The Disability Programs and Resource Center

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Tips for Communication with Deaf & Hard-of-Hearing People in Group Settings


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; personality; 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 impariment, 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, ASL (American Sign Language), 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 he/she prefers.


Allow the Deaf or hard-of-hearing person to sit in a seat that is to his/her best advantage.

This usually means a seat in front of the speaker, so that the Deaf or hard-of-hearing person can see the speaker's lips. If possible, use a round table or semi-circular seating so that he/she can see everyone's face. Usually, the Deaf or hard-of-hearing person will know where to sit. Also take into consideration lighting in the area, so that the speaker is illuminated clearly.

Provide new vocabulary in advance.

It is difficult, if not impossible, to speech read unfamiliar vocabulary. If new vocabulary cannot be presented in advance, write the terms on paper, a chalkboard, or overhead projector, if possible. If a lecture is to be given or a film shown, a brief outline or script given to the Deaf or hard-of-hearing person in advance helps that person follow the presentation.

Avoid unnecessary pacing and speaking when writing on a chalkboard.

It is difficult to speech read a person in motion, and impossible to speech read ones whose back is turned. Write or draw on the board, then face the group and explain the work. If you use an overhead projector, do not look down at it while speaking.

Use visual aids if possible.

Vision is a Deaf or hard-of-hearing person's primary channel for receiving information. Make full use of visual aids, including films, overhead projectors, diagrams, and chalkboards. Give participants time to read before speaking.

Make sure the Deaf or hard-of-hearing person doesn't miss vital information.

Write out any changes in meeting times, special assignments, additional instructions, etc. Allow extra time when referring to manuals and texts, since Deaf and hard-of-hearing persons must look at what has been written and then return their attention to the speaker.

Slow down the pace of communication slightly to facilitate understanding.

Many speakers talk too fast. Allow extra time for the Deaf and hard-of-hearing persons to ask or answer questions.

When using an interpreter or real-time captioning, keep in mind that the interpreter and captioner will be a few words behind the speaker.

Therefore, allow time for the Deaf or hard-of-hearing person to obtain all the information and ask questions and remind speakers at public meetings that there is an interpreter/captioner, and to slow down their presentations slightly.

When there are audio-visual presentations, allow the deaf student time.

In order to follow along with the presentation, the student will need time to watch the instructor, as well as to look at what is being displayed visually. If possible, provide "advance copies" of the visual presentation to the Deaf student prior to the presentation.

Repeat questions or statements made from the back of the room and point to the person speaking.

Remember that Deaf and hard-of-hearing persons are cut off from whatever happens outside their visual area.

Allow full participation by the Deaf or hard-of-hearing person in the discussion.

It is difficult for Deaf and hard-of-hearing persons to participate in-group discussions because they are not sure when the speakers have finished. Be aware of turn taking and try to give the Deaf or hard-of-hearing person a chance to look at the various participants before each speaks.

Use hands-on experience whenever possible in training situations.

Like other people, Deaf persons learn quickly by 'doing.'

Assistive listening devices (ALDs) may be used.

These often work in conjunction with hearing aids or Cochlear Implants.

To contact a Deaf or hard-of-hearing person, you can use e-mail or Relay Services.

Dial 7-1-1 for Relay Services, which is free and available 24/7, and give the relay operator the Deaf or hard-of-hearing person's phone number. He/she will connect you to his/her text telephone unit (TTY).


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

Revised: 2/7/06
Based on original document courtesy of the San Francisco Mayor's Office on Disability

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