Today we acknowledge International Day of Sign Language and International Week of the Deaf and the theme of Building Inclusive Communities for All. On behalf of our Accessibility Network, one of our employees, Alex Powell, our Director of Client Cultural Insights, wanted to share some information on how to make communication with the Deaf and hard of hearing respectful and enjoyable. She shared this in our Diversity slack channel and EP!C Newsfeed, two spaces dedicated to having Open and Honest Conversations around Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at RG.
She hopes this post can bring more understanding and awareness to how you can be an ally to this community and help our Accessibility Network on its mission to ensure that Reward Gateway as an employer and Reward Gateway's products are inclusive and accessible to everyone.
I have found the great majority of Deaf individuals are used to doing the work to communicate with hearing people, and so are very appreciative and patient with those that make even a small effort to adjust their communication.
Here are 12 top tips shared by the National Deaf Children’s Society. With two deaf children herself, Alex has specifically heard about #3, #9, and #12 and how big a difference these tips make in whether her kids feel important and connected vs. awkward and a burden.
12 tips to be more deaf-friendly
It’s important to understand that every deaf person is different with different levels of deafness, hearing aids or implants, technology and communication preferences but the tips below are useful for communicating with all deaf and hard of hearing people.
1. Find out how the deaf person communicates
Every deaf person will have a preferred way of communicating, so find out if they use speech, British Sign Language (BSL)/American Sign Language (ASL) or a mixture of both. (Yes, British and American sign languages are different!) Ask if they need any communication support and if so, find out what type and what level.
2. Get the person's attention
To get a deaf person's attention you can wave, knock a table, or tap their shoulder lightly. Keep in mind that if someone isn’t responding to just your voice, they may not be rude, they might just not hear you!
3. Face the person when you’re talking
Make sure that they can see your face clearly when you're talking. Don’t move around while you’re talking as this will make it impossible for the person to see your facial expressions, hear your voice and lip-read.
Below is a video that really illustrates how the body language we use and our openness to repeating information that gets missed can make a world of difference.
4. Speak clearly and naturally
Deaf people may try to lip-read, so they need you to say words as you normally would. Speaking slowly or too loudly makes lip-reading much more difficult.
5. Watch your mouth
Covering your mouth with your hands, eating, chewing gum or smoking can make lip-reading very difficult. It will also muffle any sound you’re making.
6. Use visual cues where possible
Point to what you’re talking about, and don’t be shy about using gestures to support your communication. For example, if you want to ask someone if they’d like a drink, you can point to your mug or make a drinking motion.
7. Make it clear what the topic of conversation is
They will find it easier to guess your words if they know what you’re talking about. Make sure the deaf person knows when the topic changes.
8. Stand with your face to the light
Standing by a window or in poor lighting makes lip-reading very difficult.
9. Speak one at a time
Group conversations can be difficult for a deaf person to follow. Make it easier by asking everyone to take their turn talking and to make a sign if they want to speak next. I have seen groups hand a tennis ball or pencil around as an indication of whose turn it is to speak. The motion of handing off the item also helps the deaf or hard of hearing person locate who to watch next.
10. Reduce background noise
Hearing aids and cochlear implants help to amplify sounds. This means the person wearing them has to concentrate very hard on your voice to hear it over everything else. (It’s like listening through a speaker phone!) Background noises such as traffic or the radio can make it difficult for them to listen. Block out unnecessary noise by seating in quieter places, closing windows, doors and turning machines off.
11. Telephone alternatives
Some deaf people can use the telephone, but this is not the case for everyone. Consider alternatives such as text messaging, whatsapp or email.
You can also use a video relay service which uses a sign language interpreter as the relay assistant. This works in a similar way to video chat. The deaf person is connected to an interpreter using a live video link. The interpreter will then use sign language to interpret between the deaf person and the hearing person.
12. Never give up or say “I’ll tell you later”
Deaf people have told us someone saying “I’ll tell you later” is their absolute pet hate. It can feel natural to someone that is in a rush to leave or feels the situation was complicated and tough to describe, but imagine being less likely to pick up on conversation, then advocating for yourself, and then being shut down. Deaf individuals want to be involved just like their peers, so if one method doesn’t work, don’t be scared to improvise. You can try texting on your phone, emailing, or good old-fashioned pen and paper.
🎥 Check out the movie CODA (child of deaf adults) for one perspective on a Deaf family. Most deaf children are born to hearing parents, so families with deaf individuals are usually pretty varied in how they communicate and you can see how these dynamics might impact a family.
🎥 Or try the movie Sound of Metal. The story of a drummer as he realizes he is becoming deaf - what that means for his career, his friendships and his future.
📚 Julie Zadow, our Chief Marketing Officer, also shared in our Diversity slack channel the following:
Last year I read a book called “Far From the Tree” by Andrew Solomon. It taught me how much I still needed to learn and understand about deaf culture. Here is a short snippet of an interview of Andrew Solomon talking about what he has learned about deaf culture as a result of the research he did leading up to the publishing of his book.
We hope you found this helpful and if you'd like to learn more about our mission to make Reward Gateway a more EPIC place to work, visit rg.co/diversity.