There are a number of strategies you can use to ensure that your engagement with a deaf or hard-of-hearing person is respectful. Eye contact, position of people in a room, and speaking at a moderate, yet natural pace, are all important elements of respectful engagement.
Being patient, positive, and relaxed can set the stage for success. People first language doesn’t apply to culturally Deaf people in the same way it does for people with disabilities. Many Deaf people refer to themselves as “Deaf” first, i.e., a “Deaf person” rather than a “person who is Deaf”.
- When talking, look at the Deaf person, not at the interpreter, friend, or family member, even when the Deaf person is looking at the interpreter. Position the interpreter next to you so that the Deaf/hard-of-hearing person can maintain eye contact with you and the interpreter.
- Position the interpreter away from shadows, bright lights or busy backdrops that can cause distortion. Position yourself so that light is not behind you.
- Make sure there is no food, gum, or other object in your mouth.
- To get the deaf person’s attention, tap their shoulder, flash the lights, or tap on a surface they are touching.
- Make sure there is as little background noise as possible. If the phone rings or there is a knock on the door, tell the person if you need to answer it.
- If there is difficulty getting an idea across, try different ways of phrasing things, or use body language and facial expressions.
- Always check to see if you are understood. This can be particularly important if you change the subject of the conversation.
- If there isn’t an interpreter present, you can suggest typing on a computer or laptop or writing on paper to facilitate simple conversations.
- Ask for clarification if you need it. A deaf person can’t hear his or her own voice and this can effect pronunciation and volume level.