Being With Deaf People

Really . . . there's nothing to be afraid about being with us deaf (and hard of hearing) people.

We come in all races, color, shape, rich or poor. The onlly difference is that it takes more of an effort to communicate on both sides.

We may be able to speak so well as to be almost hearing . . . or we may have such limited amount of language that we can only communicate with very basic gestures.

The point is . . . not everyone is the same. The deaf person you meet at work may be quite different from your grandfather who is gradually losing his hearing.

With these following tips . . . you will be better prepared to deal in a situation when you encounter a deaf person - whether it be social, of emergency nature, or at work.

* Ask the deaf person how he or she prefers to communicate, whether it be lipreading, writing or signing. And try to have patience as it will in almost all cases take longer to have a conversation.

* Make sure there is plenty of light. If you are outside in the daytime, make sure there is some kind of shade so the glare from the sun isn't as obvious.

* To get their attention, you can either wave your hand, tap their shoulders gently, flicker the lights, or stomp on the floor if it is wooden and carries vibrations.

* If you are a male, be aware that your facial hair can have a dramatic influence on your communication with the deaf person. Some people can lipread a person with a mustache and beard, other simply find it impossible. Don't take it personally, and don't give up but try other ways to communicate.

* Do not SHOUT. In most cases, this simply doesn't work.

* Even though some people can lipread very well, such as Heather Whitestone or me, lipreading is still imperfect. At most, I can understand only 35% of what is being said, and the rest of it is pure guesswork. Try not to have big conversation shifts. Wherever possible, minimize the amount of background noise. Make sure your face is in line of view. If the person shows sign of being confused or getting lost, ask if they understood what you said, and repeat your statements if neccessary. Even if the person seems to be following perfectly well, ask them anyway.

* Modulate your voice and speech patterns. If you normally speak very softly, try to consciously speak louder. If you usually speak rapidly, try to slow down. I know it can be difficult to remember sometimes, but believe me, it helps both of us.

* For most deaf people, communicating on a on-to-one level is much, much easier than in a group situation. If you find yourself in a group situation with a deaf participant, try to cue the participant from time to time what is occuring. If it is work-related, take the time to write good notes and share with the partipicant, and ask if they understood what was happening and if they needed clarification on a few points.

* Some deaf people do not have a good English background due to poor schooling. Don't be surprised if their English seems odd to you. If you don't understand, ask. If it helps, have them write down what they're trying to tell you.

* If you receive a relay call from a deaf person, be aware that the third party (relay operator) is simply there to interpret. Don't say things such as "tell her to come here." We're the one you're talking with, not the operator - refer to us in the first person tense.

* Remember . . . those of you who employ deaf people or are interviewing deaf applicants . . . we are just as capable of working hard as any other people. Sure, we may not be able to answer the phone, but we can do other tasks just as well.

* Most important of all . . . don't panic! We're just like you, except that our ears may not work too well.

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