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Mute Signers: 
Communicating with people who can hear, and sign -- but who do not talk

A student asks: "What happens if a person is not deaf -- they're just mute?  Is it wrong to "talk" in verbal conversation while they sign back, or should I sign to them as well?"


Let us approach the topic of how to communicate with a person who is mute (and knows sign language) from the perspective that "mute" people are not homogeneous.  Which is to say -- individuals who are mute are not all the same.  A person who is mute may not be a "balanced bilingual" (equally skilled in both languages). 

An individual may sign out of necessity or convenience but prefer voiced replies. A different individual may prefer for the whole conversation to be signed. The (non-mute) conversation partner may have better receptive skills (ability to understand the signing of others) than expressive signing skills.

The (so called) right approach to communicating with a person who is mute is therefore to first seek to understand that individual's communication preference by asking them directly.

If you are new to that person's social circle and have the opportunity it would be good to note how friends of the individual go about communicating.  If close friends choose to sign without voicing then you may wish to initially sign something to the effect of, "Do you prefer that I sign, voice, or both?" (For example: "YOU PREFER ME SIGN, VOICE, OR BOTH?")

If the individual replies that it "doesn't matter" -- it would seem respectful to adopt (if you are skilled enough so as to be able to do so effectively) the mode or approach to communication used by the individual's friends since they are likely (or at least more likely than you) to be aware of how their friend prefers to communicate.





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