10 easy tips for communicating with Deaf people
Updated: Jul 23
A person’s inability to hear properly should never have to be a stumbling block to having a good interaction. Yet, living in a hearing world, D/deaf and hard of hearing people have to face regular difficulties when communicating in daily life situations. Whether that be because of a lack of service accessibility, no immediate access to a sign language interpreter, or even the person they are trying to communicate with not knowing sign language.
It is one tragic fact that more than 10 million people living in Pakistan with some levels of hearing loss are well-familiar to. And it can be a day-to-day, isolating experience for so many.
This is why we put together this guide. By following these necessary steps, you can easily boost your communication with a D/deaf or hard of hearing person, as well as show them that you respect them the right way, can be there for them, and want them to become a part of mainstream society, and not apart.
For the purpose of this guide and ease of reading, the term “deaf” is used as a general description to refer to those who are D/deaf or hard of hearing.
1. Get the deaf person’s attention before speaking.
Screaming out someone’s name is never a good idea, whether they are deaf or hearing. Especially if you are in a public place or around more people in an office meeting. Chances are, you will end up looking like a silly person in front of everyone.
The best way to gain a deaf person’s attention is by giving them a simple tap on their shoulder, or a wave in their line of vision. Any other visual signal, such as flickering of the light, can work wonders too.
2. Face the deaf person and hold eye contact.
Before you decide to jump in a conversation with a deaf person, breathe in and out and then, countdown from 10 to 0.
All you need to do to show deaf people you are listening to them is to first make sure you are facing them. And don’t you try to break that eye contact.
As Paulo Coelho once said, eyes are the mirror of the soul. Here, eyes are the channel of the feeling of direct communication.
If you are looking directly at a deaf person when speaking or signing, both of you will be able to better see each other’s facial expressions, and your interaction will feel like it has gone ten levels above in quality, become easier and more understanding.
Even if there is a sign language interpreter helping you communicate, don’t look away from the deaf person. That will look like you are talking to the interpreter, and not them.
And we all can picture just how rude that would be.
3. Check background noises and lighting.
Deaf people communicate visually, so keep a check on the right lighting and no loud background noises.
Avoid standing in front of a light source, such as a window, bright sunshine, or strong lights because it creates a dark shadow on your face. Without being able to see your lips, facial expressions, and other communication signals, it will be almost impossible for the deaf person to understand what you are trying to express.
4. Avoid covering your mouth.
Many deaf people use hearing-aids, some lip-read, and others rely majorly on sign language for communication, so avoid covering your mouth. Or even waving your arms around in front of your face without rhyme or reason.
Moustaches or wearing an inaccessible surgical mask that hides your lips, smoking, or even chewing a gum during a conversation will also make it twice as hard for the deaf person to follow what is being said.
5. Speak clearly and not too fast, but do not yell, exaggerate, or over-pronounce.
Lip-reading is not something every deaf person has super practice with. It can be even harder for some to catch if you speak too fast, drag your sentences, overemphasise on the words, mumble, or shout.
Make it a point to be more steady and expressive, less wordy. In this way, your lip patterns won’t get twisted and neither will your meaning. Keeping your sentences short is important. The idea is for communication between you and the deaf person to be interactive, natural, and where you both feel comfortable.
And remember. Your train is not leaving for anywhere. So, just relax, don’t be anxious, and don’t force it.
6. Repeat yourself, or rephrase the words.
Some people speak like rappers, too fast and almost as if they are going against an enemy in a freestyle battle.
Speaking fast or too slow can confuse deaf people. Be sure to give them some extra time in between important sentences to ask or answer questions.
If they look confused, don’t worry, just be patient. Repeat what you said at a normal pace, and if this still doesn’t do the trick, then try rephrasing your thoughts in a way that it is easy to visually understand.
Sometimes, some words are naturally hard to lipread, so don’t hesitate to use your phone’s notepad or take a pen and paper, and write it down.
7. Be expressive with your body gestures and facial expression.
An animated speaker is always more fun to watch. It even enhances the quality of your interaction, brings more life and emotion into it.
And what more do we want? Other than being able to connect with a deaf person during a simple conversation.
8. Be respectful to the deaf person during the conversation.
If your phone begins to ring or someone comes knocking on your door, the first thing to do is to let the deaf person know that you are about to answer the phone or the door.
They won’t automatically know what you are doing, because they didn’t hear it. And if you make an exit in the middle of a conversation out of nowhere without informing them, it would look to them like you are trying to ignore them. Which is hurtful and disrespectful. As it can be for anyone.
9. Learn some basic sign language.
There are many different ways to communicate for deaf people, because they come from different backgrounds and overlapping cultures. Sign language happens to be the most reliable communication tool, and it is more likely the deaf person you are about to engage in a conversation with uses it too.
You don’t have to be fluent in it if you can’t, but learning some basics shows appreciation for their culture and means you are making an effort to include and interact with them in their way.
10. And the last, but one of the most important points, is to not give up.
Even if a deaf person is struggling to understand you in the first tries, don’t get frustrated and just give up. When we do that, it’s like saying to them, “You don’t matter.”
Because you know what they say? The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.