Do deaf people get distracted by very expressive hand and body movements?
February 21, 2007 11:49 AM   Subscribe

Is it annoying, distracting, or offensive to a deaf person who is using an interpreter to interact with hearing people who gesticulate a lot and have very expressive facial or body movements?

I know being expressive with your face and body language is important when communicating in sign language, but let's say you have Person A, who is deaf; Person B, who is the interpreter; and Person C, a hearing person. If C is standing next to the interpreter and C is moving their hands around at the same level as the interpreter's hands, using expressive body language and moving around a bit, all while talking to A via the interpreter, is this distracting?

(One thing to note, C is expressive in general, so I don't think they are aping the signer's movements, but it feels to me like subconscious imitation, because I do sense a change in their body and hand movements when we are interacting with hearing persons versus when we are meeting with the deaf person.)
posted by lychee to Human Relations (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Unless C's movements are preventing A from seeing the interpreter or are so extreme as to be completely disruptive, then I don't think it would be a problem.

My parents are Deaf and I've often been to events with rooms full of Deaf people having different conversations; focusing on the person you're signing with while hands are flailing around you is something you get used to.
posted by turaho at 12:16 PM on February 21, 2007

I imagine its a bit of an individual thing, but since gesticulating while talking is really common, deaf signers are probably used to it. I believe it would be perfectly acceptable to ask whether the person finds the gestures distracting.

I googled "sign language etiquette" and got this:

Make direct eye contact. Natural facial expressions and gestures will provide important information to your conversation.
posted by carmen at 12:23 PM on February 21, 2007

"...Focusing on the person you're signing with while hands are flailing around you is something you get used to."

That's a good point. I just notice C's hand gestures becoming a lot more sign-ish when interacting with the deaf person, so I was wondering if they distracted the deaf person like they did me...probably not then.
posted by lychee at 12:33 PM on February 21, 2007

It's probably not something they could control without thinking about it pretty consciously in any case. It might be the sign-language equivalent of picking up an accent while on holidays.
posted by jacquilynne at 12:46 PM on February 21, 2007

If Person B wasn't in the picture and Person C was making lots of hand gestures, it would be okay to do so as long as Person C doesn't obstruct his lips. I can see most gestures while lipreading. I have a cochlear implant now and rely less on lipreading than I used to.
posted by rpmurph at 3:30 PM on February 21, 2007

On a tangent, there was a question on the GMAT that said deaf persons gesticulate just as freuqently as people with normal hearing.
posted by fourstar at 5:22 PM on February 21, 2007

I'm not a native (or fluent, for that matter) signer, though I'm getting better. I do however rely very heavily on lip reading.

It's most likely not overly distracting - one, people who use visual forms of communication are used to filtering visually. As turaho said, when you're in a large group of signers, hands are everywhere - there's a lot more talking across a room or on a line that intersects another set of people chatting than in spoken language, simply because it's easier to do that kind of filtering. Two, it provides more information as to tone, emotion, expressiveness, and so on.

Think about it this way - if B and C were talking (in English), and A was coughing, sneezing, tapping a pen, whatever, would that be distracting? Not really, because we're used to filtering those things out.

Lots of people will subconsciously emphasize their gestures when they're communicating via an interpreter; it tends not to be a problem. (And as a lip reader, it's quite useful - about the only gestures that really annoy me are the ones that cover the face.)
posted by spaceman_spiff at 6:12 PM on February 21, 2007

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