Finally! Part three of three in the “deaf series.” Now that I’ve told you my personal story and tried to put you in the shoes of a deaf person, I have some tips for how you can go about interacting with deaf or hard-of-hearing people in an efficient, respectful manner.
Some important notes: These tips, split into four topics that have much overlap, don’t apply to every deaf or hard-of-hearing person. And I’m sure I left some out. I use “we” and “us” for simplicity — avoiding “I,” because many of these things simply don’t bother me. Also, I use “deaf” instead of “deaf and hard-of-hearing” to cut down on word count and repetition. There is a difference between the two! Use these tips as guides rather than law — I can’t speak for the entire deaf and hard-of-hearing community, especially still being new myself (so let me know if you disagree!).
These tips were gathered from my own experiences as well as from surveys of the deaf community via Facebook support/pride groups.
- Some prefer signing (ASL is just one of many sign languages), some prefer typing on phones or computers, some prefer voice-to-text software, some prefer lipreading, some prefer a combination of these things or even other methods they’ve thought of.
- Do not try to force people to use a different manner of communication if they do not wish to.
- Not every deaf person can speak.
- People seem to assume it’s easy to lipread/speechread through an entire conversation. It isn’t! We need context, we need you to face us while speaking, we need you to not speak too fast or too slowly, we need you to be in proper lighting, and we need you to annunciate.
- And even with that, only 30% of the spoken English language is visible on the lips. So it’s like trying to solve a puzzle while a person is speaking, which gets exhausting.
- Cue us in on the topic before beginning a conversation. Context helps a lot when filling in the blanks!
- The more syllables, the easier it is to lipread a word (usually). If we don’t understand a word or phrase, try rephrasing with a synonym.
- For speaking to hard-of-hearing people, yelling or speaking super slowly does not help. Your lips need to move naturally. For speaking to deaf people, it helps if you actually say the words instead of just “mouthing” things — that way you’re not focusing too hard on your mouth movements, which makes it unnatural.
- If you work in the service industry or customer service, please just let us email or text. It should be obvious that it’s extremely difficult to speak on the phone, even with captioning systems. Yet, many companies only provide phone numbers as contacts.
- Please don’t force us to speak. When I became newly deaf, I was still forced to go to class, and a professor wouldn’t excuse me from class discussion. It’s so humiliating to be asked a question in class, not understand the question, then not know if your voice’s volume is too soft or too loud.
- Oh yeah, we find it difficult to control our voice volume. Just gently let us know if we need to speak up or soften our voice.
- If it’s dark, just text or sign (depending on the person), as it’s extra difficult to read handwriting or lips without light.
- Also, hearing aids don’t work so well in open or noisy environments.
- Charades are great!
- There’s a big difference between “I can’t hear you” and “I can’t understand you.”
- Deafness isn’t always/only a volume problem — sometimes the words just sound like jibberish because our ears don’t process them properly.
- We can’t hear the tone in your voice, so intentions can be misinterpreted! This is where facial expressions are important. It’s kinda like how people always misunderstand sarcasm in text messages if there aren’t emojis or “jk”s.
- Make sure not to let the facial expressions disrupt your mouth movements or draw attention away from your lips. Say what you’re saying, then follow it up with a frown, smile, or whatever.
- Not everyone is capable of showing precise, emotional facial expressions, though, and that’s understandable.
- “Yes” or “no” answers usually help! Nod or shake your head, then follow up with an explanation.
- More communciation tips!
- A common consensus in the Deaf Community is that our most hated word is “nevermind.” Please be patient with us and don’t just give up on trying to tell us something. We hate feeling left out on a joke or piece of information just because you’ve lost your patience with us or don’t want to meet us halfway. Have you ever been with a couple friends and they share an inside joke, but don’t want to let you in on it? That’s how it feels to be told “nevermind,” “forget it,” or “it’s not important.” It’s important to us. If you can’t take back your words with a hearing person, you shouldn’t be able to take them back from us.
- If texting or writing to us (in front of us), don’t text/write half a sentence, then just delete or scratch it out. It’s the same thing as “nevermind.”
- Try not to talk about a deaf person with another person as if the deaf person isn’t standing right there. I personally don’t care, but many do. It can be dehumanizing and alienating.
- Don’t assume our style of communication, then act like it’s weird that we don’t use those methods.
- (“You don’t sign? You should really get on that.” “Haven’t you ‘learned’ to lipread yet?”)
- Believe it or not, we can see when you sigh or roll your eyes. I’d never experienced so much sighing and eye-rolling until I became deaf. It hurts.
- Don’t make comments about how you think deaf people shouldn’t drive or be independent.
- I had a lab worker actually tell my mom I shouldn’t be allowed to be on my own when visiting for weekly blood draws.
- If someone says they’re deaf, it’s best to just assume they’re being serious. It’s less awkward to have someone think you didn’t understand their joke than to continue talking to a deaf person as if they’re hearing.
