According to the World Health Organization, approximately 466 million people worldwide have disabling hearing loss, with that number being expected to more than double by 2050. With statistics like these, it’s very possible that you will encounter someone with severe hearing loss during your lifetime. It may even be you. As we move into Deaf Awareness Week, let’s learn about communication strategies and resources available to help the deaf and hard of hearing.
What is Deaf Awareness Week?
Also referred to as the International Week of the Deaf, this holiday is celebrated yearly during the last full week of September. It is a time to celebrate individuals who are deaf, especially those who have overcome their “handicap”, choosing instead to live life to the fullest and not allow a hearing impairment to hold them back.
This week is also the perfect time to focus on resources available for the deaf and raising awareness of ways we can all improve our communication with deaf individuals and the hearing impaired.
Tips for communicating with the deaf
Not being able to hear poses a significant challenge when it comes to conversations and communicating in general. The following tips are offered as ways to communicate effectively with individuals who are deaf. However, they can also be useful for interactions with people with hearing loss.
- Get their attention first – It seems obvious, but if someone can’t hear you, they may not even be aware that you are speaking. Make sure you have their attention and make eye contact. If possible, approach them from the front so they can see you coming and won’t be startled.
- Good lighting is critical – Since most deaf or hearing impaired people rely on visual cues to aid in communication, conversing in a well-lit area is important. With adequate light, they will be better able to see your face, read your lips, and process any nonverbal communication such as hand gestures or sign language.
- Speak clearly – Enunciating your words carefully, but not in an exaggerated manner, will make lip reading easier for those who rely on it for communication.
- Check for understanding – Don’t ever assume that what you’ve spoken has been understood, without confirming that it has. If your communication has not been understood, figure out another way to get your point across. This might include writing it down, using gestures, or sign language to make it clear.
- Use sign language or an interpreter – If you know sign language yourself, great! Use it, but make sure to always face the person with whom you are conversing. This will make it easier for them to read the signs, as well as any facial expressions that might be important. The same holds true if you are speaking to them through an interpreter who is using sign language. Facing the individual you’re conversing with, instead of the interpreter, will make them feel more included in the conversation.
Valuable resources for the deaf and hard of hearing
Being diagnosed with deafness, or even hearing loss, isn’t the end of the world, but it is life changing. This can be especially true for children since how they are treated both medically and socially during their formative years can affect them the rest of their lives. It can also be challenging for those who once had normal hearing, but now have little to none. The important thing to remember is that you are not alone and there are many organizations that exist to help you. Here are just a few:
- National Association for the Deaf – Also referred to as NAD, this organization focuses on improving the quality of life for deaf or hearing impaired individuals, as well as celebrating their achievements.
- Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing – With one of its goals being “a life without limits for children with hearing loss”, AG Bell works with both adults and children who are deaf or have hearing loss. The primary focus is to be able to help as many as possible to be able to speak and hear.
- American Society for Deaf Children – Just as its name implies, ASDC works with deaf and hearing impaired children and their families to empower them to reach their full potential. They provide a plethora of resources for mentoring, advocacy, and networking.
- American Sign Language – Learning this unspoken language can be the key to living a rich life, even with the challenge of deafness or severe hearing loss. Many localities offer sign language classes and additional resources can be found through the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) or National Association for the Deaf.
Whether you are deaf or hearing impaired, or know someone who is, there is help available. If you are unsure where to start, make an appointment with your local hearing professional. They can evaluate your current hearing needs, as well as provide treatment options to help you live a rich life, in spite of a hearing impairment!