Mayor's Office for People with Disabilities311Search all websites

Deaf Awareness Month September 2023

September Deaf Awareness Month with a set of hands signing.

September is National Deaf Awareness Month. We invite you to join MOPD in our efforts to increase awareness of Deaf issues, individuals, and culture. While these subjects may be complex, our aim is to offer an introduction along with informational resources.


Clear definitions of "Deaf" and "Hard of Hearing," along with cultural implications:

  • Deaf = profound hearing loss, usually considers themselves members of the Deaf culture.
  • Hard of Hearing = mild to severe hearing loss, can be members of the Deaf culture or does not identify as culturally deaf.
  • The community prefers the terms Deaf or Hard of Hearing; do not use the term “Hearing Impaired”.
  • Do not use the term “Deaf and Dumb” or “Deaf and Mute”.
  • Put the person first: say “person who is Deaf or Hard of Hearing” rather than “Deaf person or Hard of Hearing person”.

Back to Top


  • Over 175,000 Deaf/Hard of Hearing living in NYC.
  • Around 90% of the Deaf population are born into hearing families.
  • More than 70% of Hearing parents do not sign to their Deaf children.

Back to Top

Interaction Etiquette

  • Follow the person’s cues to find out if they prefer sign language, gesturing, writing or speaking.
  • Always face the person and speak clearly.
  • Even the most accomplished lip-readers only get about 30% of what is being said; lip-reading is not effective for someone who is completely Deaf.
  • There is no need to shout, shouting will not help a person who is Deaf to hear better.
  • How to get a Deaf person’s attention? Lightly tap their shoulders or wave your hands in their peripheral vision area.
  • When using an ASL interpreter, maintain eye contact at the person who is Deaf and communicate the same way you do with your hearing peers.
  • It is rude to watch Deaf people signing. It’s very similar to eavesdropping, except you are staring directly at the people having a conversation in American Sign Language. They are most likely aware that you are staring at them and they are probably talking about you.

Back to Top

Sign Language

  • For a majority of the Deaf community, English is not their first language.
  • American Sign Language is its own language, with its own vocabulary, grammar and syntax.  It is not a direct word-for-word translation of English. Example: English- I am going to the Store. ASL translation: I go store


  • Hand movements are only a part of sign language.  Facial expressions, hand, body and head movements are also important elements and key to delivering the full message.


  • If you are not familiar with sign language and you need to communicate with a person who is Deaf, for a simple exchange, you may be able communicate by using pen and paper or use your phone to type what you are saying.
  • American Sign Language is not the only sign language in the world. There are also French Sign Language, British Sign Language, Chinese Sign Language, Japanese Sign Language and many more- they are not all the same!
  • There are more than 300 different types of sign language in the world.
  • How does a person who is Deafblind (both Deaf and blind) communicate? Through Tactile Sign Language.

Back to Top

Common Questions from Hearing People

Click a topic, or press the enter key on a topic, to reveal its answer.

Why is it that some Deaf people can speak and others cannot?

It is a personal and comfort preference whether a person who is Deaf prefers to use their voice or not. Some have the natural ability to speak, and/or it could be from years of attending to speech therapy.

How do Deaf people “hear” music?

Turn up the music LOUD and turn up the BASS! Vibrations can be felt.

What are cochlear implants and how are they different from hearing aids?

Cochlear implants require surgery and you must have a specific hearing loss to be eligible for cochlear implants; not all hearing losses are compatible with cochlear implant technology.

Can a person who is Deaf, drive a car?


What does being Deaf feel like?

  • “Like a normal person”
  • “Complete Silence”
  • “Feels like me”

What’s the best thing about being Deaf?

The culture and community

How can I get a Deaf person’s attention?

Lightly tap our shoulders if you’re nearby or wave your hands gently in our peripheral vision area

How can a Deaf person make phone calls?

Someone who is Deaf may use a videophone to make phone calls.  Relay services allow them to connect with an ASL interpreter who will be visible on their screen. Watch the video “Deaf People Talk on the Phone?” to learn more.  Fun fact:  All LINKNYC kiosks have a videophone application installed.

