Paternalism is a "behavior, by a person, organization or state, which limits some person or group's liberty or autonomy for their own good." -- Wikipedia

Deaf people generally reject paternalism. Interfering with a person's autonomy harms more than good.

Below are some examples of paternalistic behaviors and views found out in the wild in literature and in real life interactions.

Helping deaf people

"The best part about learning sign language is that you are now able to help someone with hearing loss. You make their life easier. That means so much." In this single sentence, "help" and "someone with hearing loss" are quick indicators.

Deaf people do appreciate hearing people learning our language, just as travelers learn the foreign countries' languages. However, the attitude of helping deaf people generally offends ASL (deaf) speakers. We are doing pretty much fine without help. If we need help in some situations, we would ask for help just like any hearing people ask for help when needed. What we appreciate from hearing individuals is allyship as well as accessibility, equality and diversity. Support as in allyship is fine but not help as in paternalism.

We are pretty delightful when hearing people speak some ASL with us. When a hearing server speaks ASL with deaf customers, they feel at home in this world, in the same way a travelling foreigner speaks the native speaker's language in a foreign country.

Deaf people don't need or expect your help unless they ask you. Or, you can ask them or offer them (the right way) if they would like. Not because they are deaf, but because a human helps another human doing the things only when needed or asked.

Making decisions

Don't make decisions for deaf individuals; don't decide what is the best for them. Don't make policies or laws without them involved.

Scenario: An ASL-speaker, who is an experienced solo world traveler and independent young Deaf woman, stood in front of an unfamiliar kiosk to purchase a train ticket in a Japanese town. As she took a bit of time to get around on the touchscreen of the kiosk, her new hearing friend, who just purchased the ticket before her, intervened and clicked around on the screen for her; it made her pay by cash. The ASL speaker became boiled about how she was treated. Plus, she preferred to pay by credit card instead of cash, which would affect her travel expense strategies. She then brought up the issue with the new friend and explained about the inappropriate behavior. The hearing friend apologized.

Interpreting for ASL speakers

Many Deaf people find it offensive or oppressive when a hearing person or sometimes a hard-of-hearing or oral deaf person go ahead interpreting for them without offering or asking first. Not unusually, they prefer to communicate directly in writing, depending on the situations. If they'd like to use "interpreting", they may invite to faciliate communication.

Many bilingual Deaf parents with hearing children (codas) would be offended when hearing persons turn to Deaf parents' codas and speak to pass the information to the Deaf parents or to interpret for them. The Deaf parents prefer that the hearing people communicate with them directly either in writing and/or other means.

In the olden days during the era of oralism, it was a different story where many monolingual deaf parents were limited of language development due to a lack of bilingual education within a systemic oppression.Today, through bilingual-bimodal education, many deaf people are bilingual that they can communicate themselves.

Ironically, from my experience, I found it unbelievable at the same time surprising that many times a hearing person turned to my child to "interpret" or faciliate communication even when my child was three year old! And four year old. Again, five year old and so on. Every time this happened, I'd intervene with my hand pointing between my child and the hearing persons and tell them to talk with me directly via writing or typing on smartphone.


For allyship, ask a deaf person first if they need anything. Communicate with them directly instead relying on a third-party bilingual youngster or friend. Follow a Deaf person's preference or style of communication. Treat them as adults with equal respect.

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Expressing needs and wants

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Talking about activities

  1. Frequency of time: how often?

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Stories, poems, performance arts, etc. in sign language.

This documentation project follows a child's language acquisition, literacy development, and phonological acquisition in sign language, specifically ASL, from newborn to age five in a natural native-ASL environment and visual culture.