People who are deaf and hard of hearing have to navigate a world that is built for hearing individuals. Quite often, this means that there are certain accommodations that they require, but do not receive because society is built according to the idea that most individuals do not have hearing loss, or other sense limitations that could limit their ability to move about in the world or communicate with others easily.
These are things that hearing individuals can take for granted, but for a hard of hearing person, can be an annoying or even distressing day-to-day experience. Sometimes, hearing persons attempt to communicate with hard of hearing individuals in infantilising or rude ways, such as shouting, over exaggerating, or mumbling, which worsen communication barriers, often because they don’t know any better.
Whether you have a friend or a family member in the deaf community, or if you’re just wanting to learn more about communication skills to help you relate with others in a different way, we’ve written up a short and handy guide on communicating with deaf and hard of hearing individuals to help you begin your journey to sensitive and effective communication with courtesy, respect, and consideration.
When referring to people who have issues with hearing, you’ll often come across terms such as deaf, hard of hearing, or hearing impaired. It’s important to be mindful of these terms, and what they mean.
When someone refers to themselves as “Deaf,” with a capital letter D, this means that they identify as part of the Deaf community and deaf culture, which has historically been connected to the usage of American Sign Language, or ASL. On the other hand, “deaf,” with a lowercase d refers to people who are experiencing significantly reduced hearing.
There are a myriad of languages that hard of hearing individuals can use, with ASL, British Sign Language, or Australian Sign Language to name a few. These languages rely on visual cues, facial expressions, body language, and sometimes lip reading in order to help deaf persons communicate effectively.
Hard of hearing refers to individuals with less severe hearing problems, and those who can still utilise spoken language to communicate. Hearing impaired persons, on the other hand, has been becoming less popular as a term used for deaf or hard of hearing persons, because of its negative connotations. More and more, when talking about a person’s hearing or disability status, it’s important to be mindful and use person-first language to ensure careful and courteous communication.
Not all deaf or hard of hearing persons are the same. Some may prefer to write to communicate, while others speak or sign. What’s important is to give them the choice on how they wish to communicate, and proceed from there.
Know some sign language? If the person prefers to communicate by signing, try to follow their lead, or seek a sign language interpreter to help you communicate.
If you’re speaking, and they are finding it difficult to understand, grab some pen and paper, or even type on your phone. This can sometimes make it easier for them to understand you and communicate well.
It’s important to remember, however, that if you are speaking with a person who has had hearing loss as a child, that they may not write or type strictly according to English grammatical rules or spelling. This is because as children, they may have had to focus on learning sign language instead of English, which makes it a second language for them.
Be mindful not to say things such as “nevermind, I’ll tell you later,” or “it doesn’t matter, don’t worry about it” if you’ve been trying to communicate with deaf people and not succeeding. Instead, try to find alternative ways of conversing, and make an effort to include them in the conversation.
Remember, when speaking with a deaf or hard of hearing individual, that it’s important to be just as respectful as you would when talking with hearing persons. Good communication begins by placing your attention on the person you are conversing with, which means facing the person directly, and maintaining eye contact. If you are needing to grab a deaf person’s attention, do something visual to catch their eye, either by waving, or moving yourself into their line of sight respectfully. If you are familiar with them, you can even tap them on the shoulder to get this person’s attention.
Make sure that your face is clearly visible, and there is nothing impeding their line of sight to you. Not only will this make your speech clearer if they are speech reading by looking at your lip movements, but they will also be able to pick up on visual cues much easier.
Speak as you would with a hearing person. With a normal volume level, natural tone, and enunciate properly. Don’t talk too quickly, as this can make it difficult to speech read. Only raise the volume of your voice if they ask you to do so, especially if there is a lot of background noise that can make it difficult to decipher what you are saying.
Rephrase or repeat what you have said if they require you to clarify something, and be patient. For you, this may be a momentary issue, but for them, communicating can be a daily struggle. A little kindness and consideration can go a long way.
Book a hearing test today
If you, or someone you know, might be experiencing signs of hearing loss, it’s a good idea to get hearing checked. Book in for a hearing test, which is a comprehensive assessment of how healthy your hearing is, and whether or not you’re experiencing hearing problems.
Experts say that addressing hearing issues early is the best thing to do in order to prevent further hearing damage, while also helping you to find the right hearing solutions such as a hearing aid, should you need them.