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Disability Etiquette Part IV: Hearing and Speech Impairments

In Disability Etiquette Part III, we talked about interacting respectfully with an individual who has a mobility limitation, such as using a wheelchair. Continuing, we cover interactions with people who have hearing and speech impairments.

People Who Are Deaf or Have a Hearing Loss
Some individuals who are deaf communicate through American Sign Language, and lip reading is difficult for them. But most do read and understand English (or Spanish, or other native languages). They are candidates for written messages.

For complex communication, using a qualified sign-language interpreter is the most effective way to communicate. People who acquired their hearing loss later in life can often read lips.

  • If using an interpreter, look directly at the person who is deaf and not at the interpreter, and direct your conversation to the person who is deaf. For example, ask, “Have you been here before,” and not (to the interpreter), “Ask her if she’s been here before.”
  • Make sure you have the individual’s attention before speaking.
  • Be sure to include the deaf person in the conversation, and to include him in the decision-making process – especially when the decision affects him.
  • If the person has diminished hearing and depends on lip reading, face her when you speak, avoid chewing gum, and don’t cover your mouth with your hands.
  • Don’t shout–that distorts the words received by the person who has a hearing device.
  • When talking with the person who has diminished hearing, rephrase rather than repeating something that the person does not understand.

People With Speech Disabilities
People who have speech disabilities may be difficult to understand.

  • If you have trouble understanding the person, tell him or her and ask that they repeat what they said.
  • Give the person your full attention, be patient, don’t interrupt, and don’t finish his/her sentences.
  • If you’re not sure that you have been understood, paraphrase what you believe he or she has said and ask if that is correct.

Don’t be Awkward
Want to learn more about how not to be awkward around people with disabilities? Check out #EndtheAwkward, an online campaign by Scope, a British nonprofit organization that works to change negative attitudes about people with disabilities. The campaign includes short videos that poke fun at awkward situations while providing straightforward advice.





Barb Borg

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