April 7, 2006
Navigating a Deaf Environment
An associate of mine just came back from Asia. He thoroughly enjoyed
the trip, but there was one thing that he found disconcerting in one of the
places he visited. It was the way people crossed the street.
Apparently due to the hustle and bustle of the city, drivers and pedestrians
had developed an understanding that would allow both to get to their
destinations as efficiently as possible. The pedestrian natives, upon
deciding to cross the street, begin walking toward the other side of the
street at a steady pace. Oncoming cars then either slow down or adjust
their direction slightly and only as much as necessary so as to barely avoid
hitting the pedestrians.
It is important for pedestrians to keep moving and not stop or slow down
because the drivers can only plan their speed appropriately if the
pedestrians move at a consistent speed.
My associate told me how unnerving it was for him to get used to "moving
through" traffic in this foreign land.
I reflected on how this culture of
"driver/pedestrian navigation" is very similar to the aspect of Deaf culture
that has to do with navigating in a sign language rich environment.
If two deaf people chatting in the hall and you need get through (and you
can't easily slip behind them)--just walk through. Don't hesitate at all. If
you slow down or hesitate it will be more distracting than if you just keep
going. Of course, use common sense, if the passageway is narrow you might
need to slow down just to avoid tripping, but the point is that you don't
become a distraction. You don't need to sign "excuse me." Don't duck. Just
walk through at a steady pace.
Now, should you sign, "excuse me" before
It isn't required. Just walk through. If you want to do a very
small "excuse me" while you pass through (without slowing down), that is
It is important that I point out that you will see conflicting advice
out there. I can show you TWO popular text books written by "experts"
that state two very different opinions regarding saying "excuse me" when
going through a signed conversation.
1. Keep moving at a steady pace. (If you slow down or change
speed more than a little…they might think you are coming to join the
2. Don't crouch. You can lower your head a "token" amount...but don't
3. If you do choose to sign "excuse me" keep moving, and sign it very small
and not as if you were actually communicating with them. They will see
it with their peripheral vision and know that you were making an attempt at
If you walk through at a consistent pace the signers can
both shift a bit and not have to slow down their conversation.