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Tips for Communicating with the Deaf and Hard of Hearing in the Workplace

by Traci Branch, Richmond Counselor for the Deaf

People who are deaf communicate using American Sign Language (ASL), fingerspelling, and a variety of other strategies, including: speech; speech-reading (lip reading); and writing.

  • Always ask the person how they prefer to communicate. Do not assume that all people who are deaf use sign language to communicate. Every person does not communicate the same.
Typically Hard of Hearing People rely on residual hearing (what hearing is left) and generally supplement by the use of hearing aids and speech-reading. Pocket Talkers and other assistive devices are more commonly used with the Hard of Hearing population.
  • As always, ask the person how they prefer to communicate.

FACT: 30% of words are "readable" via speech-reading. This equates to the average person understanding 30% of conversation when speech-reading. In other words, speech-reading is NOT 100%.

Important Tips to Remember

  • Clearly explain the topic of conversation and always explain when the topic has changed.

  • Continually encourage to ask questions if communication is unclear

  • Use open-ended questions that need an answer of more than "yes" or "no." Do not assume a person understands if they nod their head in acknowledgement. A response ensures that your information has been communicated

  • Speak slowly and clearly. DO NOT exaggerate as this can be berating and embarrassing. At the same time, over exaggeration distorts normal lip movement and makes it harder to be understood

  • Be patient. Be prepared to rephrase or repeat the information

  • Remove pencil, gum, cigarettes etc from mouth when speaking

  • If you have a beard, mustache or lisp, consider the fact that they can interfere with the ability to speech-read.

  • Give full attention and make eye contact. When using an interpreter, always speak directly to the person and not the interpreter.

  • Discuss how you and the person will communicate outside the office. Telephone usage and understandability will vary from person to person. It's important to get a clear idea of phone capabilities and expectations. Will the person be using a phone amplifier? Do they use the phone a lot or very little? This will help you understand their ability to truly understand detailed information during a phone conversation such as numerical addresses or a work schedule. Do you have a TTY? Do you know how to use it? Do you know how to use Virginia Relay? This should be understood before the work begins.

  • Ask the person about hearing loss related issues, needs and accommodations rather than assume all people who are deaf and hard of hearing use the same devices and/or function and deliver work standards in the same way.