Put Your Hands Together, Everybody!

This article originally appeared at i711.com.

Almost every newspaper and magazine article about Deaf people nowadays mention the “beauty” of Deaf applause. Deaf applause, of course, is waving hands in the air instead of clapping so that Deaf people can “appreciate the cheers in their silent world” (written with sarcasm, of course). While I’m sure it’s all quite poetic and inspiring to outsiders of the community, waving hands is something that perplexes me.

At a meeting a few weeks ago, Deaf people were either clapping or waving their hands in the air. As I clapped, I looked around and saw two hearing non-signers looking around and awkwardly putting their hands up in the air. It was painfully obvious that they felt silly, but wanted to go along instead of offending anyone. I wanted to run over and say, “It’s perfectly okay to not wave your hands and to clap instead.” Rather, I watched them shake their hands in a jerky manner.

I stopped waving my hands in the air a while ago for one reason: every single time I did it, I felt absolutely absurd. Gallaudet Today ran a story about Deaf Way II,; one of the pictures showed a guy who was wearing a sleeveless t-shirt waving his hands in the air. The sight was not pretty.

Looking back at my childhood, I don’t remember ever having waved my hands to applaud. In fact, I don’t think I ever saw that until maybe the Deaf President Now protest in 1988. At least, that’s the earliest I can recall seeing it. I asked my parents, husband and several ‘old-timers’ in the community if they had ever seen it before then. None had, and all said they didn’t really like doing that form of applause, either. When I asked some of them why they did that form of applause, they said, “Well, I don’t know. Everyone else does it. I’m not crazy about it, though.” That was me, too, a few years ago. I clap otherwise now.

One Deaf leader has been said to hate this form of clapping, because it looks as if everyone is signing “Finish! Finish!” in the air. Besides, Deaf people can see hands clapping the normal way, can’t we? Another Deaf leader has said that we can just clap our hands in the air if we really want to emphasize the visual aspect of it. When I mentioned my discomfort with the waving hands method to a friend recently, he argued, “But hearing people have two advantages: they can see and hear it, while with hands in the air, we both can only see and therefore are equal.”

Hmm, good point, but is clapping really something we want to use to campaign for equality? I think that’s a bit of a stretch. Don’t get me wrong; I’m a champion for equal rights and all, but I don’t quite think making a statement through hands waving is the way to go.

Maybe I’m just an old fogey at the age of 31, but I’ll stick to clapping my hands the traditional way.

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