Communication is a skill everyone should learn how to do. 7% of communication is the words that are spoken, 38% is the tone, and 55% is body language.
In the deaf (or hearing impaired) community, we are naturally more perceptive when reading body language.
According to the Oxford Dictionary, body language is “the process of communicating nonverbally through conscious or unconscious gestures and movements.”
So, we look at movements, facial expressions, voice tone, and volume. We also look at micro-expressions, hand gestures, and posture.
That being said, here are some tips you can use when talking to someone who is hearing impaired (if you use these they will enjoy having a conversation with you a lot more):
This may seem obvious, but many people actually struggle to do this and speak as if someone is already engaged in conversation with them (even before the conversation has started). You can do this by saying the person’s name first, waiting until they respond before you continue speaking. If necessary, a gentle touch on the wrist or arm should not startle or be offensive to someone who is hard of hearing.
In the deaf community, turning the lights on and off to get someone’s attention is perfectly acceptable. The deaf culture vs. the hearing culture is not always the same. Where in the hearing culture you would not interrupt someone who is in the middle of a conversation (some would, but the point is it is rude), it is not considered rude to do so in the deaf culture.
2. Eye contact
You should always be facing the person you are talking to if they are hearing impaired. Make eye contact with them. This way they can see facial expressions and body language as mentioned before.
3. Hands away from mouth
You will allow the other person to make use of visual cues and you will also produce clearer speech.
4. Don’t change the shape or cover your mouth
Most hearing impaired use lip-reading. This improves identification of sounds. Don’t chew gum while talking and remember that heavy beards and mustaches can hide your mouth.
Have you ever been in a situation where you are listening to someone talk and you don’t hear them so you ask them to repeat themselves only to know what they said before they answer? For those of you that had to read the question above ten times before understanding it, it means you don’t understand somebody and then after hearing context clues or processing for an extra few seconds (longer than it normally takes you) you understand what they said.
This is what lip-reading helps the hearing impaired do. This is the main way deaf and hearing people can communicate if one or neither person knows sign language. This is why it is vital that we see your face and mouth.
5. Speak naturally
Speak distinctly, but without exaggeration.
Everything in this section is basically a quote because it word for word says the most perfect way of explaining how you should speak. You do not need to shout. Shouting actually distorts the words. Try not to mumble, as this is very hard to understand, even for people with normal hearing. Speak at a normal rate, not too fast or too slow. Use pauses rather than slow speech to give the person time to process speech.
6. Rephrase rather than repeat
I think for me, as someone who is hearing impaired, this is one of the big ones. If I have difficulty understanding what you said, say it a different way. If I didn’t understand you the first time, I might, even probably won’t understanding a second time (or a third, or a fourth,…)
7. Converse away from background noise
Try to reduce background noises. Turn off the radio or television. Move to a quiet space away from the noise source. When going to a restaurant or making dinner reservations, ask for a table away from the kitchen, server stations, or large parties.
8. Find good lighting
Make sure your face can easily be seen. Also, avoid strong lighting coming from behind you, such as through a window.
Duty of the deaf/hearing impaired
“Unfortunately, it is the duty of the deaf/hearing impaired to educate the ignorant when it comes to communication with our community. (Will Eason)”
As a normal hearing culture, making sure deaf people understand conversations is not a priority.