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Trail Etiquette

Woman in a hat walking on the right side with her dog on the left, on a trail path through a forest that is blooming on a warm spring day.
Leah & dog on K&P trail in Kingston, Ontario

Spring is here but it sure felt like summer over the weekend. I want to talk about trail walks, how it is important to be courteous and mindful of others around you. As a Deaf person who enjoys walking on trails with my dog (my family comes sometimes). I understand the importance of being mindful and considerate of others around me. Since I cannot hear bike bells or verbal cues, I’m always extra vigilant and aware of my surroundings.

One thing I do to ensure that my dog is on a leash and I stay on the right side of the trail is to use a keyword. We trained my dog to respond to the word “clear,” which means that we need to move over to the side more and let someone pass. This has been a useful tool in ensuring that we don’t get in anyone’s way, a walker, bike rider or runner in our path from behind or in front of us and can easily communicate our intentions.

Being Deaf on the trail can present some unique challenges, but with the right mindset and tools, it’s possible to enjoy the outdoors in a safe and respectful manner. If you encounter a Deaf person on the trail, it’s important to be patient and willing to communicate in a way that works for them. This might mean using hand gestures and friendly facial expressions. While some Deaf people may use hearing aids or cochlear implants to help them hear, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they heard you. There are surrounding noises that would deter them from hearing you.

If and when you encounter two people engaging in conversation in sign language on a small path in front of you, you’ll need to put in a little effort to get their attention to pass. Don’t assume they are mad; our language is different from spoken language. Our facial expressions are used to express both linguistic information and emotions. When we cross our eyebrows, its mostly to mark WH-questions in sign language. When we ask the other a question, we furrow our brows, tilt our head forward and hold the last sign. Wave your hands or tap gently on their shoulders and the Deaf person will pull the other towards them to the side to clear the path.

We all share a love for the outdoors, and by working together and being considerate of each other’s needs, we can all make the most of our time on the trail.

NOTE: I use the word DEAF as an inclusive term for all Deaf, hard of hearing, DeafBlind, DeafDisabled, and late-deafened people.