When spending time with a deaf person, you should be sensitive to their needs and treat them with the respect they deserve. Talking with a deaf person can be easy, once you establish the deaf community etiquette, to ensure you are not offensive in your interactions. Always bear in mind that despite their disability, deaf people share the same emotions as everyone else. Below are some of the useful guidelines on how to effectively communicate with the deaf.

What to Do

  • To get the attention of a deaf person, gentley tapping or switching on and off the lights to get attention works better than poking them incessantly or making awkward moves which may startle them.
  • Always address the deaf by looking at them and maintaining eye contact. Even if they have an interpreter, consider the interpreters as people who are supposed to make the conversation more comfortable, and not the subject of discussion.
  • Have a natural and flowing conversation, just as you would with your friends who can hear. The discussion should not focus on the disability unless the deaf person is comfortable in discussing their deafness.
  • If the deaf person is learning how to read lips, speak distinctly and clearly so that they can grasp what you are saying. It also helps to learn sign language, so that you can communicate effectively. It gives them a sense of belonging, to know that someone cares enough to learn a language they can participate in.
  • If you have children, make them aware in advance that there is a population who do not hear. You should also tell them of the existence of sign language so that they do not say offensive things when they see deaf people trying to communicate.

What Not to Do

  • Resist the temptation to say nasty or offensive things while assuming that the deaf person will not hear you.
  • Do not try correcting a deaf person’s language or signing, just because you feel they are not doing it how you were taught. Understand that several sign languages are dependant on regional variations.
  • If you are in a hotel or restaurant, let the deaf person order their own food. Do not take it upon yourself to order for them, unless they request you to.
  • When visiting a deaf person, ring the doorbell or knock. They must have a way of knowing someone is at the door. Do not barge into their house or use excessive force by banging on the door, thinking that they would otherwise not know that you are visiting.
  • Do not ask unnecessary questions about their disability. Deaf people often have to deal with many people asking inappropriate questions, such as what caused their deafness, how they cope with being deaf and other questions which seem insensitive. Avoid asking those questions, unless it is clear that they want to engage in that kind of conversation.
  • If the deaf person you are engaging with has an interpreter, do not spend most of your time interacting with the interpreter and avoiding the deaf person. This is not only rude, but it may develop a weak relationship between the deaf person and the interpreter.
  • Do not treat them with uncalled for sympathy. Just because they are deaf, certainly does not mean they need someone to sympathise with them and treat them as vulnerable people.