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Learn Sign Language: Get the attention of others by waving, touching, and using an intermediary

There are several ways that a deaf person attracts the attention of others.


Waving with one hand is a way to get the attention of other signers. The size of the wave corresponds to the distance between the ewaver and the other person. A person across the room deserves a greeting from above; people seated at a small table receive a slight wave that falls into their field of vision. The theatrical and flashy waves can grab the attention of the entire room rather than the person whose attention you want. Going for a casual, natural hand wave is usually a safe bet.


Tapping is an effective option to get the attention of a close person if that person is looking away or is involved in an activity such as writing, reading, or watching television. Tap your shoulder or upper arm gently but firmly two or three times. One touch is not enough, and too many touches can convey a sense of urgency or an attitude that is not intended.

The use of an intermediary is done when a signer is not close enough to the intended person to get their attention. In these situations, the signer requests the help of an intermediary. The intermediary will touch or wave to get the person’s attention and instruct them to look at the signer.

Waving, tapping, and using an intermediary are possible and sometimes necessary ways to get someone’s attention. Be aware that some forms, if overused or underused, can convey the wrong message. Practice makes perfect when learning sign language.

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