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Meeting People who are Deaf

How to find and meet Deaf people.

A student asks:  How do I meet Deaf people?

Answer:  Go to where they are and introduce your self.  (Obvious eh?)

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 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 people.

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, writes:
Hi Dr. Vicars,
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.
Dr. Bill

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 you"!

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 M.

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 student report:

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 certain person.

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, jmorley@ writes:

Hi Bill,
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?
Please help,
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 voicing--other's don't.
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 can bring laptops to coffee and chat via typing while learning a few signs here and there during the conversation.
If you are skilled (not just "know the letters" but are actually quite good) at spelling you can have a fingerspelling and voiced conversation. 
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. 
Dr V
In a message dated 11/17/2015 1:42:07 P.M. Pacific Standard Time, ___________ writes:
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 mentioned.
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.
-- Bill

In a message dated 11/17/2015 2:34:48 P.M. Pacific Standard Time, ________________writes:

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


Also see:  Meeting and Interacting with Deaf people
Also see: What now? (Next steps after you have basic conversational ability in ASL.)
Also see: Negotiating a Conversation with a Deaf person


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