Communicating with a Deaf or Hard of Hearing Person
Communicating with Deaf and hard of hearing people is easy if you follow some basic principles and use communication access services such as interpreters or CART. The most important point to remember is to ask the Deaf or hard of hearing person his or her preferences and tips he or she finds helpful.
You can learn specifics by reading the separate sections with general tips and tips for group, hospital and emergency situations.
General Tips for Interacting with a Deaf or Hard of Hearing Person
- Do not yell or talk loudly.
- Do not mumble.
- If the person prefers to use speech-reading, speak normally and avoid speaking too slow or too fast.
- Do not over emphasize your facial expressions or lip movements as this can reduce communication
- Face the person and make eye contact when speaking.
- If you use written communication, make sure you are understood.
- Pictures and other visual aids may be helpful.
- Take advantage of technology by typing back and forth on a computer screen, using email, instant messenger or text messaging.
- Avoid excess background noise.
- Be patient and relaxed.
- Be sure to ask the Deaf or hard of hearing person for ways to improve communication.
Getting A Deaf or Hard of Hearing Person’s Attention
- Move into the person’s visual field
- Gently tap on the person’s shoulder
- Flick lights at slow/medium pace (doing so at fast pace may indicate an emergency)
- Ask the individual other methods of obtaining attention that he/she prefers
Interacting with a Deaf or Hard of Hearing Person in a Group Setting
- Before meetings or presentations, provide the Deaf or hard of hearing person with an agenda. This will make it easier for him/her to understand and follow the event.
- Ensure you have proper communication access service such as an interpreter, CART and/or assistive listening devices.
- A note-taker, visual aids and follow up correspondence can allow greater accessibility to information.
- Arrange seating so individuals can see each other clearly.
- Upon speaking, raise your hand to signify it is your turn to talk.
- Only one person must speak at a time
- Avoid loud environments
Interacting with a Deaf or Hard of Hearing Person in a Hospital Setting
Communication Tips for Hospital Staff
The following are helpful if you have a Deaf or hard of hearing patient under your care:
- Enter note re: hearing loss in patient’s chart.
- List communication preferences in chart.
- Do not call out names in waiting room.
- Do not use intercom. Have direct, face-to-face contact.
- Allow patient to keep hearing aid or cochlear implant and spare batteries
- Use illustrations, drawings to explain medical information.
- Remove surgical masks before talking
- Do not restrict both hands; ask about dominant hand
- Allow more time to communicate
Helpful Tips in an Emergency
Communication Options in an Emergency
The following communication options may help when you have an emergency and are waiting for a qualified interpreter to arrive:
Pantomime: Use facial expression or gestures to describe the size, roundness, or placement of an object. Example: Point to arm, head, leg, chest, and sign “pain?”.
Speech Reading: Only 30% of lip movement can be speech-read, the rest is guess work. You need eye contact and proper lighting for effective communication.
Written Communication: Use only for short conversation. Examples: asking direct questions, giving direct answers, and giving directions. Written communication can be difficult, depending on the level of the Deaf person’s knowledge of standardized English.
Sign Language: Learn a few basic signs to help you be more prepared in emergency situations.
Interpreter: Excellent choice for communication if possible. If an ambulance is required, you need to tell the paramedics to have the hospital staff call for an interpreter as soon as they arrive there.
Communication Tips in an Emergency
“Deaf nod”: As you ask questions the Deaf person nods his/her head “yes” during conversation. This does not always mean “yes” to your questions. The Deaf person may only be indicating that he/she understands the words you are using, but may not understand the concept. Be sure your communication is clear. If it is not, use a different mode.
Eye contact: Eye contact is a must for communicating with a Deaf person (yelling does not help). Facial and body language also are important.
Large, fast gestures/signing: Large, fast signs may indicate the Deaf person is under stress and that emotional levels are high. To someone not knowing this, it may appear that the person is aggressive or out of control.
Isolated area: It can be helpful to move the person to an isolated area and/or have the person sit down where communication can be slowed down and improved.
Reduce stress: You can reduce stress and gain cooperation by first explaining the actions you are going to take or need from the deaf person.
Communication Options for a Deaf or Hard of Hearing Person
Become familiar with the following options as one or more may be helpful to a Deaf or hard of hearing person and the need may change depending on the situation.
We cannot stress enough that you should ask the Deaf or hard of hearing person his/her communication preference.
The following are the major options:
- Interpreter Services
- Real-Time captioning services (CART)
- Technical Devices
- Assistive listening devices (ALD)
- Phone Devices: amplifiers, adapters, volume control
- VCO (Voice Carry Over phones)
- Signaling devices
- Closed captioning for TV
- Reading and writing notes (for short/simple interactions)
- Speech-reading and/or using residual hearing
- Hearing aids and Cochlear Implants
- Many deaf/hard of hearing people do not speech-read well. Be sure to ask the person if he/she is comfortable communicating in this manner. Sometimes other methods of communication are more appropriate.
- About 70% of English is difficult or impossible to speech-read; be ready to substitute other words.
- Individuals with facial hair are more difficult to speech-read than those without.
- Be sure to eliminate food or gum from the mouth.
- Avoid smoking.
- Do not place hands or other objects near your face.
- Rephrase to avoid misunderstandings and situations where you are misunderstood. Certain words are easier to hear or speech-read than others
Using An Interpreter
- When using an interpreter, talk directly to the Deaf person, not to the interpreter.
- The role of the interpreter is to convey what is being spoken or signed; not to participate in the conversation or to give his/her own opinions.
- An interpreter can only interpret for one person at a time.
- The interpreter should be located close to the speaker. This allows the Deaf individual to see both the speaker and the interpreter easily.
- If possible, provide interpreters with copies of agendas, names, scripts of presentations, which will prepare them for the meeting.
- Remember to talk to the Deaf or hard of hearing person not about the Deaf or hard of hearing person