How to Communicate with a Deaf Person?

Communicating with someone new can be a challenge regardless of the circumstance but as a hearing person trying to communicate with a deaf person can feel almost impossible, but the good news is it’s not!

We are so used to relying on voice and sound to communicate, for instance we use the spoken words themselves to convey meaning but also tone to show how we feel about something, vocal cues to indicate that we want a response and sighs to show that we are frustrated.

Suddenly trying to communicate without any of these aids can seem daunting but there are most definitely ways.

American Sign Language

The most obvious and also the easiest way (if you have the prior skills set and knowledge) to communicate with a deaf person is ASL (American Sign Language). This is a completely natural language which has the same linguistic properties and characteristics as spoken languages.

It relies upon hand gestures and movements to signify letters, numbers, and words.

If you choose to communicate in sign language, then ASL should be your language of choice within America as it is the most recognised.

However, the main problem is that unfortunately ASL is not widely taught and therefore the chances are that if you are reading this article, you don’t know sign language. Similarly, it is important to note that not all deaf people know sign language either.  

Lip Reading

Many deaf people communicate via lip reading so if you are trying to talk to a deaf person it is important that you do so in a lip reading friendly manner.

If you do not rely on lip reading yourself then it can be hard to know how to make the process easier for others, therefore, we have compiled a list of ways that you can make this easier for the recipient:

  • Speak Clearly and Slowly– Deaf people rely upon visually following your lip movements therefore it is of great importance that you enunciate properly. Similarly, if you speak too quickly, it will be impossible to follow your lips accurately. However, be careful not to insult the deaf person by speaking to them like a child as people often have a tendency to shout and speak slower than is required, it’s all about balance.
  • Stand Back– Keeping more than a meter between you and the deaf person can make it much easier to read your lips as they can see your face and mouth more clearly.
  • Check Lighting– Lighting is extremely important when it comes to lip reading as if it is too dark or too bright it can be very difficult to see precise lip movements. In order to combat this issue, you can change where you are standing/sat or adjust lighting.
  • Face the Deaf Person– This one may seem obvious but if you’re not facing the deaf person it will be impossible for them to lip read. Make sure that while talking to them you are standing still and facing them head on, not on an angle.
  • Take Turns to Speak– If you are in a group setting it is very important that you are speaking one at a time as it is impossible for the deaf person to be looking at several sets of lips at once.
  • Repeat Yourself– Just like everyone else when you are communicating with a deaf person it is not uncommon for them to miss a word or two so sometimes it might be a good idea to repeat yourself. If you are asked to repeat yourself, try and keep wording exactly the same as to not cause confusion.
  • Rephrase– If you have already made a few attempts at repeating yourself then it might be a good idea to rephrase what you are trying to say. For instance, if you are struggling to communicate the question “How did you find the meeting today?” then it might be a good idea to try “What did you think of the meeting earlier?” Some simple rewording could make the lip-reading process a whole lot easier.

Writing It Down

Whilst communicating with a deaf person can be difficult as you both communicate differently, the one method that you both have in common is more than likely written word! In todays society we rely on writing digitally every single day for texting, emails, searching the internet and much, much more.

There is no reason that you can not use this same tactic to communicate with a deaf person, this could be done digitally (on your phones or laptops) or by the old-fashioned method of pen and paper.

For instance, you could write down a simple question such as “Where would you like to go for dinner?” and pass them the pen and paper to write their response back.

Gestures and Facial Expressions

Regardless of whether the person uses ASL, chooses to lip read or you are both writing things down in order to communicate, the vast majority of deaf people study gestures and facial expressions extra hard as this can aid communication.

Therefore, it is a good idea to make sure that your facial expressions clearly express how you are feeling about a topic or the message that you are trying to convey.

Similarly, it is important to use gestures to emphasise the points that you are trying to make, however, if you are using ASL try to avoid this as it can cause confusion.

Final Thoughts

When communicating with a deaf person it is important to first know and understand their preferred method of communication and try to stick to that.

Obviously, if they like to use ASL and you do not know this language this will not be possible. In the vast majority of cases, it doesn’t really matter how you communicate but rather just that you show that you are willing to try and that the person that you are communicating with is worth that time to you. Being deaf can be isolating but using the tactics given you can be a part of combating the problem.