Deaf Awareness

There are 11 million deaf or hard of hearing people in the UK. This figure includes those with mild to moderate or severe hearing impairments as well as those who are profoundly deaf.

  • There is diversity within deafness, and the needs and perspectives of deaf people and those with hearing loss vary. Someone might consider themselves as part of the Deaf community, as partially deaf, as partially hearing, or may not label themselves at all.
  • Someone might be born with a hearing impairment or might develop hearing loss later in life.
  • There are a variety of communication methods used by deaf or hard of hearing people including sign language, lip-reading, hearing aids or the use of other types of assistive technology.
  • If you are unsure about the best way to communicate with someone, just ask them.

These simple communication tips can help to improve the way you communicate with people who are deaf or hard of hearing. Incorporating deaf awareness into your day to day communication can help to significantly reduce barriers to education and employment, by improving quality of life and increasing inclusion, participation and opportunities for deaf and hard of hearing people.

Communication tips

  • Make sure you have the person’s attention before you start speaking, so they don’t miss the start of the conversation.
  • Where possible, turn your face towards the person you are speaking to, so they can see your lip movements.
  • Try not to cover your mouth when speaking.
  • Ensure you speak clearly, not too slowly, and using normal lip movements, facial expressions and gestures. Deaf and hard of hearing people often rely on visual cues for effective communication.
  • Speak at a normal volume, as it can be uncomfortable for a hearing aid user if you shout, and it can also distort facial movements, making it harder to lip-read.
  • Be as concise and clear as possible, using plain language, so that it is easier to follow the key points.
  • Periodically check that what you are saying is being understood. If someone doesn’t understand what you’ve said, be patient and try saying it in a different way. If you both feel you are not communicating effectively, it can sometimes be helpful to write it down or type it out.
  • When communicating with someone who is using communication support, (e.g. a sign language interpreter) talk directly to the person you are communicating with, not the communication professional.

Other things to consider

  • For longer chats, find a place to talk with good lighting, away from noise and distractions.
  • Try to use rooms with good acoustics so that there is less interference from background noise, and be aware of potential noise distractions such as air conditioning units, projectors, background music and communal areas.
  • Good lighting is important for lip-reading. Make sure the room is well-lit and avoid sources of light that cast shadows on faces. If possible, have any window blinds either fully open or fully closed to avoid shadows across people’s faces.

Remember

  • Do not make assumptions, even if someone uses a hearing aid, it may be helpful for them to also lip-read.
  • Be aware that lip-reading requires sustained focus and concentration which can be very tiring.
  • Be mindful that deaf and hard of hearing people may not be able to hear the tone of what’s being said, so some jokes or sarcasm may not be understood. Try to ensure everyone is included where possible.

Mental Health and Wellbeing

Research from Action on Hearing Loss indicates that deaf and hard of hearing people are at increased risk of experiencing mental health problems. The additional barriers they can experience on a daily basis can have an adverse impact on their mental health, including stress and frustration. These feelings can lead to anxiety and isolation which can exacerbate the challenges that deaf and hard of hearing people already experience. Increased deaf awareness and appropriate education and employment support can significantly reduce negative impacts on mental health.

Find out more about the Mental Health and Wellbeing support on offer at the University.