How to communicate with a deaf or hard of hearing person

As we get older there are more and more people suffering some form of deafness, many even to the point of needing a hearing aid or cochlear.

Having been deaf since birth I read with interest an article titled "Ten things you should never say to a deaf person by Charlie Swinbourne" found here. He has some very valid points where such comments are offensive to some deaf people. However I don’t necessarily agree with all of his comments though they are some obvious points to be made here and judging by the comments made.

Personally I believe the majority of people are certainly not meaning to be offensive. I like to use such opportunities to educate people about deafness when appropriate. Most misunderstandings come from ignorance and lack of understanding of what they said.

I think I will start a collection of some of the silly things people say. Here's the latest one that occurred as we were assisting a traveller searching for directions. When I had to let him know that I was having some difficulty understanding him with his accent, he later asked. "How is it that I can talk?" I just said. "It is easy. I don't need my ears to talk." Oh duh!

So what can you do to effectively communicate with a deaf person? 

Here are some points for consideration.

  • Ask them what they need to help communication go well. Needs vary from person to person, and you being willing to make the effort to meet someone halfway makes a HUGE difference. Really, you have no idea how much that is appreciated. Requirements can vary greatly from person to person, and you being willing to make the effort to meet someone halfway makes a HUGE difference. Really, you have no idea how much that is appreciated.
  • Try rephrasing your comment or question. Often we are getting stuck on a single word of sentence. There are some words that look alike, and sometimes the same word can be used in the same context in a sentence. It does take a little work figuring out things like this.
  • Deafness is not a sign of lower intelligence. Any misunderstandings are usually because of not hearing correctly in the first place. Don’t assume that the deaf person is stupid if they don’t respond in a certain manner or even give a ‘weird’ answer. They probably didn’t hear you properly. I can’t recall the number of times when I have assumed I have heard correctly, yet I have come back with an otherwise comical or ‘weird’ answer. When the correct interpretation has been implemented then we can laugh together if you have not made me feel embarrassed about my misinterpretation.
  • Don’t assume that a hearing aid or a cochlear means that we can hear very well now. We don’t. It assists us but we still need to interpret the sounds we hear or think we hear.
  • If you have an accent then please be extra patient with us. It is extra work for us. It is not your fault but neither is it our fault.
  • Eliminate all background sounds especially music when ever possible.
  • Good lighting is essential. Stand or sit with your face in the light. Direct overhead lighting throws shadows. Dusk is difficult as are flickering lights such as a campfire or bonfire.
  • Deaf people rarely have any depth of field where sound is concerned. We have no idea where the sound is coming from.
  • Don’t raise your voice unless asked.
  • Don’t assume that just because they ‘speak well’ that they are not very deaf. The two are not linked!
  • Don’t exaggerate your mouth movement when speaking.
  • If you have a beard or moustache, please keep your top lip trimmed so we can see the outline of your lips.
  • Understand that hearing and lip reading takes a lot of effort and we can become tired or even exhausted. We are prone to make even more mistakes at speech recognition when we are tired. This is especially true at conferences , lectures and classes etc.
  • Have a pen and paper handy if you get stuck.This can save a lot of embarrassments and misunderstandings.
  • Please be patient and repeat it often if necessary. Don’t say, “Never mind” or “It wasn’t important” if it was important enough to say it once, then we might feel unimportant if you can’t be bothered to repeat it. As mentioned earlier, try rephrasing it for us. We don’t choose to be deaf.Please, please don’t give up on us. We are apart of the community too! We didn't become deaf by choice and we have no other reality.


Photo: Woofiegrrl
Mostly you just need to take time to talk with patience and kindness. Make the opportunity to learn from each other. Wouldn’t the world be a much better place if we each took the time to get to know what it was like to walk in another person’s shoes?

Have you had any funny comments made relating to yours or someone's deafness? I would love to compile a list for a future post!


  1. good to put this into a form that can be digested by others easily Michelle. Well done.

    1. Thank you Marion. I have had a lot of response to this post already. It is filling a need out there. Even simple things can be helpful.

  2. Thanks for posting that list! I especially like the fact that you mentioned lighting. The non-HOH person especially needs to be in good light! It is even mor important for me because I am also high partial legally blind, so I have to use my residual hearing AND my residual sight! I learned a LOT of these things probably in the 1970! My dad was almost totally deaf because of the work he did. I found the HLAA (Hearing Loss Assn. of Americ) back when it was SHHH (Self Help for Hard of Hearing) - guess I found it from searching at the library as that was before computers - and subscribed to it, to help Mother and me communicate better with Daddy. And now I'VE worn HAs for almost 7 years! (Sorry for being so long winded!)

    1. Thank Netagene, It is good to be reminded of things that we can take for granted. Someone mentioned to me that they will print it out to pass on to some people. Might be a way to get your friends and family to help understand what you go through.

  3. I am just under hearing status: 30 decibel in left, 20 right as of a year ago. I can hear a lot, and talk like most hearing, but I am not hearing...I experience nearly all your list and posted on Facebook.

    To hearing: Pease stop thinking it is my fault for "not paying attention" when I mess up. It is mumbling, looking down maybe at purse or turning away, the mustache thing, a restaurant with light music to try to hear through, sounds of others chatting, motors and fans, other don't ever notice them...but I only hear them and a few of your words get scrambled in the mix. Getting angry, or thinking I am not listening and deciding to not be my friend is bigotry.

    Add Deafies signing with us new signers too. We can't help it we don't sign good or undy your fast fingers, any more than you can lipread a Polish person! We know it is tedious, but if you all give up on us or make us feel retarded, some will feel depressed, and retreat from life.

    Hearing peeps, if you sign or not, if we are just a bit hoh or full deaf, please do not think it is a hassle to say it 3 or 4 times! We want so mush to retain communication with hearing friends too. I have had people get mad at me, throw hands in disgust, turn away to talk facing a hearing person, or just walk past me. It hurts!

    Lastly I will add to the list: if you are hoh and don't undy a speaker or the signing of others, please do NOT ask me or brand new signers to fully interpret what they just detail. I have been asked to explain, but i don't sign fluently, so in the hurry, and frustration of them onto me for not explaining fully so they undy, I lose too. Please request the speaker, signer, or fluent terp to tell you in full detail again...if you ask me, I will try to give you a brief jist only..don't get pissed.

    1. You sound as though you have had a harder time than I. Maybe because I have been deaf all my life (only 10% in one ear and nothing in the other). I am my friends and family are used to it though some days anything and everything can get us down whether we are hearing or not.
      Thanks for some of your additional comments for people to consider.


Thank you so much for popping by, I appreciate your comments!