Meeting People who are Deaf
A student asks: How do I meet Deaf people?
Answer: Go to where they are and introduce your self. (Obvious
Which brings up other questions:
Where can I find Deaf people?
If you are taking an in-person, local ASL class, your instructor should
be able to tell you where Deaf people hang out. If your instructor isn't
able to tell you where they hang out, ask him if he recently moved to the
area. If he has lived in your area for a long time and doesn't know where
Deaf people hang out...you need to find a different instructor! It is
quite possible though that there aren't many Deaf people around if you are
taking a class in a small town or farm area. Deaf people have
traditionally moved to or near larger cities so that they can be around
other Deaf. Way back in the 1980's there was a statistic floating around
that over half the Deaf people in the United States live in southern
California. (Email me if you find any recent statistics.) And while I'm
sure that percentage is no longer the case (if it ever was) there is no
doubt that most Deaf people prefer to live in areas where there are plenty
of other Deaf people.
Check the local Deaf news. (Most large Deaf communities have some sort
of online newsletter).
Do an internet search: +Deaf +Association (Use various combinations
of words until you tie into information for your area.
If you know a Deaf person, ask him or her where to find other Deaf
Ask an interpreter. Most interpreters are aware of at least a few
Deaf events in their city.
Contact your state's department of Deaf services (whatever title) and
ask about programs for the Deaf.
In a message dated 6/21/2005 3:14:43 PM Pacific Daylight Time,
My name is
Ashley and I know some signs but not a lot and your site is
helpful but the problem is I can't remember all of them. I don't
have any Deaf friends or any Deaf people in my school or my town
,that I know of, to talk to. I was wondering if there was a way
that I could find people to talk to so I can get better at
signing. Please help.
One idea that I've found quite helpful for locating Deaf people is
to google the name of your city
and the word "Deaf" and then click "search."
You can also type the name of your state and the word "Deaf" and see
what you get.
When you meet someone in the Deaf community you are going to want to
tell him your connection. I recommend something like:
EXAMPLE: Hi, I'm Larry Jordan. I'm taking ASL at Yadda
High School. My teacher is Bill Vicars. My uncle is Deaf, his
name is Michael Bird. (Use ASL)
From that introduction it is clear that your affiliation with the Deaf
community is your uncle Mike.
If you don't have a Deaf uncle, perhaps you have a Deaf friend? No
luck there either? Then mention the fact that your teacher is Deaf (if he
or she is Deaf). If you don't have any of these ties to the community then
the default connection is that you are a "sign language student." The
more ties you have to the community though, the more things your new Deaf
acquaintance will have to discuss with you. Don't be surprised someday
when your signing skills have reached a certain level when a Deaf person
asks you if you are Deaf.
Most of the time two Deaf people that meet each other for the first
time don't have to ask each other if they are Deaf. The know within the
first few moments of conversation. They can tell because:
1. They are using ASL in a natural, comfortable, way that is typical
of native Deaf signers.
2. They have indicated what Deaf School they attended, (including
years of attendance)
3. They have mentioned it if they attended Gallaudet University,
(including years of attendance)
Suppose you are a pretty good signer. You go to a Deaf event and you
meet Deaf people and you don't mention what Deaf School you went to, you
don't mention having gone to Gallaudet, and you don't give some other
indication of your hearing status. Chances are someone is going to point
blank ask you "Are you Deaf?" Don't feel bad when upon learning that
you are not Deaf, he chooses to wander off and find a Deaf person to
strike up a conversation with. This isn't a body odor problem. It is a
matter of expediency. By that I mean...why would a Deaf person want to
spend his time talking to a hearing person when there are so many Deaf
people around that went to Deaf Schools, are tied into the Deaf community,
and are facing the same issues he is.
If you want respect from the Deaf community you are going to need to
earn it. A few weeks of sign language classes isn't going to cut it.
Showing up at a few Deaf events isn't going to do it. Many months of
showing up, being patient, developing your signing skills, showing
respect, and staying humble will eventually open the door for you.
Here is an email from a person first entering the Deaf community:
Hey guess what - today I made and
survived First Contact!!! And I just have to "share"...
I went to a Deaf Christian men's prayer breakfast where I didn't know
anyone, nada, nobody. 40 guys were there in a big square of tables.
Nervous? Yeah baby, I was tight as a drum and sharp as a bowling ball. I
didn't remember 1/16 of what I thought I knew. I was temporarily blind to
even slow fingerspelling. My mind was too busy going AAHHHH! to think at
all, let alone remember anything......I even mixed up "please" and "thank
But you'd have been proud of me. I didn't run.
After an hour I settled down and relaxed and realized I was among kind and
patient people. The people I sat between were perfect for me. Both were
late deafened, and so interpreted what others said (not always - only when
I asked, which was great). They signed and talked to me at the same time
so I could begin to see how they were signing the signs I already know.
How different they look in actual conversation! The way sign's meld into
each other, and are so understated...
And just as you say, each person signs a bit different.
