Tips for Brief Communication with Deaf & Hard-of-Hearing People

Deaf and hard-of-hearing people use a number of communication modes.

Depending on several factors--age at which deafness began; type of deafness; language skills; speech abilities; family environment, and whether a person has a memory of sound-Deaf and hard-of-hearing people will have several different modes of communicating.

Some people use speech only.

Again, depending on the extent of their hearing loss, a person may communicate using only speech or a combination of sign language, speech reading (commonly known as "lip-reading"), finger-spelling, and speech or writing.  For some Deaf people, American Sign Language (ASL), not English, is their native language.  You can communicate with Deaf and hard-of-hearing people in several ways.  The key is to find out which combination of techniques works best with each Deaf or hard-of-hearing person.  To do so is by asking the Deaf or hard-of-hearing person what his/her preferred mode of communication is.

These guidelines should be used when the communication will be short, simple and straightforward.

If the information being conveyed is more complex or of longer duration, you will need to engage the services of a sign language interpreter, or other methods of providing effective communication, such as Computer-Aided Real-Time Transcription (CART), depending on the needs of the individual.


Get the Deaf or hard-of-hearing person's attention before speaking.

You should be sure to be in the person's line of vision.  Call out the person's name; if that is not successful, a gentle touch on the shoulder, a wave, or other visual signal usually does the trick.

The noise level in a room can make a big difference.

Be aware that a person with partial hearing may have trouble hearing in certain situations.  For example, a person may not respond as names are called.  You may need to locate a quiet place in which to converse, with little or no background noise.  Even hearing aids or Cochlear Implants provide little help in noisy environments.

Identify who you are.

Introduce yourself or show your name badge or business card.

Key the Deaf or hard-of-hearing person into the topic of discussion.

Deaf and hard-of-hearing people need to know what the subject matter is to be discussed in order to pick up words that help them follow conversation.  This is especially important for Deaf and hard-of-hearing people who depend on speechreading (also known as “lip-reading”).

Avoid standing in front of a light source, such as a window or bright light.

The glare and shadows created on the face make it almost impossible for the Deaf or hard-of-hearing person to speechread (or lip-read).

Look directly at the Deaf or hard-of-hearing person when speaking.

Face the light.  Avoid turning away to write on the board or pull something from a file.

Speak slowly and clearly, but do not yell, exaggerate, or over-pronounce.

Exaggeration and overemphasis of words distorts lip movements, making speechreading more difficult.  Try to enunciate each word, without force or tension.  Short sentences are easier to understand than longer ones.  It also helps to emphasize verbs and nouns.

First repeat, and then try to rephrase a thought.

If you have problems being understood, rearrange your thoughts rather than repeating the same words again.  Don't hesitate to try communicating by pencil and paper if necessary.  Getting the message across is more important than the medium used.

Maintain eye contact with the person.

Eye contact conveys the feeling of direct communication.  Even if an interpreter is present, continue to speak directly to the person.  He or she will turn to the interpreter as needed.

Do not place anything in your mouth when speaking.

Mustaches that obscure the lips, smoking, pencil chewing, and putting your hand in front of your face all make it difficult for a Deaf or hard-of-hearing person to follow what is being said.

Be courteous to the Deaf or hard-of-hearing person during conversation.

If the telephone rings or someone knocks at the door, excuse yourself and tell the Deaf or hard-of-hearing person that you are responding to the knock or answering the phone.  Do not ignore the Deaf or hard-of-hearing person and carry on a conversation with someone else while the Deaf or hard-of-hearing person waits.

Use visual supplements whenever possible.

Ask if it would be helpful to communicate by writing or by using a computer to type back and forth. Using photos, drawings, and charts can also help facilitate communication.

Use pantomime, body language, and facial expression to help supplement your communication.

Sometimes body movement supplements the message you are trying to convey.

Some people who are Deaf or hard-of-hearing may not speak

Depending on the person's impairment, he/she may not be able to communicate verbally or may have speech that is difficult to understand.

Focus on listening and communicating.

Here are some tips:

  • If you do not understand something, do not pretend that you do.  Ask the person to repeat what was said, and then repeat it back.
  • Be patient and respectful and take as much time as is necessary.
  • Try to ask questions that require only short answers or a nod of the head.
  • Discuss private or personal matters in a private room to avoid staring or eavesdropping by others, as you would do for any other person.

In writing

Always ask a Deaf or hard-of-hearing person if they prefer written communication.  Do not assume that this is the preferred method.  When using writing as a form of communication with Deaf people, take into consideration their English and writing skills.  Their skills may depend on whether they were born Deaf or became Deaf later in life and which communication method they prefer.

Keep your message short and simple.

Establish the subject area, avoid assumptions, and make your sentence concise.

It is not necessary to write out every word.

Short phrases or a few words often are sufficient to transfer the information.

Face the Deaf or hard-of-hearing person after you have written your message.

If you can see each other's facial expressions, communication will be easier and more accurate.

Use visual representations

If you are explaining specific or technical vocabulary to a Deaf or hard-of-hearing person, drawings, diagrams, etc., help the person comprehend the information.

For additional information or further assistance, please contact:

Disability Programs & Resource Center (DPRC)
Student Services Building 110
Tel.: 415/338-2472 (voice/TTY)
Fax: 415/338-1041