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Communication Strategies

Florida Coordinating Council for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing

Basic Communication Principles

  • Communication with a deaf, hard-of-hearing, late-deafened or deaf-blind person involves sensitivity, common sense and courtesy.
  • Effective communication is a joint responsibility of the hearing person and the deaf, hard-of-hearing or late-deafened person.
  • Always feel free to ask, "What can I do to make it easier for the two of us to communicate?"
  • There are many ways to communicate; the situation determines the difference.

Modified from "Deaf & Hearing People: Working Together," National Technical Institute for the Deaf Center, Center on Employment.

Communication Strategies

Guidelines for a Hearing Person when Communicating with a Hard-of-Hearing Person

  • Do get the person's attention before you speak.
  • Avoid noisy background situations.
  • Be sure that your face can be clearly seen.  Do not put obstacles in front of your face.
  • Do not have objects in your mouth such as gum, cigarettes, or food when speaking.
  • Speak clearly and at a moderate pace.
  • Be sure that light sources (windows and artificial lighting) are on your face and not behind your head.
  • Use facial expressions and gestures that will help your listener to better understand.
  • Give clues when changing the subject.  It's easier for a person to lip/speechread you if he or she knows what the topic is.
  • Let your listener know if and when the topic changes.
  • Rephrase instead of repeating when you are not understood.
  • Do not shout; shouting distorts speech and makes speechreading more difficult.
  • Talk to a hard of hearing person, not about him or her.
  • When in doubt, ask the hard of hearing person for suggestions to improve communication.
  • Be patient, positive, and relaxed.

Modified from guidelines contained in Manual for Mental Health Professionals, Part II, Psycho-Social Challenges Faced by Hard of Hearing People, Samuel Trychin, Ph.D., published in 1991.

Guidelines for Communicating with a Person Who Uses Sign Language

  • To get the deaf or late-deafened person's attention, try a gentle tap on the shoulder; a wave or flashing the lights; or a stomp on the floor or a hand slap to a table.
  • While waiting for the interpreter to show up, have a paper and pen ready for simple English questions that can be answered with more than a yes or no.  Open-ended questions that solicit more than a yes or no answer will give you an idea of how much the deaf person understands.  Don't attempt to get consent from the deaf person until the interpreter is present.
  • When asking a yes-or-no question, do not assume that when the deaf or late-deafened person nods his/her head it is affirmation or understanding.  Nodding of the head often means confirmation that the message is being received or is courtesy and nothing more.  There is a very specific sign that is used to indicate Yes or No.
  • If you know basic sign language and fingerspelling, use it for simple things.  If you don't know, use natural gestures, mime and facial expressions (i.e. drink, eat).  It is important to realize that the ability to interpret is much more than knowing how to sign. If you have taken one or more sign language classes, that does not mean you can replace the interpreter.  Until you have taken and passed the performance tests given through the Florida Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (FRID) or the National Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID), you are not qualified to interpret.
  • When the Interpreter is present, talk directly to the deaf person, not the interpreter.  Do not say, "Tell her..." or "Ask him..."
  • Be courteous to the person during conversation.  If the phone rings or someone knocks at the door, let the person know that you are responding to the phone or door.
  • Maintaining eye contact with a deaf person is vital when communicating.  It is considered rude carrying on a conversation without eye contact.
  • When you are speaking to a deaf person through an interpreter, everything you say will be interpreted.  It is the interpreter's job to communicate everything to the deaf person.

Modified from "TIPS for Communicating with Deaf Employees," National Technical Institute for the Deaf Center, Center on Employment.

Guidelines for Communicating with a Deaf-Blind Person

  • If the person is hard of hearing and communicates in spoken language, use the same tips offered for communicating with hard-of-hearing people.  Keep close so the deaf-blind person can see the speaker's face.
  • If the person is deaf and uses sign language, use the same tips offered for communicating with a deaf person that uses sign language.  Check to see if the person uses sign language close up or uses tactile (hand-over-hand) communication.  Call an interpreter and notify the agency/interpreter that the person is deaf-blind and which mode of communication is needed (visual sign language or tactile sign language.)
  • When approaching or walking with deaf-blind persons, offer an elbow and use it to guide them.  Never push or pull them along.
  • Do not leave deaf-blind persons alone in an open space.  If you need to leave them alone for a few minutes, escort them to a safe place (for example, a chair near the wall.)  Let them know why you are doing this.
  • If using a paper and pen to communicate, use readable big print.
  • If the person has Usher's Syndrome or Retinitis Pegmentosa, make sure the lighting is good and without glare.

Modified from "Tips for Communication with a Deaf-Blind Patient," Center for Heal Care Access, a service of League for the Hard of Hearing.