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Developing Cultural Competency

Cultural Knowledge, Awareness, Sensitivity, Competence

VII.  Deaf Persons

Methods of communication

  • Most deaf persons communicate with hearing persons/professionals through a combination of methods such as signing, writing, speech, and lip reading.
  • Do not assume that when a deaf person nods their head in agreement that they have heard or understood you. They may be relying on family present to explain later.
  • Use open ended questions to make sure the person understands you.

Understanding language differences, body language and expressions of emotions

  • American Sign Language (ASL) is different and not used in Puerto Rico and Latin American countries.
  • To express heightened emotions, the person may sign in larger, quicker, and more forceful emotions. The deaf person's language conveys emotions such as urgency, fear, and frustration in this way. For example the word positive is closely linked to good.
  • Body Language is important and a way to enhance your communication
  • Facial expressions are used to assess the gravity of the situation.
  • Demonstrate respect and understanding by attempting to learn a few key phrases is ASL.


  • Always use "person-first language" (see Respectful Disability Language below)
  • Acceptable and respectful person-first language terms include deaf, deaf person, hard-of-hearing, person who is deaf, or person who is hard of hearing
  • Avoid "deaf-mute" or "deaf-and-dumb"
  • "The deaf" and "the speech of the deaf" also violate the person-first rule. However, the community of persons who are deaf prefer to use deaf with a capital "D" to denote the Deaf culture and the Deaf community, not the hearing loss.
  • Also see Terminology Used to Refer to Deaf People (from the Center on Human Policy, a disability research and policy institute in the School of Education at Syracuse University).


Additional resource

~ Bonus Section ~

VIII.  Respectful Disability Language

Using appropriate and respectful disability language / terminology

How we treat, talk with, speak to, and think about other cultures is extremely important in developing cultural competency. The same is true regarding persons with disabilities. The following links will answer questions about disability language and provide guidelines for using respectful and appropriate disability language (these links open in a new browser window).


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