1. Never do anything from behind without letting the person know that you are present. If they are situated away from you, tap their shoulder lightly to get their attention. Never walk up directly behind the Deaf individual. Try to walk around, allowing them to see you and tap them on the shoulder lightly.
2. Be very careful with your labels.
Never call an individual “deaf and dumb” or “hearing impaired.” These labels imply that the individual cannot think or that they are broken because they cannot hear. Appropriate terms would be “deaf” or “hard of hearing” or “person with a hearing loss.” Use the term that the individual prefers.
3. Be aware of communication needs.
Not all deaf individuals are the same regarding communication needs so it is important to note preferences and make access to information and communication as accessible as possible.
4. Don’t shout.
It will not improve the person’s ability to hear you. It will make things louder, for sure, but it won’t make things clear and understandable.
5. Eye contact and facial expressions
Eye contact and facial expressions are very important in Deaf culture. It one doesn’t look at the person who is Deaf or Hard of Hearing while talking to them, that person will feel that the hearing person is not interested in what they’re saying.
6. Hand Waving, Foot Stomping and Light Flashing
When people who are Deaf wave their hands, stomp their feet or flash a light (3 times maximum), it is often an indication of trying to get an individual’s attention. It may seem rude or immature but it is very appropriate in Deaf culture to do these actions.
Idioms are a way in which the words of a particular language are joined together
to express thought. (Examples: Paint the town red; don’t rock the boat; you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink, don’t beat around the bush, etc.) These are very confusing for Deaf individuals. Deaf individuals will directly tell you how they feel in conversation and by the expressions on their faces.
8. Keep a Pen and Paper Handy
This can be one mode of communication that you can use.
9. Learn Sign Language or at least some Survival Signs
Learn basic signs, numbers, and fingerspelling
10. Obstructions Free From Mouth
Long mustaches, pens, pencils, cigarettes, hands and gum, etc. The Deaf or Hard of Hearing client might think you are talking to them, but you may only be chewing gum. Be considerate and keep things out of your mouth.
People who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing who are more familiar with the English language will be more able to speech-read (lip-read) with more ease than an
individual who is not. Only 20% of all speech is visible on the lips. This means that out of a sentence of 10 words, a Deaf individual would be able to read only 2 words, maybe more if the Deaf person knew the context of the sentence.
12. Speak Normally
Try not to exaggerate your mouth movements. Slow down a little bit and separate your words. Exaggerated mouth movements will not improve the Deaf person’s ability to understand you.
13. Walking through or around Signed Conversation
If you encounter two Deaf people having a conversation, see if there is a path around them; if not, walk quickly and unobtrusively between them, signing “excuse me,” whether or not the two having the conversation see it. There is no need to duck or crawl around. Another way to approach this situation is to touch the back of one of the Deaf individuals so they can step forward and allow you to go through behind them.
These are some very basic tips. But when in doubt, ask the deaf or hard of hearing individual for suggestions or tips to improve communication.