10 Tips for Communicating with Deaf Individuals
There is no standard for communication, even in the deaf community. These individuals use a combination of visual, auditory, and tactile methods to express themselves, such as American Sign Language, lipreading, gestures, and residual hearing with the help of an aid or implant. However, none of these methods are foolproof. It’s important that both hard-of-hearing and hearing people put forth equal effort to overcome these challenges and find success. Build your communication skills with these 10 tips for how to effectively talk with deaf individuals:
- Before speaking to a deaf person, get their attention by waving at them, tapping them on the shoulder, or using other visual signs.
- Speak clearly and at a normal pace, making sure you enunciate every word.
- Use gestures and other visual aids like body language and facial expressions. Make sure your face, and especially your mouth, are visible so hard-of-hearing individuals can read your lips and rely on expressions to understand.
- Lipreading does not guarantee that a person will catch everything you say and understand the entire conversation. Don't rely solely on that.
- If you need to repeat something, try to rephrase your sentence. Some words are harder to understand than others, and rephrasing may clear things up.
- When talking with a deaf individual, state the topic before you begin, especially when switching topics suddenly.
- Group conversations provide an even greater challenge for hard-of-hearing people. Recognize the difficulty involved and remember to state the topic, speak one at a time, and wait for deaf person to make eye contact before you begin speaking.
- Learn basic sign language. You don’t need to become an expert, but learning simple words and phrases shows your dedication to inclusivity.
- Don’t be afraid to write down what you want to say to avoid confusion.
- Never give up trying to communicate! Saying things like “nevermind” or “I’ll tell you later” excludes hard-of-hearing people from conversations. Rather, include them by following these 10 tips.
Practicing these 10 tips will help ensure effective communication in “normal” circumstances, but what about the impact of COVID-19 constraints? Since the coronavirus pandemic, most states have passed mask mandates. People can’t go anywhere without one, causing a significant hindrance to the deaf and hard-of-hearing community because they rely on lipreading and facial expressions in their everyday life. But masks don’t have to completely cancel out mutual understanding. When wearing a mask, continue practicing the 10 tips, with an even greater focus on gestures and written communication. If possible, ask the individual about their preferred method of communication and what would help them the most. Some deaf people may wear a mask that says they are hard of hearing, so respect that and work to accommodate them. With patience and equal effort by both parties, communication — even with masks — is possible!
Blog Bonus: A Sign Language Jump-Start
Learn some basic words in American Sign Language:
If you want to learn more, join the Sign Language Club on campus! You can email them at: firstname.lastname@example.org
— April Hooper ’22