How Do You Get A Deaf Person’s Attention? (and How Not To)

By Alex Chu •  Updated: 06/05/23 •  8 min read

When considering the various inconveniences that deaf people face, one is usually drawn right to the obvious questions: Can deaf people drive? Can deaf people talk? What jobs can deaf people do or not do?

It turns out that in all of the above scenarios, deaf people are more than capable, in ways that may surprise you.

But now let’s dive deeper and consider what is in many ways a much more important question, as its answer individually affects every single deaf person, every single day: How do you get a deaf person’s attention? How do you get their attention if they can’t hear speech or sounds?

Tips on how to get a deaf person's attention

Casual Situations

You’re sitting at a coffee shop, staring at a dizzying array of college homework on your laptop screen. To your left, a steaming flat white provides a small measure of comfort against the overwhelming tide of homework.

You planned a study session with your deaf buddy, who arrives just as you look up from the table. It’s a big shop, so he doesn’t see you right away and begins walking to the other side of the room.

How should you get deaf people’s attention in situations like this?

Well, it’s obviously not an emergency, so nothing drastic needs to be done. Here’s what you can do:

Emergency Situations

You’re at the office, staring at your screen and furrowing your brow as if you’re working, but instead you’re trying to get past Candy Crush level 8,542. All is well in your world, until out of nowhere the fire alarm starts blaring, and out of the corner of your eye you see smoke start to creep out of the hallway behind your best friend’s desk.

Everyone starts moving away from the smoke toward the exit doors, covering their ears to block out the merciless chattering of the fire alarm. Only one person stays put, head down in unbroken focus on their work: your best friend, who happens to be deaf.

This is obviously a serious situation. Your friend’s life is in danger, but yours is too; you probably don’t want to risk running closer to the smoke, if you don’t have to.

In situations like this, what are the best ways to get deaf people’s attention?

Proper Etiquette

You just started dating someone new, and you figure it’s time they meet your family. This new person is smart, beautiful, charming, and also deaf.

10 minutes into dinner, everything is going well; your mom even used the few basic sign language phrases you taught her! A few minutes later, however, your obnoxious little brother wants to signal something to your new partner, and he has the bright idea of balling up his napkin and throwing it at them to get their attention.

It is my sincere hope that I don’t need to explain to you that this is a bad idea. Below are some common sense dos and don’ts of communicating with deaf people:

How Do Deaf People Get My Attention?

Most hard of hearing people (and some deaf) can talk just fine, which means that they can get your attention exactly the same way that you get the attention of other hearing people: by speaking.

If they can’t speak, you can expect them to use most of the same methods discussed above; namely, waving at you or tapping you on the shoulder or back. Because you can hear, deaf people can also use methods such as knocking on a table or wall, clapping, or use their voice.


Getting a deaf person’s attention is really pretty straightforward. Even though they can hear very little or nothing at all, they are very visual and observant.

In casual situations, use common sense measures like waving at them or tapping them lightly.

For emergency situations, anything goes—but turning lights on and off and stomping on the floor are sometimes enough.

Never throw anything at a deaf person or touch them anywhere besides the shoulder or back. In general, just don’t get their attention in ways that could be considered rude.

Frequently Asked Questions:

How do you get a deaf person’s attention without scaring them?
To get a deaf person’s attention without freaking them out, wave in their line of sight or tap them gently on the shoulder or back. In emergency situations, you shouldn’t worry too much about whether or not you’re scaring them.

How do deaf people get other people’s attention?
If people with mild or moderate hearing loss can speak, they get other people’s attention in the same ways that hearing people do: they talk! If they’re profoundly deaf, they can wave in your line of sight, tap you on the shoulder or back, or knock gently on a hard surface.

How do you not get a deaf person’s attention?
Definitely do not get a deaf person’s attention by throwing anything at them or touching them anywhere on the body besides the shoulder or back. Once engaged in conversation, don’t stand too close, and make sure to maintain good eye contact (remember, they can’t hear you saying “yeah” and “mm-hm”).

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