Did you know that over 5% of the world’s population – 360 million people – have disabling hearing loss (328 million adults and 32 million children), from which the majority live in low- and middle-income countries?
In fact, ‘9 in every 10 deaf children are born to hearing parents,’ but only 1 in 10 of those parents will learn sign language to be able to communicate fully with their son or daughter.
Deaf people are cut-off from the usual forms of communicating – a shout of emergency warning, a beeping horn whilst driving, hearing your name at the doctors, train station announcement, hearing the Adhaan being called from a Mosque/TV/radio, or a simple ‘excuse me’ from a stranger at the supermarket.
Learning about Islam has proven to be difficult for many deaf Muslims as a large percentage cannot read and fully understand written literature, thus it is paramount to publish more inclusive Islamic literature such as “A-Z of Islamic Signs in BSL,” to educate and empower the deaf Muslim community. Deafness is the third most common disability in the world but you probably wouldn’t spot a deaf person in a crowd.
Here are 11 tips to help you communicate with a deaf person more effectively:
1. Secure the person’s attention
Make sure you have the person’s full attention before you start to speak, otherwise they may miss part of what you’re saying. You can do this with a wave or a light touch on the shoulder.
2. Face the person
Look directly at the person you are talking to and maintain eye contact, even if they have an interpreter who translates your speech into sign language. You are having a conversation with them; the interpreter is simply a facilitator. Also, don’t walk away or turn while you are speaking.
3. If the person can read lips, keep the light in front of you
If you’re standing in front of a sunny window, or if a bright light is behind you, your face will be in shadow. That makes it harder for someone who is deaf to see your lips, facial expressions and other conversational cues. If necessary, move so you face the light.
4. Body language
Use body language and facial expression to augment your message but don’t exaggerate or overemphasize lip movement.
5. If the person does not understand you, rephrase your message instead of repeating it
Speaking loudly doesn’t necessarily help, as louder volume can distort words. You can also use pen and paper to enhance understanding.
6. Use your mouth only for talking
Gum chewing, smoking or even nibbling on a pencil while talking makes it more difficult to see your lips and therefore what you’re saying. Likewise, keep your hands away from your mouth.
7. Eliminate background sounds
If the person has some hearing (hard of hearing), try to eliminate background noises like televisions or music. Someone who is hard of hearing may have the TV or radio turned up loud, may ask you to repeat what you’ve said, or may appear to be ignoring what’s being said around them.
8. Speak one person at a time
If you’re in a group, work meeting or friendly discussion, takes turns to speak. When there are multiple conversations going on it can be difficult for someone who is hard of hearing to follow, so try to have one general conversation instead of multiple conversations.
9. Don’t assume the person knows sign language just because they’re deaf
There are many ways for people who are hard of hearing to communicate. Sign language is only one of them. You might spot a hearing aid on someone, this could mean they are hard of hearing and can speak however their voice could sound very different to what is considered normal, You can ask what type of communication method they prefer.
10. If the phone rings or there is some other interruption, let them know
Someone who is completely deaf may not notice the interruption and may be unaware of what distracted you. Keep them in the loop.
11. Include them in conversations, even if it takes more effort
The joy of humanity is connecting with other people. So even if it takes a little time or extra effort, bring someone who is deaf into the conversation. You might learn something interesting.
About the author: Aminul Hoque is Co-Founder of AminYasmin.com which is a company specializing in the publication deaf friendly educational resources and raising deaf awareness in the wider community. Aminul has extensive experience working with children and adults with disabilities and is passionate about community development. If you would like to connect please email firstname.lastname@example.org
- World Health Organisation (http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs300/en/)
- Sign Health (http://www.signhealth.org.uk/about-deafness/deaf-awareness/)
- World Federation of the Deaf (https://wfdeaf.org/iwd2017-full-inclusion-with-sign-language/)
- British Deaf Association (https://bda.org.uk/fast-facts-about-the-deaf-community/)