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American Sign Language:  Deaf Culture: Conversation Maintenance

Also see:  Deaf Culture
(Also see:  Attention Getting Techniques)


DrVicars: Okay now let's talk about conversation maintenance techniques, specifically, behavior you use to get information. 

When you are conversing with a Deaf person and he signs something you don't recognize, use the "HEY" sign to stop him before he goes much further.  (Because if he keeps going and you are "lost," he is only wasting his time.) 

The "HEY" sign is not the same as waving "hello."  The sign is palm down, fingers spread, fingertips pointing forward, fingertips moving up and down about four inches, in a fluttering motion.  The movement is from the wrist.  "HEY"  is a great way to tell someone you want immediate attention.  After he stops, you show him the sign you didn't understand, (approximate it if you aren't sure).  He will then sign it again, or fingerspell it to you... 

DrVicars: If he spells too quickly then you might have to tell him slow down.  You all know the sign for slow

Lii: Yes. 

DrVicars: Anyone need me to explain it? 

Crazy: no 

Art: Please 

Tigie: Up and down the arm? 

DrVicars: Okay take the right "b" palm with the thumb relaxed, and place it palm down on the
back of the left "b" palm.  Then drag the right palm up the left forearm. 

Sandy: Are there degrees of slowness?  i.e., I thought you just dragged from fingertips to wrist. 

DrVicars: San you are right about the degrees.  If you move just to the wrist, it means a normal,
everyday, casual "slow."  The higher up the arm you go, the more slow you want.  Strangely
enough, if you do the movement very quick, it means "extremely slow."  (Also you can do the
sign very slowly to mean "extremely slow," but this takes up too much time.) 

DrVicars: Good question and comment. 

Sandy: :)  You can guess why I learned this sign quickly! 

DrVicars: LOL 

Lii: LOL 

DrVicars: Okay after the Deaf person spells it slow and you catch it, you might want to sign it
back to the Deaf person (slowly and with a yes/no facial expression) to give him a chance to see
if you are signing it right or to correct you if you don't quite have it. 

DrVicars: Then you go on with your conversation until the next unknown sign pops up. 

Dr. Vicars

I attended my friend Mark's party. Mark is Deaf and just about everyone at the party was Deaf. A majority of the people at the party were between the ages of 18 and 25, but some were a little older. I noticed a lady who was a friend of a friend who was in her early 30's and she was hearing. Her mannerisms stuck out greatly. I noticed one time during the night there were two people engaged in a signing conversation and the woman walked right through them without even realizing the effect she was having on the conversation that was taking place. You could tell that the Deaf people were offended. There was another guy who was there who was Deaf and wasn't very receptive to those of us who were hearing. He refused to carry a conversation with any of us, or anyone else who was conversing with us. I have been around a group of Deaf people before, but I haven't been in a setting like this. It was interesting to see how people react to one another when they come from different cultures.



You mentioned: <<I noticed one time during the night there were two people engaged in a signing conversation and the woman walked right through them without even realizing the effect she was having on the conversation that was taking place. You could tell that the Deaf people were offended.>>
Actually, it is common for us to walk between other people's conversations at parties. It is often unavoidable. So we just do it and get it over with. No need for big "excuse me" comments either...that just wastes time.
I'm surprised that the Deaf were "offended." Perhaps she "dallied" in-between the two people blithely unaware...that would be somewhat bothersome but I wouldn't find it offensive unless she were doing it on purpose.
I wonder if your Deaf friends were showing disdain or condescension (rather than offense) toward her by portraying to each other an attitude of impatience with having to put up with a "clueless hearie."


In a message dated 3/16/2006 8:01:56 A.M. Pacific Standard Time, writes:
Hi Bill- 
I'm reading through your information on Deaf culture, and I've talked with a previous sign instructor about Deaf culture.   I look at your comment about ... certain methods of gaining a person's attention being unacceptable from a hearing person.   I also remember an incident many years ago in which a Deaf person approached me, was signing to me trying to communicate something, and having had NO ASL experience at that time, I (not realizing what a no-no it was) handed the person a piece of paper to write it down so I could figure out what she was trying to tell me.   The person became furious, then waved her hands at me and stomped off.   (I know why now). 

It seems to me (an outsider) that individuals who are Deaf have a huge intolerance for hearing individuals, and seem to have a real prejudice when it comes to accommodating a hearing person's differences.    Hearing individuals seem to be almost shunned.    Is this a correct perception?   It really seems as though there is a strong resistance in the Deaf Community to accommodating a hearing person's  "ASL disability" or "Deaf culture disability".    


