When you first meet a D/deaf* person the best tip to hold in mind is – think visually. If a D/deaf person can’t see you talking/gesturing or signing then they can’t ‘hear’ you.
Here are some tips when first engaging with someone who is D/deaf:
- Have I got your attention? – If a D/deaf person is facing away from you then a simple tap on the shoulder will get their attention. If there is a possibility this could make them jump, then try your best to move into their eye line before tapping or waving for attention.
- The eyes have it – Eye contact is so important for checking someone can see you clearly, giving meaning to the message and checking understanding by both parties.
- Step out of the shadows – Consider where you are standing when communicating. If there is sunlight behind you then your face will be cast in a shadow; try to ensure you are in the light.
- Read my lips – Lip reading is not an exact science. Asking if someone can lip read is similar to asking - “how long is a piece of string?” The success, which at best is no more than 30% of the total content, depends on: how well someone forms their words, is facial hair getting in the way? is there good lighting? is there a suitable distance between you? how challenging is the content?
- A strong accent will also change the shape of words. Lip reading can be very difficult and tiring. Try to speak at a regular pace with the context made clear.
- Reasons to be cheerful (or not) – Consider not only what you are saying, but also how you are saying it. Facial expressions must be appropriate. Smiling whilst delivering sad or serious news would confuse the message. Don’t over exaggerate lip pattern, this distorts the words and can be patronising
- Noisy noise – There are many reasons not to shout when communicating with someone who is D/deaf, mainly because it doesn’t help at all, but others include: pain for a hearing aid user, distortion of lip pattern, embarrassment for both parties when everyone looks round and also that it is rude!
- Putting pen to paper – This is to be used as a last resort. If you both are not understanding each other, then write it down clearly and simply
There are many forms of communication that D/deaf people may wish to access and it is best not to make any assumptions. Always ask which is the preferred method of communication. These may include:
- British Sign Language (BSL) – An officially recognised language which has it’s own structure and syntax.
- English – A hearing aid user may be able to benefit from their aids and distinguish speech sounds well. In addition they may need to see someone’s lips.
- Lip Reading – This may be someone’s preferred method of communication.
- Sign Supported English (SSE) – Unlike BSL which has it’s own structure, SSE follows the English sentence structure.
- Sign Languages from across the globe – Each country has it’s own sign language systems including English speaking countries. For example ASL – American Sign Language, ISL – Irish Sign Language and Auslan – Australian Sign Language. All sign languages are different and unique in vocabulary; they follow the cultural content of the land.
Deafness and Visual Impairments
Deaf Visually Impaired - Some Deaf people have the addition of diminishing or loss of sight during their life. An example is Usher Syndrome in which someone who is born deaf will experience their sight worsening in varying degrees and at various stages during their life. A BSL user would continue to use their Visual Frame and access the visual language as best they can. If their sight worsens then Hands On signing can be used; this is a tactile form of BSL
Deafblind – This is someone who is born without sight or hearing. Varying communication forms are used, but mostly the deafblind manual is used.
*D/deaf: For this information page, Deaf is used to describe someone who identifies themselves as part of a cultural and linguistic community. This could include someone who uses BSL and is proud to be deaf. The term deaf is used here to denote someone who doesn’t identify themself in this community. It could include someone who chooses to wear hearing aids, lip read and use English to communicate