Tips for Effective Communication

There are many different ways to communicate with a Deaf person, here are a few tips.

A few basic principles

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. 

Four Ways to Get a Deaf Person's Attention

There are many ways to call for a Deaf person's attention without raising your voice.

Move Yourself

Move yourself into the person's visual field so you can be seen.

Tap Shoulder

It is ok to touch by lightly tapping a person's shoulder.

Flick Lights

Flashing a light switch will almost always capture their attention.

Ask the Individual

Find out how a person you interact with frequently prefers to be called.

Ten Tips to Remember When Communicating With a Deaf Person

  • Do not yell or talk loudly and do not mumble
  • Face the person and make eye contact when speaking.
  • If you use written communication, make sure you are understood.
  • Do not over emphasize your facial expressions or lip movements as this can reduce communication
  • If the person prefers to use speech-reading, speak normally and avoid speaking too slow or too fast.
  • Pictures and other visual aids may be helpful.
  • Avoid excess background noise.
  • Be patient and relaxed.
  • Every individual has their preference. Be sure to ask the Deaf or hard of hearing person for ways to improve communication.
  • Take advantage of technology by typing back and forth on a computer screen, using email, instant messenger or text messaging.

What is the best way to communicate with a Deaf or hard of hearing person?

Hover to see answer

Ask the Deaf or hard of hearing person their preference.

Each individual has different communication needs. Asking is the best way to know the best approach.

Can Deaf people read lips?

Hover to see answer

Most Deaf and hard of hearing people do not speech-read well.

About 70% of English is difficult or impossible to understand. Be sure to find other options if possible.

Communicating In Specific Situations

Communication Options

Interacting with a Deaf Individual

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
    • TTYs
    • 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
Using ASL Interpreters

Successful interaction and usage of the interpreter with the Deaf consumer

  • Pre-conference with the Interpreter
    It will greatly increase the chances of a successful interaction if you and the interpreter take a few moments to discuss the nature and logistics of the assignment beforehand. This is also an appropriate time for you to ask the interpreter any questions you may have regarding interpreting or the interpreting process. If there is to be any printed material involved in the assignment the interpreter will need to have a copy in advance. If you have questions about the Deaf person’s needs or preferences please ask the Deaf person, and the interpreter will interpret for you. Most Deaf people are happy to answer any questions when interest is expressed.

  • Speak directly to the Deaf Individual
    Speak at your normal rate of speed and use a natural tone of voice while looking directly at the Deaf person. This may seem strange because the Deaf person will be looking at the interpreter. It is important to avoid using phrases such as “tell him” or “tell her.” Address the Deaf person directly, and the responses will be given in the first person. For example, if the Interpreter says, “I am nervous,” it is the Deaf person, not the interpreter, who is nervous.

  • The Interpreter is Required to Interpret Everything
    During the assignment do not say things to the interpreter or in the presence of the interpreter that you do not want him/her to interpret. If you wish to ask about the interpreter’s education or credentials or speak to the interpreter privately, please do so when you pre-conference with the interpreter.

  • The Interpreter Cannot Add Anything to the Conversation Being Interpreted
    Just as interpreters may not omit anything which is said, they also may not add anything to the conversation. The interpreter is a neutral party who is there to facilitate communication and who always maintains confidentiality.

  • Make Sure the Lighting and Audio-Visual Equipment is Set Up Properly Before the Assignment
    This includes making sure that the captioning for any video presentation is turned on and that there is proper lighting for the interpreter to be clearly seen by the Deaf individuals. Please receive consent from the interpreter before any recording, either video or audio, is made of the assignment. This consent should be asked for at the time the request for interpreting service is made.

  • Some Assignments Require Two or More Interpreters
    Interpreting places strenuous demands on the interpreter, both mentally and physically. To ensure accuracy and the occupational safety of interpreters, two interpreters are required for many assignments. Factors involved in this determination include the length of the assignment, the difficulty of the subject matter involved, the type of situation, and the language of the Deaf individuals. In some situations one of the interpreters will be a Deaf person who also is a qualified interpreter.

To hire a qualified sign language interpreter, call DHCC’s Interpreter Referral Department (IRD) at 610-604-0452.

Tips for Group Settings

Interacting in Group Settings

Whether you are hosting a meeting, workshop, presentation or other situation where multiple people are together, there are a few best practices. 

Group Communication Tips

  • 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
Tips in an Emergency

Emergencies: How to interact with Deaf and Hard of Hearing individuals

DHCC is committed to providing resources to help police officers communicate and interact effectively with Deaf, hard of hearing and DeafBlind individuals.  As always, if you have an emergency and need an American Sign Language Interpreter, please call 610-604-0452!

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.
Tips for Hospital Staff

Communication Tips for Hospital Staff

DHCC is committed to providing resources to help police officers communicate and interact effectively with Deaf, hard of hearing and DeafBlind individuals.  As always, if you have an emergency and need an American Sign Language Interpreter, please call 610-604-0452!

The following are helpful if a Deaf or hard of hearing patient is 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
Using CART

CART Etiquette

For information regarding the CART captioner’s role when performing his/her job, please visit the following links: