10 Nov The Best Thing to Do If You Meet a Deaf Person
It’s a beautiful Sabbath morning. The Seattle rain has fled from the bright sunshine that occasionally makes an appearance in the sky. Invigorated by the glorious weather, you decide to visit a church in the area.
After choosing which church you will go to, you drive there. You walk to the door and are met with smiling faces of the greeters who begin to speak to you. Not being able to hear what they are saying, you smile and nod. Those who were smiling at you a moment ago are now frowning at you not sure how to react. You suddenly realize that they asked you a question, and you did not answer appropriately. Pulling out a pen and paper, you quickly jot down, “I am deaf. I did not hear you. Can you write down what you said?” The people at the door are now flustered, realizing that communication will not be as quick. More individuals begin to arrive behind you, and the greeters are attempting to mouth their words with more exaggeration so you can understand quickly. Still not able to make communication with the greeters, you are ushered to the side to create more room for those coming in the door.
Undaunted, you make your way into the sanctuary for church service. Sitting towards the back, you are met with more smiling faces from those occupying the pews in front of you. They begin to speak to you, and you quickly point to your ears and shake your head, indicating you are deaf. But they are baffled on how to communicate with you so their smiling faces turn to quizzical looks, and they soon turn around.
This same situation is played out several times throughout the course of church with various individuals; soon no one comes to say hello because people are afraid to attempt communication with a person who does not hear. While you knew that you would not be able to hear the church service, you had hoped to meet someone who would be willing to be a new friend. Silently, you get up and leave church in the middle of the service. No one seems to notice your departure. No one comes after you to encourage you to stay.
It’s a sad story, right? Unfortunately, this happens all too often to members of our Deaf community. While they do not expect to meet a person who is fluent in American Sign Language at the door or even in church, they do expect to meet people who are willing to make communication happen in any form. Let’s review two common misconceptions that hearing people have about the Deaf and then provide some suggestions that will help to reach the Deaf.
According to current statistics found on Three Angels Deaf Ministries (3adm.org), only 2-4% of Deaf people claim to have a relationship with God. That means only a relationship with God, not denomination specific. That leaves a staggering 96-98% of Deaf who do not even know Christ. In addition to this shocking statistic, American Sign Language (the native language of the Deaf in America), is the third most common language in the United States. It has been stated that this is one of the largest unreached people groups in North America.
One common misconception is that Deaf can read lips. In one study I read, it said that approximately thirty percent of the English language is detectable on the lips. If that is the case, then it leaves about seventy percent of the language as undetectable in communication. That is a huge number! Remember this the next time you try to communicate with the Deaf person. Lip reading is one of the least effective ways to communicate with the Deaf.
Another common misconception is that American Sign Language is just a signed version of English. American Sign Language is recognized as a foreign language with its own grammatical rules for syntax, phonology, morphology, and pragmatics. This may come as a surprise to many of you. While there is a more “English” version of American Sign Language, the true language in its purity is not English. While I’m biased and think everyone should learn ASL, but I do understand and appreciate the difficulty and time it consumes to learn a second language. In case you are searching out free ways to learn from home, check out www.signlanguage101.com for some free videos. Another good place is lifeprint.com for some free ASL courses.
To communicate with the Deaf does not mean that you have to be fluent in their language. In case you did not read that sentence correctly or feel that you are missing something, let me say it again: to communicate with the Deaf does not mean that you have to be fluent in their language. The Deaf would gladly accept a smiling friendly face who is willing to make communication happen that is acceptable to both individuals in the conversation. This could mean simply writing back and forth or gesturing. If you know fingerspelling from your school days, use that too! The Deaf love any new faces who try to reach out to them.
If you encounter a Deaf person and you do not know sign language, the best thing you can do is help them to feel loved and accepted. A smile, a hug (if the person is comfortable with that), being willing to write back and forth, these are all things that can help any Deaf person to feel accepted and loved even when you cannot speak their language.
Jesus says in Matthew chapter 24, verse 14: “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.” In the part where it says, “in all the world” also means to the Deaf. By a simple smile or hug we have no idea what kind of impact we could have on a Deaf person’s life. Trying to write back and forth for a simple communication could pique the interest of individual who is searching. If you try to learn their language and communicate with the Deaf, you could possibly introduce a new Deaf friend to Christ.
—Nohelani, Deaf Community Coordinator