Don’t know how to communicate with a Deaf/Hard of Hearing person? Don’t know what to ask? Afraid you may offend them? Don’t worry! I am here to help you with communication tips!
Ask their communication preference
There are Deaf, deafened, and hard of hearing individuals - not every person is the same, and not all of them use British Sign Language. Ask them if they want to speak, use BSL, or both, or would rather write notes/text.
Get their attention
You can wave, knock/tap the table or tap on their shoulder.
Do you know how deaf people get a group of deaf people’s attention all at once? Well, here is a fun fact. They switch the light/s in the room on and off repeatedly until they get everyone’s attention. This stops everyone signing and they all look at the person who is messing with the lights! Seriously, don’t do it for fun, unless you really need to get everyone’s attention.
Face them when you are talking
Make sure your face is visible and clear when you’re talking. Don’t move around or turn you face away, as it will make it impossible for a deaf person to pick what you are saying.
Speak clearly and at a normal pace
Speaking slowly or too loudly changes your lip pattern and can make it difficult for deaf people. Talk as clearly as possible and at a normal pace. If they do not understand, try to explain it in a different way. Don’t cover your mouth with your hands, start eating or smoking. Everyone knows you shouldn’t talk with your mouth full but it will also affect your lip pattern and make it more difficult to understand.
Use gestures and visual cues
Don’t be shy to use gestures! It’s a simple way to make it easy for a deaf person to get what you are saying.
The topic of conversation
Make sure the deaf person understands what the topic of conversation is about and if it changes (especially abruptly), let them know!
From my personal experience, I can be sitting with people having a lovely conversation about the sunny weather…smiling and nodding along and then suddenly people looked at me strangely in shock, only to realise someone has suddenly changed the topic, saying a family member is ill or a pet has died…
All the while I’ve been smiling and nodding… saying ‘Oh yes, so lovely!’
So awkward, not funny!
So yes, it's important to make sure it’s clear that the topic has changed. Tell them!
Speak one at a time
Socialising or group work can be difficult, so be aware of a deaf person in the group to ensure people speak one at a time and face the deaf person when they turn to speak. It can sometimes fell like you are watching a tennis match… watching the conversation bounce backwards and forwards, trying to keep up with who is speaking.
Did you know hearing aids and cochlear implants help to amplify sounds? This is why it’s so important to reduce background noise. Your hearing ears can tone out background noises and focus more on the conversation you are having, but hearing aids and cochlear implants amplify all the sounds that are around. This means the deaf person will have to concentrate so hard to understand what you are saying. It can be exhausting!
Some deaf people dislike using phone calls as it can be stressful and difficult to understand. Of course, some of them are profoundly deaf, so it's impossible to use phone calls. Ask or offer alternatives ways to contact you such as text messages, emails, or video calls.
There are some useful tools you can use such as live speech to text apps or using video relay services for communicating, such Contact Scotland (contactscotland-bsl.org). You need to ask if the deaf person would want to use this first though.
Never say ‘I’ll tell you later’!
Deaf people find it so frustrating when someone says ‘I'll tell you later’ or ‘It doesn’t matter!’.
We want to be involved, but it's impossible if we don't know what's going on and feel like a burden. If someone says I'll tell you later or don't bother explaining it can feel like they just don’t care. From my experience, I won't bother going to events or making any effort with people who treat me like this. What’s the point on wasting energy when you feel like a burden anyway?
Please find a way to communicate with them, even using good old-fashioned pen and paper!
Do not be afraid to ask questions. There are no stupid questions and don’t give up!
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any other questions, want more communication tips or advice on how to support/talk to a Deaf individual.