Learning A New Language

Working With Deaf Persons Within The Counseling Context

Deaf persons come from numerous identities ranging from gender, sexuality and ethnicity. The majority of these people are born in hearing families that have not mastered American Sign Language (ASL). Deaf persons in such families may not only learn to accept their disability, but also grow up feeling inferior. For instance, they may experience the 'dinner table syndrome' whereby the family members narrate their daily occurrences during a meal using speech, thereby alienating the deaf person from the group. Due to this, counselors working with deaf persons need to consider several important issues including the cultural perspective, personal identity and biases, as well as observe client confidentiality.

Use of ASL

The majority of deaf people in North America use ASL to communicate. However, the counselor needs to understand that ASL is not universal, just like other spoken languages in the world. In essence, the signing language of an individual is influenced by their ethnicity. For instance, deaf minority groups have their own unique dialects and signs, such as Black or Latino-influenced ASL. A person's signing is also influenced by their social class and education. For example, in some elite schools that place higher value on academics, ASL is combined with spoken English unlike in learning institutions within low socio-economic backgrounds that only teach signing. More so, nodding in ASL is not a sign of agreement, but an indication that the deaf person is listening. It is important for the counselor to understand all these aspects of ASL so that they can effectively communicate with the client.      

Cultural competence

Working with a deaf client requires cultural competence. It implies eliminating any harmful biases that the counselor might have against the deaf society that impedes on the client's progress. An example of a universal bias is that the English language is superior to ASL, or deaf people are inferior to those that hear. Most importantly, a counselor must pay close attention to the cultural beliefs and attitudes of the deaf person. After all, the life and personality of the deaf client is shaped by their experiences and cultural identity.  


A counselor may opt to work with a sign language interpreter if they do not understand ASL. If this is the case; they must duly inform the client and seek their consent before bringing in a third party. The ethical requirement of confidentiality still applies to the client, and majority of deaf people find it inappropriate to have their personal and sensitive issues disclosed to another party. More so, a three way communication is not always as effective as a one-to-one. If a client is not comfortable with an interpreter, it is advisable to refer them to a deaf counselor who understands ASL.  For more information, contact a company like Professional Sign Language Interpreting Inc.