Sunday, April 26, 2009

How to Communicate with Those Who Are Deaf

I am adding this to my blog site because I teach communication and also have deaf family members. I feel this information is important and valid for all!!!

How to Communicate With Deaf People

from wikiHow - The How to Manual That You Can Edit

Deaf individuals communicate visually and physically rather than audibly. There are varying degrees of deafness: hard of hearing, "profoundly" deaf, and completely deaf.[1] You can often recognize the hard of hearing by their hearing aids (although of course many people refuse to wear them, or are unable to). The deaf or profoundly deaf may wear no hearing aid at all. Some will be able to lip read and understand you nearly perfectly, however, many will communicate with gestures (sign language) rather than with words. This visual way of communicating can be intimidating and seem strange at first, but these guidelines will help.


  1. Get their attention before attempting to talk or communicate. While you should be considerate and not poke people, generally it is accepted and not considered rude in deaf communities to lightly touch people as you're speaking or trying to get their attention. You can also wave your hand in their line of sight or stomp your foot (if the floor is wooden and carries vibration) to get their attention and make eye contact.
  2. Stay in their field of vision. Try to keep your eyes at the same level as their eyes (sit down if she's sitting, stand up if he's standing, compensate for a big difference in height, etc) and you should be a little further away than normal speaking distance[2] (3-6 feet, 1-2 meters[3]). This helps to make sure they'll see all of your gestures. If you're indoors, make sure there's enough light for them to see you clearly. If you're outside, face the sun so that there isn't a shadow cast in your face and the sun doesn't glare in theirs.[2]
  3. Speak your greeting in a normal voice and tone. If you whisper or shout, your lip movements are distorted, making it difficult for a deaf person to follow your words. (Most deaf can lip read, some might recognize a word as another person might recognize a curse during sporting events.) If you are exaggerating your mouth movements, you will be harder to understand than if you speak normally. Increasing the volume (of your voice, the TV, etc.) only helps if the person is hard of hearing. If they do not seem to be able to lip read, you may need to communicate with a notepad and pen. Write your name, greeting, and introduction.
    • If you have facial hair, it may be harder for a deaf person to lip read.[4]
    • Many hard of hearing people who can understand you perfectly in a quiet room will be unable to do so in, say, a noisy restaurant or wherever the background noise is high.
    • Don't place anything in or around your mouth (chewing gum, your hands, etc).

  4. Establish the gist of what you are going to talk about. Once they know the general topic, it is easier for them to follow your conversation. Since even the best lip readers can probably only understand 35% of what you are saying and must guess the rest in the context of the topic, don't change the subject suddenly.[4] Pause often and ask them if they are following you.
  5. Make eye contact. You probably don't realize how much you communicate through your eyes and facial expressions. If you have sunglasses on, take them off. If you can add facial expressions to emphasize a point (smiling, rolling your eyes, raising your eyebrows) do so.
  6. Use gestures and visual cues. Point to or hold up any items that you're talking about, and wait until they're looking at you again before you resume speaking. You can also mimic actions, like drinking or jumping or eating, to illustrate your words. Hold up fingers to indicate numbers, scribble in the air to show you're writing a letter, and similar.
  7. Be polite. If there is an interruption that the deaf person may not notice, such as the phone ringing or a knock on the door, explain why you are stepping away.[5] Don't make jokes about their hearing (or lack thereof). Don't suddenly refuse to communicate (such as saying "never mind") after you find out that they are deaf. Don't express your irritation when there is a need to repeat yourself. Allow for differences of opinion, just as you would with a hearing friend. Just as there are good and bad hearing people, there are also good and bad deaf people. Treat them courteously, and you'll be on a decent footing.


  • Exchange email address or chat room identity. Most deaf individuals use that to communicate just as hearing people call on the phone to chat.
  • It takes time to get to know the new friend, as with every new friendship. The deaf are no different. Take your time and don't presume too much too soon. Patience is the most important thing in the world if you want to build strong relationships.

Related wikiHows

Sources and Citations


  2. 2.0 2.1


  4. 4.0 4.1


Article provided by wikiHow, a wiki how-to manual. Please edit this article and find author credits at the original wikiHow article on How to Communicate With Deaf People. All content on wikiHow can be shared under a Creative Commons license.

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