Jennifer Alka, Community Support Specialist with Deaf Community Services, recently provided an in-service to our staff on Deaf culture, communication and etiquette. She addressed her personal story and shared helpful tips that allow all of our staff to provide the best customer service possible to Deaf individuals.
1. The Deaf community consists of people who use American Sign Language, children of Deaf parents, interpreters, Deaf teachers, and anyone else who wants to be included. Jennifer is second generation Deaf, and her children are Deaf. Her husband is the elementary school principal at the Indiana School for the Deaf. “I wouldn’t wish life to be any other way,” she says.
2. Communication options include:
American Sign Language is the predominate sign language of Deaf communities in the US and Canada.
Signed English is a sign language dialect that matches each spoken word of English.
Cued speech is a type of sign language that uses hand movements combined with mouth shapes to communicate to the hearing impaired.
Auditory/Oral uses whatever hearing ability a person has in combination with speech reading and contextual clues.
Total communication uses both signed English and spoken English to communicate.
Speech reading is often used synonymously with the term lip reading, where you look at the speaker’s lips along with facial expressions and body language.
Fingerspelling is the representation of the letters of a writing and numerical system using only the hands.
Many people ask Jennifer if she can read lips. Only 20% of verbal speaking can be visual, which makes speech reading very difficult and not the preferred method of communication.
3. Technology has changed the way Deaf people communicate. Everything from the Internet to video phones, closed-captioning for television, TTY, visual ring signalers, and message relay services allow hearing people to communicate with Deaf people. Social media has also played an important role in helping Deaf people communicate quickly and easily with each other.
4. To get a Deaf person’s attention, use one light tap on their shoulder for non-urgent communication. Repeating the tap 2 or 3 times with harder pressure expresses that you urgently need to communicate to them.
5. Hearing people have different cues for in-person communication, where it may be okay to end a conversation by simply walking away or looking in another direction. Breaking eye contact to end a conversation is not acceptable in Deaf culture. You must say why it is time to end the conversation, so that the person you are speaking with knows the conversation is over.
6. Interpreters will sit or stand to the side of a Deaf person and a hearing person should look directly at the Deaf person, not at the interpreter. There is no need to pause or talk slowly, as the interpreter is trained and can follow the conversation easily. Do not hold personal conversations with the interpreter as if the Deaf person is not there.
7. It is not appropriate to ask or expect a child to interpret for their parents or authority figures.
8. At Easter Seals Crossroads, we follow people first language, where the person is always mentioned before the disability. For example, we would say “child with autism” instead of “autistic child.” However, in the Deaf community, the preferred communication is to say “Deaf person” instead of “person who is Deaf.”
“My view as a Deaf interpreter is that I’m helping more hearing people than Deaf people,” Jennifer says. We are proud to have Jennifer as an employee at Easter Seals Crossroads. To contact her, please send her an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About Jennifer Alka
Jennifer’s education started at the Rochester School for the Deaf in New York, which is well known for the finger spelling method, but they stopped practicing that method when she was enrolled in their pre-school program. She later enrolled at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. for one year and then transferred to the State University of New York at Brockport where she graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology. Jennifer is the Community Support Specialist with Deaf Community Services at Easter Seals Crossroads. For more information, visit http://www.eastersealscrossroads.org/deaf-community-services.