American and Malaysian cultures differ significantly regarding customs and traditions. It was an eye-opening experience that taught me the importance of being aware of and respecting cultural differences. My experience with my Deaf host family, taught me that etiquette is an essential aspect of communication and cultural understanding. It is crucial to be aware of and respect the customs and traditions of the people we interact with, especially when we are in an unfamiliar culture. By doing so, we can bridge cultural gaps and build meaningful connections with people from different backgrounds.

In this article we will explore the meaning of proper communication etiquette and how to approach and use it effectively. The question is this, how can we communicate effectively with people from different cultures while respecting their communication etiquette?

From experience and research, it appears to me that the best way to display proper etiquette is to be patient and allow other persons time to process information. This is especially true when communicating with the Deaf, Hard of Hearing, and Deaf Blind People. With that in mind, it is important to be mindful of the time it may take to communicate effectively. For example, a simple question that takes a hearing person a few seconds to express and comprehend, may take a Deaf person several minutes to receive, understand and respond to the statement or question. Why? Before they can respond several things must occur:

  1. The receiver must wait for the speaker to complete their statement.
  2. If they are lipreading without the assistance of an interpreter, they have to make sure they understand what was said.
  3. Did the speaker say, “fifteen or fifty” or did they say, “six or sex”?
  4. Take a second to look at yourself in the mirror and say those words (six and sex).
  5. If you really want to stretch yourself, try this: fore, for, and four.
  6. Without sound, six and sex look very similar with mouth/lip formation.
  7. If the hearer is relying on an interpreter, once the statement is made, or question asked, the interpreter digests the information and then relays it to the Deaf person.
  8. The receiver must wait to hear the whole sentence before they can reply.
  9. Once all of the information is received, then the Deaf person can reply to the statement or question.

Deaf Community: Don’t assume that all Deaf people use sign language or lipreading:

  1. Be respectful and treat them as equals with proper accommodation, if needed.
  2. Face them directly and maintain eye contact.
  3. Speak clearly and at a normal pace and avoid shouting or relying on the interpreter, use visual aids or gestures if needed.
  4. To respect their communication preferences, ask if they need an interpreter or if they prefer written notes/papers, etc.
  5. When in a group, make sure everyone is included in the conversation.

Hard of Hearing Community: Don’t assume that all Hard of Hearing people have the same hearing and speech abilities.

  1. Speak clearly and face the person directly, not the interpreter.
  2. Reduce background noise or move to a quieter location.
  3. Don’t shout or overemphasize words because it can distort speech and lipreading ability.
  4. Avoid covering your mouth or speaking while chewing
  5. Use visual aids such as gestures or written notes if necessary

Deafblind Community: Don’t assume that all DeafBlind people have the same hearing and vision loss. There are different degrees of hearing and vision loss:

  1. Use a gentle touch to get their attention, but never startle them. Always identify yourself when you approach them, even if you have met before.
  2. Use clear, simple language when communicating or body gesturing (tactile communication) and speak directly to them. If they use a communication device or an interpreter, address them and not the interpreter or device.
  3. When communicating through touch, use gentle touches on the arm or hand, and give clear and concise messages.
  4. Use descriptive language to explain visual information, such as the layout of a room or the appearance of a person.
  5. Use a reliable form of communication, such as email or text, to communicate important information in advance.

Hearing Community: Don’t assume that all Hearing people understand the etiquette of their own culture.

  1. Use clear and audible speech when communicating with others and face them directly to facilitate lip-reading.
  2. Avoid interrupting or talking over others and show active listening by using appropriate nonverbal cues.
  3. Be aware of your surroundings and adjust your behavior accordingly, such as lowering your voice in quiet places.
  4. Be respectful of others personal space and avoid touching without permission.
  5. Show respect for others’ beliefs and cultural practices, even if they differ from your own.

Additionally, it is important to remember that communication is a two-way street, both parties should make an effort to understand and accommodate each other’s needs. By practicing good communication etiquette, we can build stronger relationships and foster a more harmonious and inclusive community. If you would like to learn more about the Deaf Culture and Community, please do not hesitate to contact me at

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