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Join Date: Apr 2004
Blog Entries: 3
Facilitating conversations with the deaf and hard of hearing
Facilitating conversations with the deaf and hard of hearing - Seguin Gazette Enterprise: Community Columnists
The sound of silence can make social, business, and professional relationships difficult for the hard of hearing, but a better understanding of the problem provides some practical remedies.
To some folks the term "deaf" implies a lack of intelligence. The implication is misleading: Beethoven, considered by many to be history's greatest composer of classical music, was totally deaf from childhood, and Thomas Edison, probably our greatest inventor, was hard of hearing and became almost totally deaf in his later years.
A lot depends on the age at which a person becomes deaf, the type of deafness, and whether there's also a language barrier. Shouting at a deaf person whose first language is foreign, is obviously absurd, yet folks do it all the time. A person who has experienced normal hearing for several years prior to becoming deaf has a great advantage over someone who is born deaf, because he has already learned how to modulate his voice when he speaks.
Deaf folks have differing degrees of hearing loss. Some may be able to hear certain sounds but not others - sirens for instance - and the ability to hear sounds does not necessarily assure that one is able to decipher conversational speech.
Not every deaf person benefits from a hearing aid or cochlear implant (micro-surgery), and some hearing aids simply amplify sounds but do not make speech more intelligible.
They do not guarantee that the deaf person naturally understands conversation, especially with loud background noise. It's imperative that you speak slowly and clearly.
A totally deaf person is unable to hear and monitor his own voice and therefore his speech may be nearly unintelligible to new acquaintances and strangers.
The majority of deaf persons are not very good lip readers, despite great effort. Also, because they rely on visual communication, deaf folks don't hear "aside" comments made literally behind their back, nor can they hear inflections that can modify the meaning of comments.
In no way does that reflect on a deaf person's intelligence.
Hand-written notes are helpful but fall short as an adequate substitute for effective verbal communication, and must be supplemented with appropriate facial expressions and pantomime to be most effective.
Tips For Communicating
• To get a deaf person's attention, gently tap him on the arm or shoulder.
• Face the deaf person while speaking to him. Although he may depend on sign language, he still may be able to lip-read some key words and discern important facial expressions. Remember that deaf persons depend on visual clues, including body language.
• Maintaining eye contact reinforces the deaf person's feeling that you're communicating personally and directly with him.
• Speak slowly and clearly. Yelling makes lip reading more difficult and causes confusion. Speak normally just as you would to a hearing person. Don't talk with a cigarette or pencil sticking out of your mouth and don't chew gum: All extraneous facial expressions (even a mustache) distort and obscure your enunciation of words for a deaf person trying to decipher your conversation.
• Be sure the deaf person knows what you're discussing. Don't assume that the message is understood just because the deaf person nods in agreement. He may be feigning understanding just to be agreeable.
• Don't stand in front of a bright or glaring light source; the glare and shadows can obscure your face and make it nearly impossible for a deaf person to understand what's being said.
• If an interpreter is present, address the deaf person directly to get feedback rather than addressing the interpreter.
• Finally, don't forget that it's futile to try to converse with a deaf person if you aren't fluent in his native language.
Take home message: The president of Gallaudet University (a top-notch institution for the deaf in Washington, D.C.), has been quoted, "... Deaf people can do anything hearing people can do except hear."
"Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light."
- Helen Keller