ASL Etiquette

With September being Deaf Awareness Month, I thought it would be nice to know some rules that were given to me from my ASL teacher that are set in stone for the deaf community. So here they are:

*For the purpose of the article, when I say talking, speaking or communicating, I mean in ASL


  • When you want to start a conversation with a deaf person but they are not looking at you, you should approach them and touch their shoulder lightly. If you have a good relationship with said deaf person, you can touch their knee, but only if you have a good relationship with them.

  • If you want to start a conversation with a deaf person when they are not close to you and they have not established eye contact, you should make movements to catch their eyes. Eye contact is very important because that is how they know you want to talk to them.

  • The position of the feet is very important when talking with a deaf person. If the conversation is private, the feet are closed looking directly at the person in front of them. On the other hand, if the conversation is open to other people, they shift their feet open so that they make an L shape. If the conversation is private, you have no business looking and seeing the conversation.

  • Family members usually have their own language/slang when they communicate with each other. When they communicate with the community, they use the standard ASL, but if you see a family communicating with each other you will see the differences in the signs.

  • It is very important to vocalize your words when you talk with a deaf person. By this, I don’t mean over-move your mouth. What I mean is to not talk with your teeth closed or without moving your lips. Deaf people only understand about 30% of what you say, but it is important to talk clearly so that they understand you.

  • When you are going to speak with a deaf person, lighting is very important. If there is bad lighting, the deaf person cannot see what you are signing.

  • DO NOT CHEW GUM! When you are chewing, you're moving your face and making different facial expressions which might confuse your signing.

  • When you are interpreting in a formal setting there is a dress code. Your clothing should be solid colors, have no extravagant nail polish, minimal jewelry, and have natural looking makeup.

  • If you don’t understand something while you are speaking, you should interrupt at the moment you don’t understand, and always ask if they understood you if you feel they didn’t.

  • The deaf community has a very strict way of talking. When you are speaking in a group, you usually take turns to speak. There is no talking at the same time. When the person is talking and you want to speak, you raise your hand so everyone knows it is your turn to speak.

  • There has to be a formal greeting and a formal goodbye. If you do not say goodbye, the deaf person will feel as if they did something wrong; it is disrespectful to not say goodbye. And you say goodbye to everyone in the group, not just the person you talked to.

  • The deaf person is the only one who can baptize you by giving you your sign name. Once one person gives you your sign, you introduce yourself with that sign.



For more information about the ASL community in UPRM’s campus you can contact them via:

Email: [email protected]

Facebook: AULS UPRM 


They get together the first and third Wednesdays of the month in different places. Send them an email to know more information!