As a deaf employee at the Seattle REI store, I find that difficult communication patterns can emerge during my interactions with customers. On the sales floor, even the most well-intentioned people approach me in ways that make it impossible for me to decipher their needs due to heavy reliance on auditory signals, which I miss out on. These approaches include walking past me while talking, talking to the product instead of me, talking to my back or mumbling while thinking about a product in their hand.
- Establish and maintain eye contact.
- Tap our shoulder if you need additional effort to establish eye contact. Waving your hand considerately is also considered a fine way to get our attention.
- If possible, think about your question before asking, and try to enunciate. If you are communicating with a person who reads lips or has some hearing, this will really help.
- If communicating through an ASL interpreter, speak to the employee helping you, not to the interpreter.
- Never shout at a person who is deaf or hard of hearing. It won’t help.
By bridging that gap faster, it'll make us both feel less awkward and more confident in our exchange.
Personally, learning American Sign Language has opened up a new world of communication. I have learned to love and embrace my deafness and Deaf culture. I love it when a customer knows the “thank you” sign! If you’d like to know, here’s simple thank you sign instruction that shows you how.
Just a little bit of effort and consideration goes a long way in making your shopping experience better. Thanks for listening, and happy shopping!
Photos by Jason Tang of atomic80photography.com.