"The hearing community can help reduce anxiety for deaf people in society"

Written by Deanne Field, member of Veryan WI (Cornwall)

Communication is the key to communities working together, and it occurred to me that there are different ways we could all step up and re-assess the way we communicate with one another. 2020 was a tough year for everyone, coping with the COVID-19 pandemic, moving communication online and the introduction of face masks - not being able to see people’s faces let alone hear them-, made me think: I wondered how deaf or hard of hearing people have been coping with these dramatically increased communication barriers.

There has been a lot of publicity regarding, vulnerable, elderly, lonely, infirmed people and social isolation, with concerns about the effects on mental health. But I can’t help feeling, that people who have hearing problems have slipped through society’s net of concern and general welfare. Deaf people can easily be excluded from so many community activities simply because of communication barriers.

I can imagine, it must feel quite lonely or frustrating to go out shopping and be isolated from those little everyday interactions between hearing people. It would be a great leap forward in society if shopkeepers made the experience easier for people who use sign language and maybe learn the basic themselves. We need more deaf representation everywhere, more now than ever before, if we are to include our neighbours in feeling looked after.

As we have adopted new ways of connecting, it has become clear that communication with the hearing is a two-way process. Therefore, it has become more apparent that there are ways in which the hearing community can help reduce anxiety for the hard-of-hearing and deaf in society. I decided to do some research and came across the below article on ‘Deaf Unity’s’ website which outlines “10 Things Hearing People Could Do to Help Deaf People in 2021”. The article was written by Evie Cryer, a full-time primary teacher, full-time autism mum and full-time campaigner for inclusion and equality.

10 Things Hearing People Could Do to Help Deaf People in 2021

1. Get our attention

The hearing world can be really, noisy, especially if you’re a deaf person who uses hearing devices like hearing aids or cochlear implants. Where filtering lots of different sounds around it can be tricky to understand. If you want to speak to a deaf person, make sure to get their attention first with a wave or gentle tap (social distancing withstanding) so they can face you and filter your voice.

2. Wear transparent face masks

Whether communicating through speech or BSL, it is vital that deaf people can see the faces of everyone speaking, to help them better or read facial clues. Now, wearing facemasks is the norm, a large portion of the face is covered.

Over 70% of all communication is non-verbal – so if a deaf person can’t see your face and can’t hear your voice, communication is virtually impossible.

Transparent masks give deaf people a chance to pick up on 70% of non-verbal clues, which can be enough to follow the conversation.

3. Speak clearly

'It is not about volume for those who wear hearing aids. It’s all about clarity’ (Karen D Albury, Facebook)

Many deaf and hard of hearing people wear hearing aids or have cochlear implants/BAHAs, but these devices only serve to make sounds louder.

Some deaf people lipread or use devices to help them pair the lip pattern they see. One way to help deaf people communicate better. Speak clearly. And don’t shout! Shouting distorts mouth shapes and makes it much harder for deaf people to follow.

4. Repeat, repeat, repeat

Lipreading is an art, not a science – deaf people are often going to miss parts of a conversation.

If they do, just repeat what you’ve said at the same speed and volume. It might take a few attempts but be patient. This is even more important with digital communication, where connection issues can make communication even harder.

And please don’t dismiss us with, ‘Oh, never mind.’ We will get there.

5. Use positive language around deafness

Deaf and hard of hearing are (generally) the accepted terms to represent the deaf community.

The term ‘Hearing impaired’ implies that deaf people are, in a way, less hearing people. So, this tends to have negative connotations in the deaf community.

If you are in any doubt, just ask which terminology the person prefers to use.

6. Smile!

Quite often, the response to “I’m deaf” is “I’m sorry” with a sympathetic head tilt and pity. But it’s important to remember there’s nothing to be sorry about.

Deaf people are okay, and we just need your support to be able to interact. A smile and an offer to help is much appreciated.

7. Learn British Sign Language

Although not every deaf or hard of hearing person communicates using sign language, those of us who do must work harder to communicate in the hearing world.

Learning some basic, conversational BSL would help deaf people communicate more easily, and reduce social isolation. It is a great skill to have and would mean so much to every deaf person you communicate with.

Why not sign up for one of Deaf Unity’s BSL courses?

8. Use Captions

In an age where everything is online, from plays and films to meetings and zoom parties, captions aren’t just an added extra. For deaf people, they are a necessity.

That’s why it’s vital we ensure all online media is captioned before it is posted. It can make people feel like a burden or an inconvenience if they must ask for captions or a transcript. (Plus, it’s likely to get more views with captions, as lots of hearing people watch without sound, too, so everyone’s a winner!)

9. Text rather than phone

For most deaf people, our ears are not reliable, but our eyes are. For some deaf people (those who are profoundly deaf, cochlear implant wearers or those with hearing aid moulds) using a phone is incredibly difficult or nigh-on impossible.

Check with the person first, but a text or email is likely to be an easier way to communicate, for you and us.

10. Ask deaf people what they want

Deaf people live the deaf experience every day. If there’s something you want to know, just ask. The deaf community would rather answer questions than have to correct misconceptions, and we’re more than happy to explain what we need.

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