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Communicate with People who are Deaf & Hard of Hearing during the Holidays & Beyond -No ASL Required

It is ALWAYS important to understand other people. to accept them for who they are, and to make sure that everyone feels included in the communities that we create together. This is especially important during the holidays when everyone hopes to be surrounded by people who truly care.

Whether you have a friend or family member who is deaf or hard of hearing, or you’re just interested in learning more about ways to communicate with people who are deaf/hard of hearing, these simple tips will help you to become a leader in the #ABILITY movement, and to create a bigger, better, and more inclusive future!

Assume Competence. There are many people who will notice a person’s one limitation (such as limited hearing) and assume that this person must have other limitations as well! Usually, they will assume that these limitations have to do with “intelligence”. But the truth is that people who are deaf or hard of hearing are not necessarily cognitively impaired. Most of the time, the only “difference” is that they use a different language!

You should assume that they are capable of participating in any discussions and/or activities that are available to everyone else. If they happen to require additional support, you can always change your approach as the conversation moves along. But start by giving them every opportunity to be join in and contribute to whatever might be going on.

Be resourceful. Sign Language and English are not the only two ways in the universe to communicate! One of the major differences between someone who uses sign language and someone who speaks another spoken language is that, usually, people who are deaf or hard of hearing can read and write in English! This means that you have MANY options for resourceful communication.

DEAF SPECIFIC: Here are some tips for communicating with someone who’s deaf:

  1. Use a pen and paper to write down your thoughts

  2. Use your cell phone notes or messaging apps to share words and/or images

  3. Use your body! To quote my idol, Ursula, “Don’t underestimate the importance of body language!” Gestures can be powerful. Even if you’re not using proper sign language, any attempt at communication will likely be appreciated.

HARD OF HEARING SPECIFIC: Here are some tips for communicating with someone who’s hard of hearing:

  1. Speak louder than usual. This should be obvious, but you might be surprised at how many people do not make this adjustment even after they know that they are communicating with someone who struggles to hear. You don’t need to scream or exaggerate. Just raise the volume to make sure everyone has access to what you’re saying.

  2. Make sure your lips are visible. Watching the movement of your lips can help a person who is hard of hearing to make out what you’re saying. So speak with your face toward the person, and make sure that they have a clear view of your mouth.

  3. Repeat yourself if/when it’s necessary. People who are hard of hearing will miss out on bits and pieces of conversations. Repeat what you’ve said if it is requested, and check in with the person if they seem lost or confused. They may not always tell you when they need help.

  4. Repeat others if/when it’s necessary. Beyond repeating yourself, you may also need to repeat what others say --especially if they are standing further away from the hard of hearing person than you are. Proximity is important for people who are hard of hearing, so if you’re close and able to help out, you could make a huge difference!

Share what you know! People with hearing loss, whether it’s mild or profound, may not always hear important comments, jokes, information, plans, etc. Here are some tips for how you can make sure that no person is left behind!

DEAF SPECIFIC: Here are some tips for sharing info with someone who’s deaf:

  1. Shoulder tap if something interesting is happening

  2. Type or write out group updates such as plans and instructions for group activities, secrets that are being shared, jokes that are relevant to the group, etc. This way, they won’t have to sit and try to read lips (which is NOT something that every deaf person can or should do).

  3. Use your face! Facial expressions are an important part of sign language because your face alone can communicate a wide range of emotion! So even if you’re not using sign language, you can use your facial expressions as another way to create access for people who are deaf or hard of hearing.

HARD OF HEARING SPECIFIC: Here are some tips for sharing info with someone who’s hard of hearing:

  1. Be patient. Repeating yourself and/or others might become annoying after a few times because we hearing folk are used to saying and hearing things the first time. We also live in a society that promotes an every person for themselves mentality! I suggest that we start to move away from that together.

  2. Be compassionate. If you start to feel annoyed, try to remember how hard it must be not to be able to hear everything that’s being said. What if you were the only person in your friends Zoom group who was experiencing audio interference? You would see

  3. Be prompt. One of the worst things you can do is to say, “I’ll just tell you later”. Can you reawlly not spare a few seconds to make sure that another human has the same opportunities that you do? YOU could have the power to help this person feel like a part of the crew! Why wouldn’t you use it?

For more tips on being inclusive during the holidays, check out my previous blog, “Be Inclusive During the Holidays”.

Feeling generous? I've created a list of my favorite disABILITY centered organizations. Check out Mr. Stephen's Holiday Donation Guide.

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