But things got better. I even ended up having a conversation with one guy,
Kimm, (no terp in sight) on how his car had been completely stripped by
professional thieves! He showed me the pictures. I now know the rather
violent sign for "steal". He patiently re-spelled some words three times
until I finally got them. ....I think "again" is my favorite sign. :)
I could be rather discouraged. And perhaps I should be. But for some
reason I'm not. Rather, I'm kind of excited.
There's a Deaf church meeting tomorrow.... I think I'm going. - Scott
If you are interested in a typical example of what it
is like to attend a Deaf Event and meet Deaf people, check out the following
In a message dated 1/24/2004 10:16:23 AM Pacific Standard Time,
Amanda Luther writes:
On Friday, January 16th, I went to the Borders Book Store in Folsom, to
meet and chat with a Deaf group. This Deaf group meets every Friday at the
Borders in Folsom but on the first Friday of the month, they meet in
Placerville for pizza. This group gets together to hang out and there is no
specific topic they talk about.
I arrived at 6:00 p.m. and saw Sara and Sukhbir. None of the Deaf group
members were there yet so we started talking about class. Dennis came at the
same time as three of the Deaf group members. We walked over to them and
most of them were really nice. A lady named Aileen signed her name and said
she was in an ASL 3 class. She spoke and could hear normally and said she
was here every Friday night but more people would be coming. She said they
usually sit outside but tonight it was cold. She also said sometimes they
sit on the other wall but lately the music has been really loud and that
interferes with the hearing impair’s ability to hear what is being said.
Some people were buying muffins and coffee and one girl named Angela came
with a pizza. Sara said we should have brought something for everyone to eat
but Aileen said that was just Angela’s dinner! Everyone got their food and
sat back down. One girl had a shirt on that said “lil devil”. Her friend
signed “little-devil” and I knew that sign and understood what they were
saying. Their conversation was about, the first girl said the “lil devil”
suited the second girl because she was a little devil or a trickster!
Another lady named Syndi signed her name but said her sign name was “Belly
Dancer”. This sign was “dancing” but with a “S” instead of the two fingers
down (like your hand is dancing). She said they all have nicknames that they
only use at this event. She said if she went to another event or spoke to
another person and said her name was “Belly Dance” she might offend someone.
Then someone signed “table-dance” meaning Syndi should get on the table and
actually “belly dance”.
We started asking Angela questions but she was very rude. She spoke very
well and was not Deaf at all. She said to Sara and I, “I know you guys have
to be here for the hours” but Sara and I said we didn’t really care about
the hour but wanted the experience. She was kinda rude and whenever Sara
asked her a question, Angela would look away and wait for Sara to finish
struggling to sign out her question. Then Angela would answer her question
like it was a big inconvience. Strange that Angela’s sign name is “Angel”.
Michael, Emily, and Chloe came and there were more ASL 1 students then there
were Deaf group members. One man signed his name to me and introduced his
wife. He asked who our teacher was and if we liked our school. Then he went
around and asked each ASL student a few questions. Another lady was signing
to me that she is hearing impaired, two of her children are Deaf and the
other one is hearing. She said they all sign and then she asked if I had any
Deaf members in my family. I told her no but I was interested in learning
because I babysat for a Deaf boy who is 5 years old. I was trying to explain
that he had a cochlear implant and he can hear and is trying to talk rather
than sign, but then someone came up and interrupted us and she was excited
to see her.
Angela was talking to Sara and I about being an interpreter. Angela was
saying that she goes to ARC because they are the only college with a big
sign language program. She said you need ASL 1-4 to enter the program and
then you need to go up to ASL 7 to interpret. Angela said she is 25 years
old with a five year old son and it is hard to go to school. She says she
just wants to get her classes out of the way because she doesn’t want an AA,
just a certificate to become an interpreter. Anytime Angela was talking, she
was also signing so everyone else understood what she was talking about.
Syndi, “belly dance”, said how hard it must be to learn sign in a three week
class. She said it must be very fast past and stressful. As she is telling
us this, she is also signing so the group knows what we are talking about.
We said it was fun but hard to remember all the signs. We told her that if
we knew more signs, it would be easier and more comfortable to talk with
Deaf people. I was feeling very uncomfortable because I have to see finger
spelling very slow. Some of the Deaf people signed really fast and I didn’t
understand what they said. I was embarrassed that I had to stop them,
explain that I didn’t understand to spell slow. However, I did feel
confident because I could tell them, “hey-sign-slow” or “hey-spell-slow”.
I noticed that a lot of people were texting each other on their phone. One
person had a palm pilot and was typing in her conversation to another girl
with a cell phone. Then Angela said she had some advice for us: watch one
person instead of jump from conversation to conversation. I guess she
noticed that we were trying to watch everyone instead of watching one
One girl named Marianna came in and it looked like she had multiple
sclerosis. Her whole body shook and it was hard for her to sign. Everyone
came up and gave her a hug but then everyone was into their previous
conversation, she was kinda left out. She signed to me that the meeting was
from 7 to 11 not 6 to 9. I said that I didn’t know what and thought it was 6
but thank you for telling me. She said your welcome and Aileen said it was
from 6 to whenever, no specific end time.
