Around 900,000 people in the UK are severely deaf and 24,000 use sign language as their main method of communicating with others.
Unfortunately, there are still a lot of us out there who don’t really know how to talk to people who are deaf and this can come across as pretty offensive.
For example, some people still think that shouting at a person with hearing loss is acceptable.
Senior audiologist at national charity Action on Hearing Loss, Gemma Twitchen, said: ‘Hearing Loss affects people of all ages and can be caused by a number of factors, including exposure to loud noises, virus or disease, aging and it can be inherited.
‘Small changes in our lives can make a big impact on people with hearing loss, so let this be the week you forget all the stereotypes you’ve heard and just make some new friends.’
So the next time you’re with a person who is affected by hearing loss, try to avoid doing any of these things.
1. Don’t cover your mouth
A lot of people who are deaf, but not all, use lipreading to understand people they are talking to. There are even lipreading classes where you can learn what shapes the mouth makes when different words are spoken. But while lipreading is an amazing skill, it’s impossible to do it when the person you’re talking to has their hand over their mouth.
2. Don’t exaggerate your lip movements or speak slowly
When you were reading the paragraph above, you were probably practicing saying different words very slowly exaggerated lip movements. While it’s tempting to do this when you know someone is lipreading, it actually makes it harder to lipread. Just try not to overthink it and you will make conversation easier for both of you.
3. Don’t exaggerate your facial expressions and gestures
You might think that smiling extra wide and throwing your hands around the place like a Roman orator will help a deaf person understand you. It won’t. Remember you are talking to a person with hearing loss, not a toddler. This kind of behaviour can come across as cringeworthy at best and plain offensive at worst.
4. Don’t keep repeating yourself
There might be a word or a phrase you use that the person with hearing loss doesn’t understand. They might politely tell you. If they do, don’t just repeat the individual word or phrase over and over again. Sounding like a stuck record isn’t going to do either of you much good. If they didn’t understand you the first or second time, try using a different word.
5. Don’t Shout
This is a big one. Shouting at anyone is rude and shouting at someone with hearing loss is no different. Not only can it come across as aggressive, but it can also cause some hearing aid users discomfort. While you might not intend to shout, your voice might start getting louder without you realising. Just give yourself a volume check every now and then.
6. Don’t waffle
Nobody likes a waffler, especially people with hearing problems. If you’re using ten words when one will do, the person your with is more likely to lose track of the conversation. This is also the case with jargon. Use plain language and make sure you are both engaging in the conversation. If the person opposite you looks confused or even bored, you may be waffling.
7. Don’t sit in dark area next to a loudspeaker if you’re going on a date at a restaurant or you are meeting someone at a pub, think about where you are both going to sit or stand. Sitting near a loudspeaker, or a large group of noisy people isn’t going to help. If the person you’re with is going to lipread, it’s also good to go to a well-lit area where they will be able to see your mouth.
8. Don’t assume hearing aids cure deafness
Just because someone is wearing hearing aids, doesn’t mean they can hear you perfectly. They might be very clever devices, but they are not necessarily miracle workers. If you see someone has hearing aids, it might be worth asking if they need to lipread. That way you can make sure you don’t cover your mouth etc.
9. Don’t talk to the back of someone’s head
If you’re with someone who has hearing problems, they won’t necessarily know you are speaking to them if they can’t see your face. It’s always good to have face-to-face contact. So if you give your order for the bar to the back of someone’s head, don’t be surprised if your drink never materialises.
10. Don’t talk to the interpreter
If you’re talking to someone who uses sign language, they might have a BSL interpreter with them. While the interpreter may be a very nice person, remember you are talking to the person with hearing problems, not them. This might seem strange when you first start, but it should become pretty natural as the conversation goes on. Remember, the interpreter is not going to be offended if you don’t look at them when you’re speaking, but the person with hearing problems might be.
11. Don’t assume the person knows you are talking to them If you are in a situation where you are talking to the back of someone’s head, it might be worth trying to get their attention so they can turn round. A subtle wave or a very light tap on the arm could do wonders. It goes without saying that doing a frantic SOS signal in a public place is embarrassing for both of you.
12. Don’t ignore deaf people in groups
You might be speaking to a group of people with different hearing abilities. If this is the case, don’t just speak to the hearing people and ignore everyone else. It’s pretty obvious that this is going to make the people or person with hearing difficulties feel excluded from the group. Plus, now that you’ve read the eleven points above, you shouldn’t have anything to worry about when it comes to chatting with deaf people.