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Don't close your eyes at me!

How to "not listen" in the Deaf Community


(A student writes) "I wanted to write to you about a problem that I have: I was learning ASL to use to help those at my church. There was a Sign Language Ministry, and I chose to step up to help out. (It is my only contact with any using ASL). However, when I get stressed and can't think of how to sign something, I have a tendency to CLOSE MY EYES.

I was told that this was 'bad form' simply a "no-no." Can you explain why this is a problem? If my hands and other facial features are all working properly.

I do understand the need to avoid clashing colors in my clothing, and bangles and gum chewing. I don't get why I am a problem if I close my eyes. (I do try to avoid it, just want to know why)"

[Name deleted to protect their identity]

Closing your eyes during a conversation in the Deaf world is the equivalent of sticking your fingers in your ears during a conversation in the Hearing world. Suppose you were talking to someone and they put their fingers in their ears. It would seem odd to you yes? It would also seem odd if they started talking to you and stuck their fingers in their ears during whatever it was they were saying.

If you sign with your eyes closed you are unable to see your conversation partner's reactions and adjust your signing accordingly.

Sure, I do understand that you are closing your eyes as a way of reducing incoming stimuli so as to help manage your anxiety.

It is likely that the more you practice and the longer you stick with it -- eventually you will feel less and less of a need to close your eyes.

For now I recommend you just focus on doing the best you can and move forward as best you can.

You indicate that you were interacting with people at a "ministry" -- such being the case hopefully the locals will understand your heart is in the right place and grant you some leniency while you are developing and improving.
- Dr. Bill




The closing of your eyes is also a sometimes cute (and/or sometimes distressing) thing that happens in Deaf households or other signing environments. It is all too common for a Deaf child (or Hearing child of Deaf parents) to "close their eyes" when the other person is signing something the child doesn't want to see or be told.

Of course this isn't limited to children either. Suppose a Deaf couple (or mixed Hearing / Deaf couple) is having an argument -- it is not uncommon for one of them to tightly shut their eyes as a way of shutting off the other person's argument. It is the equivalent of a Hearing person covering their ears and stating "I'm not listening!"

Tip and/or warning: Only close your eyes in the middle of an argument if you have a mentally stable partner or at least one who really does love you.*

Also, if you close your eyes during an argument in the bedroom be forewarned that you are likely to get hit by a pillow.*

*Note: Those last two bits of advice may or may not be from personal experience.


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