physical disabilities

Deaf or Hard of Hearing

Communication Etiquette

The goal of all communication is to obtain appropriate information from the person.  Sometimes it is necessary to be versatile in finding an effective communication method with people who are deaf or hard of hearing.  The main objective, though, is to communicate effectively.

1.      When speaking with someone who is deaf or hard of hearing, face the person directly. Do not position yourself so that you are directly in front of a harsh light or window. Your face will be difficult to see as it is silhouetted in bright light.

2.      Not all people who are deaf can lipread.  Actually, only about 25% of what we say is visible on the lips.  Nonetheless, some people can lipread quite well.

3.      When speaking with someone who is deaf or hard of hearing, use meaningful facial expressions and gestures to emphasize your intent and attitude.  This substitutes for tone of voice.  This is important even in the presence of a sign language interpreter or oral interpreter.  Be sure not to use exaggerated mouth movements or wild gestures.

4.      Do not change the subject without warning.

5.      Not all people who are deaf know sign language.  Do not assume that everyone needs an interpreter.

6.      If using a sign language or oral interpreter, speak directly to the person who deaf, not the interpreter (i.e. “When will you have the report ready?” instead of looking at the interpreter and saying “Ask him when he will have the report ready.”).  The only reason for the presence of an interpreter is because participants in the communication process speak different languages.  Do not try to involve the interpreter in the conversation.

7.      Keep your hands from covering your mouth when talking.  Remove objects from your mouth such as cigarettes, pipes, gum, or food.

8.      Do not shout when speaking to the person.  Use a normal tone of voice, and do not restrict yourself to monosyllabic words.

9.      If you cannot understand the person, do not be afraid to ask them to repeat.  When this does not work, try paper and pencil.

10.  When working or meeting in a group, ask the deaf or hard of hearing individual for suggestions that work well for them (sign language interpreter, noteaker, seating arrangement, lighting, etc.).   Have each person raise his or her hand before speaking so that those depending on lipreading will know where to look.

11.  When a person who is deaf or hard of hearing chooses to have an interpreter voice for them, remember to respond directly to that person and not the interpreter.

12.  Just because someone uses a sign language interpreter during the interview does not mean that they will require an interpreter at all times to do their work.

13.  If a sign language interpreter is not present, ask the individual how he or she would prefer to communicate (paper and pencil, lip reading, computer terminal, etc.).

14.  To get the attention of a person who is hearing or deaf, vocalize a greeting, and if necessary, discreetly wave your hand or gently tap the person’s shoulder.

15.  Keep in mind that the ability to understand spoken English is not related to the person’s intelligence.

16.  Remember that the grammar of sign language is not directly related to the person’s intelligence.