Deafness and its repercussions are not always apparent on the surface. A Deaf person is someone with hearing loss who identifies as part of the Deaf community with its own culture, language and values. Many Deaf people are proud of their identity and reject any notion that their deafness is “unfortunate”. Although Deaf people commonly use speech and additional non-verbal cues to aid communication, many prefer to use Auslan (Australian sign language).
The terms ‘hard of hearing’ (HOH) or ‘hearing impaired’ refer to a diverse group either born with hearing difficulties (mild to profound) or lose hearing after acquiring speech. They often use hearing devices – such as hearing aids or cochlear implants – and verbal communication.
Deaf and HOH people can experience prejudice and discrimination, which negatively impact mental health. There are many things we can all do to make communication with Deaf and HOH people smooth and clear:
– Ensure they are looking at you before speaking. Facial expressions, lip reading and context aid a Deaf or hearing impaired person to understand you. Speak clearly but do not over-pronounce as this distorts lip movements.
– Check for understanding. ‘Smiling and nodding’ is common in Deaf/HOH to lend the appearance of understanding.
– If the Deaf/HOH person is finding it difficult to understand, rephrase the message, rather than repeating it exactly.
– Avoid abrupt topic changes.
– Provide visual or written aids in plain English whenever possible.
– When working with an Auslan interpreter, speak directly to the Deaf person, not the interpreter.
– Always clarify with the Deaf/HOH person the most effective way of communicating with them.
Written by Ashleigh Wallach, an Auslan-proficient psychologist at Seed Psychology.