o celebrate International Week of the Deaf, we're looking at some pointers at being more Deaf aware.
Deaf awareness can take many different forms, from understanding Deaf culture to appreciating and supporting equal accessibility rights that deaf and hard of hearing people fight for.
A really simple and effective way you can become more Deaf aware is learning to effectively communicate with deaf or hard of hearing people.
Communication and community are an important part of life and sense of self. Deaf and hard of hearing people are cut-off from the usual forms of communicating, meaning that they can feel isolated and frustrated. Adopting the below easy tips will be a breath of fresh air to the next deaf or hard of hearing interaction you have.
1. Be aware of the Signs!
Keep an eye out for these signs:
- They ask you to repeat phrases or words;
- They appear confused while in conversation, or are ignoring you;
- They pay close attention to your facial expressions;
- They communicate through hand gestures which you probably can’t understand;
- You spot a hearing aid.
Keep in mind that these signs can differ from person to person because there are differing levels of deafness.
2. Get their attention and keep it
Gain the person’s attention before speaking, such as by gentling touching their arm or shoulder, or just moving into their field of vision. When speaking to them, make eye contact and try not to look away. Body positioning is also crucial – face them and be at the same eye level if possible - stand if he/she is standing or sit if he/she is sitting.
3. Speak in the right way
Many deaf or hard of hearing individuals lip read, but lip reading is difficult. Even the best lip readers on average understand only 30% of what is being said. Throw in mustaches and accents among other things, and lip reading becomes even tougher.
- Speak clearly, slowly and steadily. Don’t mumble, shout or exaggerate – it distorts your lip patterns;
- Ensure there is adequate lighting to allow the person to follow your lip movements;
- Don’t cover your mouth.
4. Use Simple Body Language and Visual Cues
When speaking, a few simple body gestures can help you get your point across correctly. Of course, don’t take it too far – an Oscar winning performance isn’t needed, and going overboard with actions will just be a distraction.
Also, don’t be afraid to use pencil and paper, or texts/notes on your phone, to supplement your communication if necessary. A Deaf person may prefer writing notes, and it’s important to be flexible to each person’s needs. When in doubt, ask the person for suggestions to improve communication
5. Don't speak to the interpreter
If an interpreter is present, a real bugbear is when people speak to the interpreter, instead of speaking directly to the deaf or hard of hearing person. Not only is this rude, but it marginalizes their presence. The interpreter is an aid and should serve as a representation of the deaf or hard of hearing person’s speech, not the person themselves.
6. Learn to sign
You don't need to be fluent in sign language, but learning a few key phrases can really make a difference. Phrases like "hello", "how are you?", "thank you", and "good bye" make deaf and hard of hearing people feel welcome and appreciated. This is especially helpful in customer service environments like retail or hospitality.
There's many resources that you can use to learn and practice the sign language that applies in your country, for example American Sign Language (ASL), Australian Sign Language (AUSLAN) and British Sign Language (BSL).
7. Patience is a virtue
Repetition and backtracking is often needed, so don’t get frustrated, change the words you used, or try to simplify things unless asked.
Communicating with a hearing person can be daunting for someone deaf or hard of hearing, causing them anxiety and discouraging them from seeking clarification. Be sure to indicate that you're patient and willing to accommodate their needs. Smile, don't yell, and maintain eye contact – show that you’re there for an open and trusting line of communication.
If the person you are speaking to decides to speak, understand that many deaf or hard of hearing individuals are less likely to rely on their voice as their primary form of communication, so they may be unclear or difficult to understand. Put judgement aside and pay close and patient attention to make them feel appreciated and acknowledged.
Some more tips...
Here's some more helpful tips from popular deaf YouTuber Rikki Poynter