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Socially acceptable behaviours in the Deaf community that I want you to know

As many of you will know, I am CODA (Child Of Deaf Adults), and I belong to the Deaf Community. I feel part of it, as I hold the same values and worldviews as other members of the Deaf community, even though I am hearing.

People usually say that I am very expressive and move my hands a lot when I communicate, which is understandable as Spanish Sign Language is my first language and hands, facial expressions, and body movements are part of my culture and DNA.

This is something that might feel uncomfortable to some hearing people, as well as some other behaviours that despite of being completely acceptable within the Deaf community, in the hearing community might be seen as "rude".

That's why I want to share this article, to help you to familiarise with these socially acceptable behaviours so you can understand it, and no-one will feel "offended":

The use of facial expressions in Sign Language are mandatory

With spoken languages, volume, intonation, stress, pitch and 'tone of voice' serve to alter or affect the meaning of spoken words. Deaf people rely on 'tone of face' and other factors to alter and understand the meaning of signs.⁠

Top Tip: Please, don't ask a Deaf person to "tone down" their facial expressions because they are making others uncomfortable. This is offensive.⁠ Similarly, it is considered incredibly rude to grab a deaf person’s hands while they are signing. In the deaf community, this is the equivalent of holding your hand over someone’s mouth to prevent them from speaking.

Eye contact in Deaf culture is vital for communication

Remember that deaf people listen with their eyes and vision is one of the most useful tool they have to receive information.⁠

Top Tip: ⁠Did you know that in the Deaf community if you break eye contact that means that you are no longer listening to the other person? Much like how it would be rude to walk out of the room when someone is talking to you, in Deaf culture, it is considered rude and disrespectful to look away when someone is signing to you.

Physical touch

In Deaf culture, it is acceptable to touch another person to get attention, to greet, say goodbye, and express emotion.

Top Tip: To gain a deaf person's attention, two or three firm but hot heavy taps on the arm or shoulder should be enough and acceptable. Do not touch elsewhere on the body to get attention, e.g. head, face, stomach, etc.

Direct language

From hearing people's point of view, Deaf people may appear blunt or abrupt when saying something or describing someone/something. The reality is that in the deaf community is not necessary to "beat around the bush". In the Deaf community we get to the point clearly and succinctly, which might come across as direct.

Top Tip: To describe someone as “the woman with the big ears” is merely be considered a concise and accurate description and not rude.

Banging on tables, stamping on the floor, waving, or turning the lights on and off

To gain each other's attention in the Deaf community is completely acceptable to thump on tables or stamp on the floor to make it vibrate. If the person is beyond the reach to tap, we wave our hand or turn the lights on and off a few times.

Top Tip: Never throw anything or kick to attract the attention of a deaf person!

Pointing is acceptable

Pointing during a conversation is normal for the Deaf community. We use pointing as a part of our language and is a normal cultural behaviour. This is often used as a means of establishing a reference point.

This disconcerts many hearing people who were taught “it’s not polite to point".

I hope this information about socially acceptable behaviours in the Deaf community finds you well and is useful for you and it helps to foster an understanding and appreciation for this vibrant community that enriches our lives.


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