Communication with a deaf person

Communicating with a person with a hearing loss can leave both parties feeling awkward and frustrated. While hearing aids and listening devices have improved over the years and can significantly reduce hearing loss, there may still be difficulties in communicating. Luckily there are ways of communicating with a deaf person that will assist both parties to have a meaningful exchange.

To be able to participate at social gatherings is very important to a person's well-being and sense of self-esteem, whether they have a hearing loss or not. Communication is the key to maintaining healthy relationships and staying connected with family and friends. Keeping misunderstanding and confusion to a minimum is important. Patience and understanding will go a long way towards a pleasant exchange and a few tips on how to better communicate will enhance the interaction. Some of these suggestions are also useful when communicating with people who have Alzheimer's.

Be sure you have a person's attention before starting to talk. Touch them gently on the shoulder or arm to get their attention if they are close enough. Otherwise, switch a light on and off, or stamp to cause a vibration so they know you are there and want their attention. A person hard of hearing won't appreciate turning round to suddenly finding a visitor - or even a friend - standing in close proximity.

Be sure to face the person. Position yourself so that the other person can see your face. Don't stand with the light behind you as this prevents the other person from seeing you properly. Good lighting helps with 'reading' lips, facial expressions, gestures and body language, all of which help impart meaning. Non-verbal communication is very important. Most people rely on some visual cues so ensure the person can see the whole of your face.

You might like to ask for suggestions as to how you and your associate can communicate in an improved manner.

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Shouting normally won't help. Slowing down your speech a little probably will. So speak normally but a little slower. Don't exaggerate your speech. Be prepared to repeat and/or paraphrase. If you're not being understood, rephrase your comment. Don't repeat your original statement more than once or twice. Try to say it in a different way.

Try to be at the same level whenever possible. Bending over a person who is hard of hearing can be seen as intimidating, condescending or even threatening so try to get on a level with the other person.

Reduce or eliminate background noise. Turn off the TV or move to a quieter place where there is not so much distraction. Lack, or minimisation of, background noise will also help a hearing aid perform its function better.

For those who can lip-read, the skill is made much harder generally if the speaker has a moustache and/or beard. If you have a lot of interaction with people hard of hearing, keep your moustache and/or beard trimmed away from your lips. Don't talk while you are eating so this may distort the normal facial movements making it harder to lip-read.

In a non-social group situation, ensure only one person speaks at a time. If there is a black- or whiteboard, use it. Agendas and notes for meetings should be distributed in advance. It might be possible to sit a deaf person next to a hearing person who can take notes or dot points on a laptop. Give cues when talking in groups. Knowing what topic is being discussed makes following it much easier.

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When organising social events, consider their needs of the hearing impaired and try to find ways of helping the person enjoy the experience.

When speaking on the phone, talk clearly and slowly. Repeat, rephrase and clarify that any important information has been assimilated. For the profoundly deaf, there are government and/or volunteer services available to help with communicating by phone.

If you expect to interact often with those who are hard of hearing, you may want to carry a small pad and pen. There are handheld devices available which have word processing programs like Notepad. Some cell phones come with note writing capabilities and these may be very useful too.

Above all, be patient and try not to become irritated if a hearing-impaired person cannot understand you. They are probably feeling just as irritated if not more so. Mentally put yourself in their position, take a deep breath, smile and try again.