How do Deaf people communicate?
Updated: Aug 26
One of the many things that people are most curious about D/deaf and hard of hearing people is with regards to communication.
How do D/deaf and HoH people talk to hearing people? What if someone can’t understand them? Can they communicate without the need of a sign language interpreter there to convey their hand gestures and body language?
Though these questions are insightful and common, and we don’t blame you for possessing them, it’s about time we educate ourselves on the diverse tools Deaf people use to converse with other persons.
This refers to the ability to understand another person’s words by reading their lip patterns.
Deaf children naturally pick up lip-reading. Those who develop deafness later in life are more likely to rely on lip-reading, rather than sign language, as they are more used to and aware of seeing oral speech patterns.
However, it is difficult to depend entirely on lip-reading because of many reasons:
Many words and speech sounds have the same lip pattern.
In situations where there is low-light, the other person is standing at a distance, and especially in these times when there is a global pandemic and people have their mouths covered with inaccessible masks, reading someone’s lips become almost impossible.
Some Deaf people don’t have any hearing family members, which is why they don’t have much experience with speech patterns.
Deaf people sometimes draw or write on paper/their phones to make their concepts or phrases clear to others. This is usually done to communicate with hearing people who don’t know sign language, as in the case of other Deaf individuals, sign language is a tool that is most relied on.
Writing is not always a dependable form of effective communication, seeing as there are many D/deaf and hard of hearing people who are not well-educated and can’t use writing to communicate throughout.
But through the use of symbols, other gestures, and drawing what they have in mind or wish to say, they can certainly get their message across to the other person.
Similar to spoken languages, every country around the world has their own distinct version of sign language. In Pakistan, D/deaf and hard of hearing individuals often communicate with each other using Pakistani Sign Language (PSL). PSL is a type of sign language consisting of a rich combination of facial expressions, hand gestures, and body language. This is used exclusively by people who have been deaf since birth and those who are an active part of the Deaf community.
A combination of signs create a sentence in sign language the same way how multiple spoken words make sentences, which are understood by hearing people. Sign language follows all the rules of linguistics, has its own grammar and vocabulary just as spoken languages, such as Urdu and English which follow their own respective grammars and have a vocabulary of distinct words. Sign language makes use of the finger-spelling alphabet. This is used to spell names of people and places, or where the sign isn’t known.
Hearing people should know how to do signs, but the reality is that a majority of them don’t do. Therefore, an interpreting mechanism is needed to support communication between the hearing and the deaf. This can be done either through a sign language interpreter or a mechanism that is able to take speech as input and after analysing it, sentence by sentence, display appropriate signs using a sign language database, meaning a speech to sign software.
Many countries have computerised interpreting mechanisms that are available to communicate with Deaf persons but unfortunately, no such mechanism is available in Pakistan at the moment. Hence, a human interpreter is required for translation either through video-calling or in-person.
Do you want to know top 10 easy tips on how to communicate with Deaf people? Read this blog we wrote just for you.