Is it rude to watch Deaf people signing?

Very similar to eavesdropping, except you are staring directly at the people having a conversation in American Sign Language. They are most likely aware that you are staring at them and they are probably talking about you.

Back to Top

Funny Facts

  • As a child, whenever I got into trouble and my parents were yelling at me- I would simply turn off my hearing aids and just “nod”.
  • A person who is Deaf will sometimes just “nod” their heads as if they understood everything that was said and then still end up saying, “huh?”
  • Any time a person who is Deaf goes to the airport, and informs the airline that they are Deaf…99.9% of time, they will be offered a wheelchair.


Back to Top

Black ASL / Black Deaf Culture

Black American Sign Language (also referred to as “BASL” or “BSL”) is a dialect of ASL.

Black Sign Language was birthed from segregation.

To start, Black Deaf children were not allowed to learn at Deaf schools because of slavery and segregation. Before any schooling system, most Deaf black individuals knew what are called “home signs.” Home signs are signs that are understood by family, or people in close contact with the Deaf individual.

The first school for the Deaf was founded in 1817. However, education for Black Deaf children wasn’t created until the middle of the 1850s. Some Deaf schools in the north didn’t practice segregation of Black students, while some did.

Want to learn more about Black ASL?

Signing Black in America is a 30-minute documentary about Black ASL that can be streamed for free on YouTube.

Members of one of the largest black Deaf families in the U.S. share their experiences of growing up in a Black Deaf family culture:


Back to Top

Deaf and Hard of Hearing Accessibility in NYC

Text 911

Text-to-911 is a reliable and safe way to reach emergency services in New York City. Calling 911 should always be used unless calling is not an option. If you are deaf, hard of hearing, have a disability that makes speech difficult, or you are in a situation where you cannot safely call, then text 911. For more information, please visit:

Always Call 911 if You Can. Text Only if You Can’t.

Open Captions at the Movies

Movie theaters in NYC are required by law to show movies with open captions. To learn visit

LINKNYC kiosks

ALL LinkNYC kiosks have videophones installed that allow a person who is Deaf to make phone calls. For more information about the accessibility features of LINKNYC, see the LINKNYC FAQs

ASL Direct

The Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities and the Department of Social Services have ASL Direct programs that allow constituents to communicate directly with City staff who are fluent in ASL.


Back to Top


Arts & Entertainment

  • Jade Bryan  Black Deaf filmmaker – The Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities, the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment and the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs will be co-hosting a screening of her film The Shattered Mind on 9/22.  Register now.
  • Nyle DiMarco is an American model, actor, and Deaf activist. In 2015, DiMarco was the winner of America’s Top Model in season 22, becoming the second male winner and the first Deaf winner. In the following year, he and professional dance partner Peta Murgatroyd were the winners of Dancing in the Stars in season 22.
  • Christine Sun Kim is a multimedia artist whose work has been exhibited in major cultural institutions, including the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney.
  • Troy Kotsur is the first Deaf male actor to win best supporting actor Oscar award for his role in CODA. 
  • Shaylee Mansfield is an American actress and former YouTuber who is Deaf. 
  • Marlee Matlin is the first Deaf actress to win an Academy Award.  She won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in Children of a Lesser God. She also performed the National Anthem at the Super Bowl in 1993, 2007, and 2016.
  • Justina Miles: The first Deaf woman to perform American Sign Language at the Super Bowl pre-game and halftime show.  You can watch her performance on YouTube.
  • Granville Redmond was a painter who influenced Charlie Chaplin. 
  • Keivonn Montreal Woodard is a 10-year-old who has been nominated for an Emmy. He is a Deaf actor who is in The Last of Us.

The Mayor's Office for People with Disabilities (MOPD) is dedicated to fostering a more inclusive and accessible city for everyone. Your valuable input can help us better serve and advocate for the Deaf community. Whether it's a personal story, or suggestions, your contribution matters. Please contact us at