It’s Deaf Awareness Week, a time to celebrate deaf culture, highlight the organizations that support deaf individuals and encourage the inclusion of people who are deaf or hard of hearing.
What will it take to create a truly inclusive society that is welcoming to deaf and hard of hearing individuals? As many deaf advocates put it, “there is no inclusion without accessibility.”
Below are some suggestions for how to make be inclusive of those living with deafness and hearing loss.
1. Just ask
Deaf people are individuals just like everyone else. They may have distinct communication preferences. When starting a conversation with someone who is deaf or hard of hearing, ask them how they prefer to communicate. Then, try to meet their request. Some deaf or hard of hearing individuals may prefer lipreading; some may wish to use writing; others may prefer transcription apps or other communication methods.
2. Get their attention
Wave your hand, gently tap them on the shoulder or ask someone who has their gaze to point to you to let the deaf or hard of hearing person know that you wish to communicate with them.
3. Don’t yell
Though you may mean well, yelling at a person who is deaf or hard of hearing will not help them to understand you. It will only appear disrespectful.
4. Maintain eye contact
Regardless of whether the deaf or hard of hearing person is accompanied by an interpreter, looked directly at the person, maintaining eye contact at all times. Do not talk to the interpreter, even if the deaf person is looking at the interpreter while you’re speaking. Likewise, always face the deaf or hard of hearing person when you are speaking to them. That way it is possible for them read your lips and observe your body movements and gestures which can help to facilitate communication.
5. Make office spaces accessible
Danielle Guth, a blogger for HearingLikeMe.com, recommends “providing visual cues like flashing lights for things like fire alarms, doorbells, phones, and computers.” She also advises holding meetings in spaces where everyone can face one another and using close captioning for any video or audio presentations. Using “note-taking systems like NoteTaking Express or Otter, which transcribe meetings into real-time text transcriptions” is also a helpful resource, says Guth.
6. Watch your language
Never refer to a nonverbal individual as “dumb.” This is an outdated, highly offensive and extremely inaccurate term.
7. Hire an interpreter
When arranging a meeting, performance, seminar or lecture, make sure to provide an interpreter for deaf or hard of hearing guests.
8. Consider studying American Sign Language
Did you know some colleges offer ASL as an alternative to foreign language study? Even if it’s not realistic to become fluent in ASL, it may be helpful and fun to learn a few words or phrases.
9. Be patient and respectful
When communicating with someone deaf or hard of hearing, you may need to repeat yourself or adapt your language usage to accommodate lipreading. Take your time, and don’t give up. With patience your message will get through.