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Best Practices in Caring for the Deaf Patient

This guide offers medical professionals information to understand Deaf culture and identify resources (databases, books, web sites, and more) to continue research topics in this subject.

American Sign Language (ASL)

American Sign Language (ASL) is a visual-gestural language used as a primary means of communication by many Deaf people in the United States and Canada. ASL is a major part of American Deaf culture, and is transmitted from one generation of signers to the next. In addition to Deaf native users and deaf people who learn it later in life, many hearing children whose deaf parents use ASL learn it as a first language; other children learn ASL in schools or from friends and deaf adults; and it is increasingly popular as a "foreign language" in hearing schools and colleges.

ASL should not be confused with signed English or with signed pidgins, which use signs from ASL but put them in English-language order, often with additional invented signs to show English grammar and syntax.

Deaf people use American Sign Language (ASL) to communicate with each other and with hearing people who know the language.

  • ASL is a visual/gestural language that has no vocal component
  • ASL is a complete, grammatically complex language
  • It differs from a communication code designed to represent English directly
  • ASL is not a universal language - there are signed languages in other countries (e.g., Italian Sign Language, Chinese Sign Language, Swedish Sign Language).

The signs for the letters A, S, and L.

ASL Syntax

Like English, every ASL sentence consists of a subject and a predicate.

The basic, uninflected, word order of ASL is subject, verb, object.

Signing (and Grammatical) Terminology

  • Subject - The noun or noun phrases in the sentence. Describes the main focus of the sentence - the person, place, thing, idea, or activity.
  • Predicate - A predicate can be a verb, a noun, an adjective, or a classifier. The predicate contains the words or signs that describe the action preformed by the subject or that say something about the subject.

Communication Tips

General Guidelines

  • Face and lips must be visible (hands, papers, etc. should not be directly in front of your face)
  • Choose a location that is well-lit
  • Avoid standing with your back to any light source
  • Look directly at the person with whom you are speaking with
  • Avoid distracting background noise (conversations, printers, etc.); move to another location if necessary

Getting the Person's Attention

  • Call him by name or title (such as "sir")
  • Tap them on the shoulder or arm
  • Wave your hand (but not frantically)
  • Make sure they are looking at you before you speak
  • Tap on the table or counter


  • Avoid eating, drinking, or chewing gum while speaking
  • Keep your hands away from your mouth
  • Speak naturally - don't exaggerate, shout, or speak too slowly/quickly
  • Use natural facial expressions
  • Use gestures
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