One guy, who I can’t remember his name, signed to me “what is your name”?
Then him, Sara and I were talking about where we live and if Sara and I were
friends. He asked my name, I asked his name. He asked Sara and Chole’s name.
Then he asked if we had a boyfriend and Sara said yes. Chloe and I said no
and I signed that I didn’t have a boyfriend and that made me sad. He laughed
and Sara signed that they needed to find me a boyfriend. He signed he “ I
have to flip a coin between you too (Chloe and myself)”. He then pointed to
me and jokingly asked for my phone number! Then he asked where we live and
said he lived in Cameron Park. He signed “C-P” and we didn’t know where that
was. He was trying to sign that we lived far away but he lives close. We
thought he meant Folsom but we didn’t understand what C-P meant. Syndi said
Cameron Park and we were really glad that she spoke! We would have been so
confused because I was not familiar with the Folsom area and wouldn’t have
known that “C-P” meant Cameron Park.
This guy was really nice and easy to talk to. He would sign slow when he
could tell we were confused. He joked around a lot and made the
conversations fun. He wore a hearing aid and Syndi said he can hear your
voice but not the words.
Most of the people were really nice and would sign slow and try to explain
certain things. The funny guy even showed Sara how to sign “work” because
she was signing it upside down.
After an hour and a half, Sara and I had to leave. We passes around my
clipboard and several people signed the sheet. We didn’t want to have seven
sheets being passed around, so we wrote everyone’s name on my sheet for the
people to sign. We signed “thank you”and “goodbye”. Everyone waved and a few
said “your-welcome” and “goodbye”. The funny guy said “nice to meet you” and
I told him it was nice to meet him also.
<<In a message dated 1/9/2007 1:12:03 A.M. Pacific Standard Time,
I have recently met someone who is Deaf and would like to ask them
to coffee, or simply go for a walk with the dogs. Should I simply
write and ask them or learn sign language to do the same?
J. Jennifer Morley>>
There is no "right or wrong" in this situation. Human kindness is
almost always appreciated regardless of the form as long as the
intent is understood.
There are many factors here that I don't know so my general answer
is: "it depends."
The person might just understand your voiced utterances just fine.
Being Deaf is more of a cultural thing than it is an "amount of
hearing" thing. Some Deaf people are great lipreaders, some are
not. Some have residual hearing that enables them to understand
If I were you I'd probably send this person a message immediately
indicating that you want to learn sign language and that you would
be interested in maybe getting some coffee or in walking the dogs
together. Then supply this person with your email address and, if
you have one, your text messaging address.
Together you can figure out the best way to communicate.
If you are technology inclined...you can bring laptops to coffee and
chat via typing while learning a few signs here and there during the
If you are skilled (not just "know the letters" but are actually
quite good) at spelling you can have a fingerspelling and voiced
Many Deaf people can speak rather well, but choose not to for a
number of societal, psychological, or cultural reasons. (But if you
were a fly on the wall in their home you would see them voicing to
their hearing children.)
It sometimes takes years of association with a person before you
find out the extent to which a culturally Deaf person functions in
the hearing world--simply because he or she chooses to De-emphasize
that aspect of his life.
In a message dated 11/17/2015 1:42:07 P.M. Pacific Standard Time,
Hello Dr. Bill,
I am taking your sign language courses on Youtube. They are very
enjoyable and you are funny and do a good job. At this point it is a
refresher for me as I lost much of my signing from years of no
practice but as the classes advance I am learning so much new.
I am writing to ask how I can make friends online with Deaf and get
to practice anytime I am available? I tried joining a Deaf chat
group, but I don't quite see any activity since I joined nor got a
response from someone who posted to offer help. I find sign language
important to relearn as our Church has Deaf people and need for more
interpreters. Thank you for pointing me in the right direction. :)
I used to have a few Deaf friends years back and was quite fluent
but lost contact with them all.
Sent from my iPad
I recommend you start with the local Church Deaf members that you
Sit with them in church.
Figure out some reasons to interact with them.
Invite them over for dinner.
Perhaps you could offer to babysit their kids on occasion.
Then after you have made friends with them you could maybe get
yourself a video phone and or use Apple's "Facetime" (video chat
software) to converse with your newly acquired Deaf friends.
In a message dated
11/17/2015 2:34:48 P.M. Pacific Standard Time,
Yes! I can do that! I can start sitting with the small Deaf
group at Church as I was already planning on that. Good idea
to invite them for dinner or anything outside of Church.
When I get my fluency back I can use face time and find out
how to also make additional new friends. Thank you. (It felt
too intimidating to get closer not feeling confident enough
to converse as yet, but I can step out)
Sent from my iPad
Also see: Meeting and
Interacting with Deaf people: "When and how to approach a Deaf person"
Also see: Negotiating a
Conversation with a Deaf person
Dr. Bill's new iPhone "Fingerspelling Practice" app is
GET IT HERE!
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