- This page, Guidelines for Effective Communication with Deaf, Late-Deafened, and Hard of Hearing People, is offered by
- Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing
Guidelines for Effective Communication with Deaf, Late-Deafened, and Hard of Hearing People
Table of Contents
BEFORE the conversation starts:
- Get the person's attention before you begin speaking to them. For a Deaf or a late deafened person facing away from you, a wave from the side, or a gentle tap on the shoulder (if social distancing protocols allow) is helpful. Calling someone’s name or saying “excuse me” is generally less effective for persons who may not be able to hear you or locate where the sound is coming from.
- Always ask the person what the best way to communicate with them is and what form of communication access they require, if any. This should be done with enough lead time that you can meet requests for specific accommodations that you may not have on hand.
- A Deaf person may require an ASL interpreter, while a hard of hearing person may require an assistive listening device and a late deafened person may require CART (verbatim text transcription of the spoken word). Please be sure all participants’ stated communication needs have been met before proceeding. If any participant does not have full communication access, the meeting or event should be postponed.
- Always face and speak directly to the person whom you are communicating with, not their partner, spouse, or communication facilitator.
- Keep your face and mouth visible whenever safely possible. Wear masks with a transparent window so that people can see your lips to speech-read and “see” your expressions. Please DO NOT remove or pull down your mask as this is dangerous in close proximity.
- Remove gum, cigarettes, food, or other objects from mouth when you are not wearing a mask, as this makes speech-reading impossible.
- Be sure there is enough lighting in the location and that seating is arranged so that everyone in a meeting or conversation can see everyone else. This also applies to remote meetings – check your self-view window to be sure your face is clearly visible and well lit, and there are no bright light sources behind you that could silhouette you. Windows or other bright light sources, even if they are not directly behind you, can cause distracting and bothersome lighting effects and shadows.
- For any situation involving multiple speakers, please lay the groundwork for an inclusive meeting by reiterating best communication practices.
- For impromptu, brief information exchanges, pen and paper, texting, and speech-to-text applications on a smartphone or tablet may be used with everyone’s consent. Remember that what works for one person does not necessarily work for another.
- Select physically accessible, quiet and visually plain locations for conversations and meetings. Loud and busy environments create audible and visual distractions.
- Maintain eye contact with Deaf, hard of hearing and late deafened participants, and do not be afraid to inquire whether communication access is effective for everyone. Do not specifically ask one person because this ‘outs’ them to others who may not know of their disability.
DURING the conversation:
- Speak as clearly as possible and at a moderate pace.
- Use short sentences and organize your communication to be to the point. This benefits everyone, including any ASL interpreter/CART provider you may be using.
- Under normal circumstances, raising your voice may be counterproductive – clarity is often more important than volume. If you are wearing a mask, however, you may need to speak up as masks ‘swallow’ a significant amount of sound. An assistive listening device may be especially helpful under these circumstances, even for people who do not generally use them. A microphone placed close to the speaker’s mouth will make up for some of the reduced volume.
- Rephrase rather than repeating yourself if you are not understood.
- Avoid using words that don’t commonly appear in everyday conversational settings, unless you know that the other person will understand them.
- If you are in a meeting where you know technical terms will be used, provide these in advance to the ASL interpreter/CART provider so they can incorporate them into their lexicon.
- Keep movement to a minimum while speaking. Pacing, turning away from speaker, or covering your mouth while talking may make speech-reading or hearing with a hearing aid more difficult.
- Use supportive facial expressions, body language and gestures when appropriate and possible. These "clues" can fill in missing gaps or help with the "tone" of your message.
- Clearly identify when you are changing subjects: “Now, we are talking about this “
- If you think someone may not be understanding you, never say “Did you hear what I just said?”. Instead, say something like “Just checking in to be sure I’m still communicating clearly “. Make it about yourself, not the other person; nobody likes to be put on the spot, particularly a person with a disability that you may be aware of but that others in the same meeting or conversation may not be.
- When confirming important information, ask the person to remind you of what was being said, rather than appearing to quiz their comprehension.
- Write down information or key words as reinforcements. In a formal setting, an agenda is very helpful.
- Be aware that some accents, speech disabilities, or slang may pose great challenges to a Deaf, hard of hearing or late deafened person.
- Never talk over someone else, or have side conversations, or dismiss someone who has asked you to repeat by saying “It’s not important” or “It doesn’t matter”.
- Communication can be difficult and frustrating, even for people who are not Deaf, hard of hearing or late deafened. Understanding this, please be aware that expressing or showing frustration with the communicative process instantly creates a prejudiced and negative environment for whomever you are communicating with.
As the conversation ENDS:
- Offer to summarize and/or circulate written notes. This is another opportunity to make sure that everyone has understood the conversation that has just taken place.
- Express your appreciation for the efforts all participants have made, and (if you have obtained permission beforehand to do so) ask the Deaf/hard of hearing/late deafened person if there is anything that they would like to see done differently for the next similar conversation or meeting.
- Thank all communication access providers for their contributions.
MCDHH provides trainings on effective communication access in a variety of settings, including the use of appropriate auxiliary aids and services for a given setting or environment, at no cost. Please request such a training for your organization here: https://www.mass.gov/forms/request-free-inservice-or-educational-training.
If you do not at this time want to request a training, but have a specific question related to communication access, please do so here: