Not sure how to communicate with a student who is deaf? This article provides five simple guidelines.
1. Most people feel uncomfortable when meeting a Deaf person for the first time. This is very normal. When we communicate with people, we general don't have to think about the process. When faced with a Deaf person, we are uncertain which rules apply. We don't know where to look, or how fast or loud to speak. When the Deaf person gives us a look of confusion, we don't know how to correct the problem. Accept the fact that your initial communications will feel uncomfortable and awkward. As you interact more, you will start to feel more comfortable and know how to make yourself understood.
2. It's okay to write a Deaf person. The Deaf person will appreciate your effort even more if you use a combination of gestures, facial expressions, body language, and written communication. Some Deaf people can lip read very well. If one approach doesn't work, try another. If the deaf person uses her/his voice and you don't understand, it's fine to indicate the person should write.
3. Most people engage in very quick and efficient conversations. We often lose patience when someone is having difficulty understanding. We look for ways to speed up the interaction. Deaf people highly value face-to-face communication and perceive it as an investment, not as an imposition. Take the time to communicate and connect. If the Deaf person does not understand, she or he will ask questions. If you do not understand the Deaf person, stop the conversation and ask for clarification. Never fake understanding or say, “Never mind, it’s not important.” No matter how trivial, share the information.
4. Deaf people listen with their eyes. A Deaf person cannot look at an object and at the same time listen to you describe how to use it. Only talk when you have eye contact with the Deaf person.
5. Many Deaf people will use a sign language interpreter. You should speak directly to the Deaf person, not to the interpreter, and maintain eye contact with the deaf person. This will feel awkward because the Deaf person will be looking at the interpreter, not you, but it will be noticed and appreciated by the Deaf person.
6. Some people are reluctant to attempt to communicate directly with a Deaf person when they use an interpreter. Use the beginning and end of the conversation as an opportunity for direct communication with the Deaf person. When you take the initiative to shake hands, make eye contact, use gestures, touch and/or smile, you are communicating in a visual and tactile manner.
Adapted from PepNet. (2003). Deaf Culture. http://www.pepnet.org/sites/default/files/71PEPNet%20Tipsheet%20Deaf%20Culture.pdf