Communicating with deaf people

by Spook

It's not difficult at all and you make someone's day.

Tips for communicating with the deaf

Remember they are deaf

It often surprises me, no, it always surprises me how little people know about communicating with the deaf. Why is this so?

Invariably it's because of all the disabilities people have, this is the one least understood by hearing people. You cannot put your finger in your ear and know what it's like to be deaf. Just isn't possible. This isn't your Uncle or Aunt or Granny who suddenly becomes hard of hearing in their old age and may or may not need a hearing aid. No Sir, noSireeeeeeee, this is someone who is deaf. What this simply means is that they cannot hear. Why can you not understand that? A hearing aid will not help them, certainly not in hearing speech anyway. OK then, I hope you understand, so here goes.

The first thing you should understand, that's if you understood any of the above. Do not shout, as they cannot hear you.

Which leads us to, just what do you do? Good question, as it depends on the deaf person involved and what level of rehabilitation he/she has received. For the purpose of this article stay with those who can lip read and not sign.

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Talking to someone reliant on lip reading

Some useful tips for hearing people

I am of course assuming that whoever reads this has also never met a deaf person before. Whether you have or haven't, here's what I consider you should do. I've actually, personally been deaf for so long now it seems self explanatory, but one forgets what it was like in the beginning, until you got to know the deaf person.

First and foremost be as expressive as you can, especially with your hands and your eyes. No need for elaborate pantomime, but, a bit of pantomime helps.

Secondly, slow down and I mean slow down. You might be surprised just how fast you talk. We are taught during lip reading not to expect this and to improve our skills. It's been my experience however that slowing down is a huge help.

Thirdly, try and give the person an idea of your subject matter. For example you could mime a golf swing and the deaf person now knows what you are going to talk about. This makes an almost unbelievable difference.

Fourthly, do not change your subject matter without letting the deaf person know. Just brush your two hands together or something and they will click. The butt of all deaf jokes come from instances like these. I'm always the first to laugh at them as they are so true.

Look straight at them, as it's very difficult to lip read someone looking at the floor or the ceiling or turning their head sideways. That's why it's called lip reading, you are hearing the lips, but if you can't see them it does become difficult.

Don't speak in single words, rather sentences. Lip reading is about getting the gist of the sentence and not every word. So golf, golf, golf, doen't work. But I am going to watch golf today on TV does, especially with a mimed golf swing.

Whatever is in your mouth, cigarette, matchstick, chewing gum, take it out please, we cannot lip read properly whilst you are doing that. A great tip (if you're wearing sunglasses), lift them onto your forhead because the eyes tell so much.

Lastly, patience is a virtue and especially so with the deaf, be patient, don't be afraid to spell a word in the air with your finger if you think the person never got it.

Hope all this helps.

People get annoyed when you don't get what they say first time but someone who says 'huh' they are happy to repeat to.

My pet peeve
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This would annoy me too
PeggyHazelwood on 06/04/2011

I admire your ability to adapt. I'll try to remember your suggestions next time I speak with a deaf person.

nightbear on 05/30/2011

The people getting annoyed would annoy me. Communication is an art form, whether deaf or not. We all could do better with listening and observing and deciding what someone might really be saying. Sometimes communication with the deaf is common sense. I work in a hospital with patients that speak all different languages and no English ( my first language) but we still communicate, maybe not a conversation so to speak, but we get the job done.

Updated: 05/31/2011, Spook
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Rose on 08/16/2012

Great advice. Do you find people resorting to writing things down instead in order to communicate?

Sam on 02/22/2012

Another tips is to make sure that your face is well lit. I used to work as a nurse in the hospital, during night shifts I always used my torch to illuminate my face so that a deaf patient could read my lips. Might have been an eery sight, but so what? It worked ;-)

Spook on 08/07/2011

And thank you for your comment and you are most welcome.

happynutritionist on 08/06/2011

Hi spook, great to find you here. I have a brother who is totally deaf in one ear and mostly in the other, and has other disabilities, too, from an illness that damaged his brain when he was 6 mos old. I am very familiar with using a lot of expression and hand motions to get across what I'm trying to communicate. Thank you for sharing your experiences...they are helpful. Thank you, too, for adding me as a fan.

Spook on 07/05/2011

You are quite right Veronica, people forget you can feel vibrations through your hands and feet. With my implant though they no longer have to do this to get my attention. Whilst I may not get exactly what they are saying (especially if not facing them), I will at least hear them.

vbright on 07/05/2011

Great advice. Personally, I find it surprises people when I tell them it is okay to slap their hand on the table or something else I can "feel" to get my attention. You're so clever to think of this! I always assume that since I live with it, people already know it!

KathyMcGraw on 06/24/2011

Great advice Spook. I haven't been around any deaf people in 15 years or more, but you never know when you might be in a conversation with someone that these skills would be needed. Thank you for the explanations :)

Guest on 06/22/2011

This brought back some memories, as I used to teach deaf and hard of hearing students and relied on spelling and signs
I did realize that they were reading my lips and sometimes had to cover my mouth! LOL

WebWriter on 06/05/2011

Learning sign language is on my bucket list. Nice article Spook.

Spook on 06/05/2011

Challenge? Never thought of it that way before but I hope you enjoyed the challenge and do hope next time you will find it much easier.

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