Hearing Disabilities: Courtesy Tips
The following information comes from "The Communication Handbook for People who are Hearing, Hard of Hearing and Deafened", written by Marge Wells, Rehabilitation Counselor for Deaf & Hard of Hearing, Vocational Rehabilitation, State of Vermont.
People who are HoH and Deafened have already developed their speaking and literary skills before their hearing loss. Therefore, people who are Hearing are often misled into thinking that people who are Deafened and HoH can hear because they usually speak so well. Some people who are HoH and Deafened will often nod politely while hearing nothing as they try to figure out if the conversation is related to the situation at hand or to some other topic. This is called BLUFFING or FAKING IT and is referred to later in the handbook. Another tactic that people who are HoH and Deafened use is to simply monopolize the conversation so as to avoid the embarrassment of attempting to navigate a difficult communication situation.
The Hearing Person's Responsibility for One-on-One Conversation
- Get the hard of hearing or deafened person's attention; tap on the shoulder, wave, or light flashing.
- Look directly at the hard of hearing or deafened person when speaking.
- Ask which communication option is preferred: lip reading, writing or use of an interpreter.
- Use every-day topics of conversation. Do not focus on the hearing loss or the person's lack of use of sign language.
- When speaking to people who are hard of hearing or deafened, key them into topic changes in the conversation.
- Be friendly, patient, positive and relaxed. Be yourself.
The Hearing People's Responsibilities with People who are Hard of Hearing
- If writing, keep message short and simple. It is not necessary to write every word.
- When speaking, face the person who is hard of hearing directly to see if your message is understood.
- Avoid standing in front of a window or under bright lights where the glare and shadows on the face make it difficult to lip read. If one is aware of the lighting problems, change one's position willingly when requested by the person who is hard of hearing.
- Speak clearly and normally at a moderate pace. Do not shout or exaggerate pronunciation. Use short sentences but NOT baby-talk. Rephrase or repeat if you are not understood. Inform the person who is HoH if you are changing the subject.
- Do not cover one's mouth or place anything in one's mouth when speaking.
- Ask open-ended questions that must be answered by the person who is HoH with more than a "yes" or "no" to ensure full understanding.
- Use pantomime, body language and facial expressions.
- Be courteous to the person who is hard of hearing during the conversation. Do not ignore the person who is HoH and carry on a conversation with another hearing person while the person who is hard of hearing waits.
- When in doubt, ask the person who is hard of hearing for suggestions to improve communication.
The Hearing People's Responsibilities with People who are Deafened
- All the above responsibilities apply in conversations with the people who are Deafened when there is NO interpreter present, but do not expect exactly the same results. The hearing losses of the people who are HoH vary greatly in severity whereas the people who are Deafened are profoundly deaf.
- When using an interpreter, the person who is Deafened will decide the proper lighting — never against a window or in a dark corner.
- Maintain eye contact WITH the Deafened person while the interpreter signs. Talk directly to the Deafened person at your normal speech rate.
- Do not talk WITH the interpreter or ask questions of the interpreter. The interpreter's job is solely to convey the conversation between the Hearing and Deafened people. The interpreter is not a participant in the conversation.
Group Rules of Communication for Both Hard of Hearing and Deafened (Classrooms, staff/committee meetings, large groups)
- Only one person speak at a time.
- Raise hand to signal one's desire to speak.
- Remember the hard of hearing and deafened folks cannot lip-read or watch the interpreter or read live captioning and simultaneously read from papers, manuscripts, letters, etc.
- If possible, give necessary information to the hard of hearing and deafened people before the meetings take place.
- Group meetings should always have a note taker or have minutes of the meeting available.
- If meetings are long, plan a break for the people who are hard of hearing and deafened as well as for the interpreter, if one is being used. This is to avoid fatigue from intense concentration.
- The T-switch is electronic and makes a direct sound from the speaker with the microphone or phone to the hard of hearing person's hearing aid, thus cutting out background noise.
Communication Responsibilities of People who are Hard of Hearing and Deafened
- Inform the people who are hearing as to whether you are deafened or hard of hearing.
- Inform people of your communication preference - lip reading or hand written notes, interpreter, for one-one-situations.
- Do not bluff or fake it. It is best to be "up front".
- Pick the best spot in which to communicate by avoiding areas that are poorly lit. A quiet environment with few distractions is best.
- Ask for written clues of key words in the conversation, when needed.
- Request the speaker to repeat information if you are unsure or do not understand, especially if you need exact information as to name, time, place, etc. Repeat back to get confirmation.
- Arrange frequent breaks if discussions or meetings are long. Fatigue causes communication breakdown.
- Know what your needs are in any given situation as well as your rights to access. To assess a communication situation, ask yourself the questions — when, what, where, why — and determine which type of communication is needed: interpreters, live caption, amplified phone, loop system, TTY, note taker, etc.
- Be prepared to provide phone numbers for the interpreting referral service and live caption service.