Cindi Carnes

First of all, you seem to be a very intelligent, caring individual.  I applaud your expedition into the Deaf World. My comments below may seem sharp, but are meant to be so only in the sense that a surgeons scalpel is intended to be sharp. The surgeon himself has no desire to cause pain to the patient, but rather to deal with the underlying issue in an efficient, effective manner.
Here are my thoughts on the topic:
You use loaded words like "intolerance, shunned, and prejudice" to refer to Deaf behavior.
You then use mitigating words like "differences" to refer to Hearing behavior.
Deaf people prefer to be with other Deaf people for many reasons, the chief among them being the ability to communicate at high speeds.
Imagine yourself in a sports car on a multi-lane highway.  Now imagine it is a 75 mph zone but in every lane, driving side by side, there are slow-pokes doing 30 miles per hour.  How would you feel after just a few moments of having to drive behind these people?  Now imagine having to commute to work everyday there and back behind these slow pokes?  Now imagine they are doing 15 mph instead of 30.  Now imagine they frequently break down and ask you to tow them to their destination.
All you want to do is get to work and get home and you'd like to do it at full highway speeds.  Can you imagine the frustration?
Now, imagine one of the lanes frees up and starts moving at 75 miles per hour.  Would you hang around behind the slowpoke, or would you hastily move away from the slowpoke and get into the fast lane?  It isn't that you have anything against the slowpoke.  You don't really know him.  You just want to get to where you are going and getting in the fast lane is the least frustrating, most enjoyable way of getting to your destination.
It is the same for Deaf people every day of their lives.  They are surrounded by Hearing people and their slow-poke signing.  Sure, we tend to avoid you, but not because we hate you.  We avoid you in the same way you get out from behind the slowpoke on the highway. It is nothing personal.
Another example is a bee or wasp.  How do you react around wasps?   You tend to avoid them because they can (and sometimes do) sting you.  If you are sitting at the kitchen table near a closed window and a wasp comes up to the window and buzzes against the glass how do you react?  You get uncomfortable don't you?  You feel uncomfortable even though the window is closed and it is totally irrational to think the wasp could break the window and sting you.
It is the same for many Deaf people.  We have been stung by hearing con-artists, mechanics, contractors, and medical professionals. And maybe not us personally, but we know of others who have been stung.  And just the fear of getting stung is enough to cause us Deaf people to behave the way we do around Hearing people.
I need to state this very clearly:  It is absurdly easier for a Hearing person to learn to sign than it is for a Deaf person to learn to talk.
This fact seems lost on many Hearing people.  They expect us to accommodate them.  That is like expecting "Interstate Highway 5" to slow down.  That is absurd.  If you want to get on the highway you should speed up...not the other way around.  If you are incapable of driving at highway speeds, content yourself to driving around town at 30mph (attending Deaf events and sitting on the edges doing more watching than signing). I have a bike.  I often bike to work.  I don't label motorists as prejudicial and resistant to accommodating me when they speed past at much higher speeds.  I realize my place on the road and I enjoy the ride.
If I want to be accepted on the road I have to invest in a faster vehicle If Hearing people want to be accepted in the Deaf Community they need to invest in ASL classes, videos, lurking time, and tutors.
Consider how medical doctors feel when they go to a party or to church.  Everyone and their dog comes up to them and starts listing off symptoms for some free medical advice. So what do doctors do?  They get unlisted phone numbers. 
Do you label doctors as prejudiced because they say, "Let's schedule you an appointment at the office so I can run a few tests" (instead of helping you right there at the party).  They don't want to waste their party time on you.  They want to go chat with their friends and have a good time. Do you label them as impatient because they don't want to talk to you in that circumstance and want to be paid for their knowledge?
If you want a Deaf person to be patient with your slow signing, PAY one of us to be patient with you.  Hire a tutor.
Okay, now on to a separate topic:  You state that handing a Deaf person a piece of paper to write something down is a "no-no."  Who told you that? I don't think there is anything wrong in general with handing a Deaf person a piece of paper and pencil.
While it is likely the Deaf person "stomped off" in frustration, it is also possible that there are other reasons. Maybe she couldn't write very well or at least couldn't write the particular concept she had in mind and was thus embarrassed?
The Deaf person approached you, not the other way around. You were innocently trying to communicate via a time-tested approach.
Dr. Bill


Also see:  Meeting People who are Deaf
Also see:  Meeting and Interacting with Deaf people
Also see: What now? (Next steps after you have basic conversational ability in ASL.)


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