Communication is essential to many aspects of everyday life, including personal interactions as well as accessing medical treatment and legal assistance. To learn how to more effectively communicate with individuals who are hard of hearing (HOH) or deaf, take these steps.
1. Understand the Difference Between hard of hearing and deaf.
According to the World Health Organization, “normal” hearing is thresholds of 20 dB or better in both ears.
- Hard of hearing refers to people who fall below this threshold in one or both ears. This difference can be mild or severe, and it can make it difficult to hear conversational speech or tolerate loud sounds. People who are hard of hearing often communicate through spoken language, and many can benefit from hearing aids, cochlear implants, and other assistive devices.
- Deaf people fall far below the 20dB threshold and have very little or no hearing. They often use sign language for communication.
Although many people are born deaf or hard of hearing, many others experience a reduction in their auditory abilities during their lifetime. There are many different causes, including disease, infection, natural aging, trauma, long-term exposure to loud noise, explosives, and more. The WHO predicts that, worldwide, nearly 2.5 billion people will have some degree of hearing loss by the year 2050.
One in eight people in the United States (13 percent, or 30 million) aged 12 years or older has hearing loss in both ears, based on standard hearing examinations.
About 2 percent of American adults aged 45–54 have disabling hearing loss, as do
- 5 percent of adults aged 55–64,
- almost 25 percent of those aged 65–74, and
- 50 percent of those aged 75 and older.
There is no uniform U.S. federal legal definition of deafness or hard of hearing. Each state determines its own threshold for hearing impairment for government assistance or special education purposes. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) qualifies any hearing loss as a disability if it limits an individual’s participation in life events (either currently or in the past) or if an employer perceives it as having the potential to limit their participation in or ability to work. A person whose hearing sensitivity is less than 90 dB (through the air) or fails to repeat 40% of words in a word recognition test may qualify for federal disability benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA).
2. Respect the identity of hard of hearing and deaf individuals.
According to the National Association of the Deaf, the majority of deaf and hard-of-hearing people prefer to be called “deaf” or “hard of hearing” rather than “hearing impaired” or other euphemistic terms. “Late-deafened” is a way to indicate that an individual became deaf later in life without the negative connotations of saying “suffered hearing loss,” which emphasizes the deficiency or less-than status of hard-of-hearing individuals.
While “deaf” describes the audiological condition of not hearing, the uppercase “Deaf” generally refers to a particular group of deaf people who use American Sign Language (ASL) and share a political and social culture. HoH individuals may choose to identify with and participate in this community or not.
3. Use basic communication techniques and common sense.
Before having a substantive conversation with a deaf or HoH person, get their attention visually (by entering their field of vision, waving, or turning a light on and off). Most importantly, ask their preferred method of communication and whether they would like any form of communication access tools, such as an interpreter, pad of paper, or text device. If the individual can read lips, speak clearly and in a normal volume; try not to mumble, turn away, or make extraneous gestures. Wear a mask that has a transparent window so the person can see your lips to speech-read and see your expressions. Do not chew gum, eat, or smoke while conversing. Maintain eye contact; ensure adequate lighting, and do your best to reduce extraneous environmental stimuli.
4. Use skilled interpreters.
Sign language interpreters in the U.S. are fluent in American Sign Language (ASL), a complete, natural language expressed by movements of the hands and face. It is the primary language of many North Americans who are deaf or HoH. Although it has linguistic properties similar to spoken languages, it is not a universal language; there are also British and French sign languages, both of which differ significantly from ASL. Professional sign language interpreters may be fluent in multiple signed languages.
Certified deaf interpreters (CDI) are deaf people who have been certified to provide interpreting services to deaf consumers with linguistic impairments that prevent them from utilizing a traditional interpreter. The CDI, or deaf translator, works with a hearing ASL interpreter, relaying communications using written words, visual aids, and even performance in ways customized to the recipient.
5. Use technology.
Technological innovations can enhance and improve communication with deaf and HoH individuals in a variety of ways. Hearing-assistive technology (HAT) like assistive listening devices (ALDs), hearing loops, and alternative devices can benefit some HoH people. Services like captioning, text transcription (CART), and voice-to-text can also help bridge the communication gap.
One extremely beneficial service, especially for remote meetings or videoconferencing, is video remote interpreting (VRI). VRI provides the immediacy of face-to-face interpreting and the flexibility of over-the-phone sessions, which enables more effective communication with deaf or hard-of-hearing customers, patients, and clients. It allows the parties to view each other’s body language and facial expressions, which can both improve communication accuracy and deliver a more human connection than other interpretation alternatives. Custom VRI solutions allow you to connect with the kinds of interpreters you need to effectively connect with all members of the communities you serve.
If your company or organization needs to communicate effectively with diverse populations, you need a professional language translation, interpretation, and localization company that works on a global scale. Make a commitment to your community: engage professional language services today.