- Not everyone enjoys deaf jokes. They’re fine with me though.
- We are easily startled if approached from behind. We can’t hear you coming! It’s like shouting “BOO!” at a hearing person from behind.
- Try to approach from the side or front when possible, and don’t randomly grab our shoulders/back.
- Don’t hit us to get attention. You might think of it as a “light tap,” but when you get “lightly tapped” dozens of times a day, it can get crazy annoying or even hurt. Plus, we have personal bubbles too.
- Do. Not. Call. Deaf. People. Dumb. There’s a long history of deaf people being called dumb, and that’s reinforced a very harmful stereotype. “Audism” is a very real, sad thing.
- Try to avoid assumptions of if a deaf person is happy or sad to be deaf. Some love being deaf, have pride for it, and wouldn’t take a “cure” even if it was offered. They don’t see themselves as broken. Others hate being deaf and it’s a source of major depression and anxiety.
- Do not use “hearing impaired,” as many feel this implies they are broken.
- People with major hearing loss are twice as likely to suffer from mental health issues and they have less access to mental healthcare because of communication barriers.
- Like I said, many are very proud to be deaf. So cochlear implants can be a very touchy, controversial subject, as many do not like the idea that others think there needs to be “fixing.”
- Honestly, it’s probably just best to not bring up cochlear implants unless they do first or if they already have them.
- We don’t hear public announcements over the intercom or whatever. Be a kind neighbor and let us know if there’s an announcement in the area.
- It’s also frightening/stressful when people around us look concerned but aren’t telling us why they do (i.e. Someone takes a phone call and looks distressed — everyone seems to know why they’re worried except the deaf person, who begins to imagine much more terrible scenarios than what’s actually happening.)
- Some people like to be introduced as deaf, others don’t. Check with us before introducing us to someone.
- Check if videos have captions before sending them our way. I think it’s funny when people forget I need captions, but others might not!
- Please don’t complain if we ask to have captions on while watching television or internet videos with you.
- It’s difficult to know when someone is talking in a group setting — our eyes can only look at so many mouths at one time! This leads to a lot of interruptions. Sorry!
Other Things We Want You To Know
- Don’t be afraid of us! People actually seem super nervous to interact with us. We are often nervous too, so let’s just get over it and be friendly.
- We often feel lonely in group conversations or hang-outs. If you could give us some one-on-one attention, it makes a world of difference.
- Don’t assume we have trust issues or are rude if we don’t meet your eyes. We’re often trying to read your lips, or we’re exhausted from already reading lips all day. It’s hard to look people in the eye when tired!
- On the other hand, many people read lips more effectively by looking you in the eyes.
- It takes a lot of energy to be social while deaf. Sometimes we wander off for a break and it’s nothing to take personally.
- Hearing aids do not work like glasses — they don’t perfect your dulled sense. They usually make sound echo-y and robotic. Sometimes, they even hurt your ears.
- This is why some refuse to wear them, even if they have a little hearing left.
- A lot of us suffer from tinnitus (ringing in the ears) and have various ways of coping with that. Be accepting of whatever those coping methods are.
- For example, I sing so my ‘inner voice’ drowns out my tinnitus. I am very terrible at singing. My apologies.
- We have different types of hearing loss. Some have volume issues, some have overbearing tinnitus, some only hear “jibberish,” some were born deaf, some lost it from loud music, some lost it from viruses or medication, etc.
- We are people. So we are unique. I want to reiterate that many of these tips do not apply to everyone. When in doubt, respectfully ask!
Great Apps For Communicating
- Google Docs is best for communicating via computer. Use the “Voice Typing” feature.
- Use “Enhanced Dictation” on your MacBook to use speech-to-text offline. It’s also a bit more accurate.
- Dragon Dictation is supposed to be excellent, but it isn’t free and I’ve personally never tried it.
- For phones and tablets:
- iPhone’s Notes App (the base app already downloaded on your phone) is most accurate! Simply click the little microphone next to the space key and speak.
- Android’s best app seems to be Google Voice, based off what my dad has told me.
- Google Docs is also fine for phones, it just lags a bit.
- Ava is a free app that allows for group conversations and also doesn’t stop recording until you tell it to. The downside is it just isn’t as accurate. But it gets a little more accurate as it learns your voice (it’s based off an AI).
- Attaching microphones or headphones to a device can create even more accurate dictation!
- Plus, it leaves the microphone on longer. Without something plugged into the audio socket, devices only record your voice for a few seconds before ending. With a microphone or headphones plugged in, it records for about a minute or so.
- Again, with Ava, it continually records without stopping.
Golden Rule: We are people too. We are unique. Please treat us with respect while also recognizing we have different perspectives and needs. And expect the same of us.
A great empathy exercise: Walk around for a day with noise-cancelling headphones. Just make sure to be safe! It’s difficult to cross streets and whatnot when you can’t hear cars.