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As a deaf person, here's how I want you to communicate with me

By Shiona McClafferty // BBC The Social contributor // 08 June 2022

Someone’s ability to hear should never be a wall to interaction. Yet, living in a hearing world as a deaf person like me, often means daily communication challenges. This can be quite isolating.

Here’s some steps that might help you better communicate with deaf people and to help make them feel more a part of society.

How to Communicate with Deaf People

As a deaf person herself, Shiona shares some tips to help deaf people feel more included

Be patient

We all know that feeling of not knowing what’s being said and being told “It doesn’t matter”. Don’t be that person.

Be patient, take your time, repeat what you've said as many times as needed. If that doesn’t work, try rephrasing your thoughts in a different way that makes it easier to visually understand. Sometimes, some words are naturally hard to lipread, so don’t hesitate to use your phone notes app, or write it down on pen and paper.

Get the person’s attention before talking

Interestingly enough, shouting a deaf person’s name from the other side of a room several times isn’t the best way to get their attention, and I promise no matter how loud you shout, it doesn’t help.

The best way to gain a deaf person’s attention is by giving them a simple tap on their shoulder, or a wave in their line of vision. So, make sure to politely get their attention first.

Speak clearly

Something that people seem to think is that you need to over exaggerate lip movements and talk really loudly when speaking with deaf people. It’s awkward when people do that, and it actually makes it harder to understand.

Every deaf person is different so ask them how they would like to communicate.

Basically, it can be hard to lipread what’s being said if you speak too fast, overemphasise on the words, mumble, or shout. For me, I’ve been lipreading my whole life, so when someone talks differently than normal it’s really hard to make out what they’re saying.

Try to speak normally, but avoid mumbling or covering your mouth. Communication should be interactive, natural, and comfortable. So relax, and don’t force it.

Ask questions; don't assume

I feel like so many people feel too awkward or “rude” to ask questions. I know everyone is different, but personally I love when people ask questions. I’d rather you ask questions than just not know, and it makes me happy when people are interested in trying to understand better.

Try not to assume that every deaf person you come across communicates the same way. When in doubt, always ask. Just a simple: “How do you prefer to communicate”, or “What can I do to make communication easier for you?” can make a big difference. I always appreciate when people take the time to ask me, as it makes me feel seen.

Last but not least – don’t give up

Even if a deaf person is struggling to understand you, don’t get frustrated and give up. That’s kind of like saying to them, “You don’t matter.”

Even if what you’ve said is something small to you, we don’t know that. And when you always miss out on small things, it becomes a lot. Try again, because the best way to succeed is to keep trying!

I hope that you’ve found this information helpful, and always remember that every deaf person is different, so ask them how they would like to communicate.