Level: General

Attention-getting in Deaf culture

There are several ways to get someone's attention in a signing environment and how to do them the right ways.

Two most common ways of getting one's attention are waving hand and tapping on one's shoulder. Other common practices are lightly tapping on a table, flashing the room light, and stomping one's foot on the floor. In modern time, texting someone from the upstairs or downstairs for some signers does happen too.

None of these are hard or black and white rules. There are gradients of rules for each of these ways in various or similar situations. When to use of these ways and when not to use in some similar and different situations. Only you know when you interact with Deaf people a lot.

Deaf people's eyesight are sharp and sensitive. Growing up with cultural norms, they know the art of getting another Deaf person's attention -- when to use or when not to use, how many times, the intensity, the gradients of rules, etc.

Waving hand

Hand waving to get their attention is the most common custom. If they are out of their peripheral vision, wait for them to turn their head before you try to catch their attention even if they are within 90 degree where they can see the motion out of their peripheral vision.

Deaf people also use an intermediary attention-getting way. For example, in a crowd at a party or in an office across a large room or when a Deaf sitting with their back to a viewer, a Deaf caller gets a signer's attention and asks the intermediary person to call or get another signer's attention and informs the signer back to the caller.

Waving hand in front of a Deaf person's face is a no-no.

Tapping on shoulder

Tapping on shoulder usually occurs when a Deaf person is out of peripheral vision. For example, you may walk toward a Deaf person's back. Or, when you sit next to your Deaf friend who chatted with the other Deaf person sitting next.

Tapping is not just tapping. There are different senses of the meanings of taps from "ahem... excuse me, when you're done, get back to me" light, soft, and sensitive taps to normal taps to urgent taps.

When you need to get a Deaf person's attention but she/he is busy talking with other signer, you may tap gently and wait. Sometimes, the Deaf person will acknowledge your presence by raising a forefinger without looking at you, "hold a moment".

Flashing lights

Flashing room lights is also common but how it is used needs to be understood. It's not always used the right way that it can be annoying. It can be used to get everyone's attention at a crowded party to make an announcement or inform everyone about something. A Deaf person typically uses it to get one's attention from upstairs or downstairs or in the hallway.

"That Deaf Guy" by Matt & Kay Daigle. January 16, 2014. www.thatdeafguy.com/?p=553

There is a gradient of attention-getting light-switching rules from "ahem... excuse me" to "emergency!"

In a classroom in a deaf school, a Deaf teacher typically wave hands to get all deaf students' attention. The students would tap their next classmates if one of them is so absorbed into a textbook or writing with his/her close to the desk. If urgently or when too many heads are absorbed, the teacher may switch the lights off/on once. Or, maybe twice. Or, few times, if urgently. Or maybe when the teacher is irritated.

Foot stamping or stomping

Stamping one's foot and switching lights are also common. Stamping one's foot is used typically when two Deaf persons are in the same room when peripheral vision is out of view. Or, when switching lights is not the option.

Tapping on a table

Tapping on a table is used when Deaf people are sitting at a table away from one another. Like tapping on shoulder or stamping on floor, there are degrees of proper number of taps and intensity. Natural instincts and cultural norms.


These days, hearing and deaf people alike clutch on their phones all the times, right? Even, some people sleep with their phones under their pillows. Or, invite them into bathroom with them for a shower, right?

Sometimes, Deaf spouses, roommates, or friends use their convenient phones to text from another room to call them.

Odds and Unusuals

Sometimes in some circumstances, Deaf people do some things that are not usual as a last resort, such as throwing a soft object toward the person or throwing something to catch one's eye. Or, flash one's smartphone's flashlight.

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