Tips for Being Deaf-Aware: Part 2
In our previous post on Tips for Being Deaf-Aware (Part 1), we covered seven tips for effectively communicating with someone who is deaf or hard-of-hearing.
Here are four more tips that we hope to help you be a stronger, more aware communicator.
1. Don’t Speak to the Interpreter
If a sign language interpreter is present, do not look and speak to them if you are communicating with the deaf or hard-of-hearing person.
Imagine if someone looked and spoke to someone else if they were addressing you! You would feel alienated and excluded. Remember, the interpreter is not the person you are communicating with.
The interpreter is an aid and serves as a representation of the deaf or hard-of-hearing person’s speech, not the person themselves.
2. Learn a Few Simple Signs
While you don’t need to be fluent in sign language, learning a few key phrases is helpful. This is especially helpful in customer service environments like being a server or working in retail or hospitality.
There are many resources to learn and practice the sign language that applies in your country. YouTube is a great resource for learning just a few helpful words and phrases. You can find short videos for American Sign Language (ASL), Australian Sign Language (Auslan), and British Sign Language (BSL) to name just a few.
The Ai-Media Facebook page also regularly shares content for those learning ASL and other sign languages!
3. Words to Use (and Not Use)
All communities have words that are considered rude or even derogatory.
People who consider themselves culturally ‘Deaf’ (spelled with an uppercase ‘D’) often use sign language and identify as members of the signing Deaf community. And as we mentioned in our last article, the word ‘deaf’ (spelled with a lowercase ‘d’) describes the physical condition of not hearing. It also refers to people who are physically deaf but do not identify as members of the signing Deaf community.
You can check with the person on how they identify and how they like to refer to their hearing loss. Culturally Deaf people often prefer not to be described as ‘hearing impaired’. It is perceived as clinical and negative. Hard-of-hearing people often do not like being identified as ‘deaf’. When it’s a group of people with a range of hearing loss, use more than one term. For example, “Deaf and hard-of-hearing people use captions.”
Something else to avoid is the phrase ‘Never mind’, or getting fed up. It’s dismissive. The deaf or hard of hearing person is trying to stay with you in the conversation and saying ‘never mind’ doesn’t give them a chance to communicate with you – not to mention that it’s disrespectful.
Many deaf or hard-of-hearing individuals often don’t rely on their voice as their primary form of communication, so hearing people might have some trouble understanding. Put judgement aside and pay close attention. Don’t comment on their ‘accent’.
4. Patience is a Virtue
Communicating with a hearing person can be daunting for a deaf or hard-of-hearing person and has the potential to cause some anxiety. Repetition and backtracking might be needed. Indicate that you’re patient and willing to learn. You may need to rephrase or find a different word.
As long as you smile, don’t yell, and maintain eye contact, you are establishing that you’re there for an open and trusting line of communication.
The first, and most important, step in being deaf-aware is being open. With that attitude, you and the person you are communicating with will find the flow that works for you.