Tips to help communciate with Deaf and/or Hard of Hearing People

Important things to consider when interacting with the Deaf community

Deaf Cultural Awareness

Many people seem to misunderstand the Deaf community. Or they have some misconceptions about the culture. Others seem to be curious.

The Deaf community is just like many other communities, complete with its own language, culture and customs. Australian Sign Language (or AUSLAN for short) is the language that members of the Deaf community use to communicate with each other. It is important to note that AUSLAN doesn’t translate directly to English. For example, there are no signs for certain words, such as are, is, to, the, it, at, am, do, was, or were.

As such, grammar is quite different between English and AUSLAN, but there is some overlap. Sign order is less important in AUSLAN than word order is in English. For example, in English sentences are generally subject – verb – object; whereas in AUSLAN they follow the order time – topic – comment.

Another thing to keep in mind is that there is no universal sign language; each country uses its own version. For example, AUSLAN is different from American Sign Language.  However, there are similarities between the languages for basic signs (such as thank you) and pronouns, as the language is quite expressive.

With AUSLAN being an expressive language, it is quite forward and blunt in comparison to English. There is no small talk or having private conversations! It is also common for Deaf people to interrupt each other and point at people. It’s not rude, it’s how they are able to communicate with each other.

Communication tips when conversing with Deaf and/or Hard of Hearing People

•    Getting their attention: Tap on their shoulder or wave hands to gain attention of the Deaf person. Or you can stomp on the floor if it is wooden, as the Deaf person will feel the vibrations. You can also flick the lights in a classroom or group setting to get the group’s attention.

•    Maintain eye contact: First and foremost, make sure the Deaf person is looking at you when you talk.  Most Deaf and Hard of Hearing people will be reading your lips as it can help them better understand you. Remember to talk at a normal pace, without distorting your speech.

•    Avoid shouting: This will distort your lip patterns, making them difficult to understand.

•    Ask the Deaf person how they prefer to communicate: Some rely on texting, while some will write on paper; others will prefer signing as it’s natural for them. Do not hesitate to ask the Deaf person to slow down (sign for “slow please”) or repeat (sign for “again please”).

•    Make everything visible!  If needed, use pen and paper or menus as guidance, but remember not every Deaf person can understand written words as they may never have been taught the spoken language of their country.

•    Good lighting:  Although it might be out of your control in an outdoor setting, try to ensure there is good lighting as Deaf people rely on sight to communicate.

•    Use facial expressions: Communicate with facial expressions to convey meaning; e.g. a happy face tells the other person you have something happy to share.

•    Use visual cues: Use gestures, mime, or point as required to ensure the Deaf person can follow what you are saying.


For more information on the topic, these great videos show tips on how to communicate with a Deaf person.

Don’t forget that State Trustees’ CONNECTED Art Exhibition is on from Monday 23 October 2017 until Friday 3 November 2017 at No Vacancy Gallery in Federation Square.

State Trustees recognises the importance of celebrating art and culture as it enriches lives and communities, and encourages social inclusion. The event was born from a passion for recognising and celebrating artists with a physical or mental disability in Victoria. The exhibition showcases the work of emerging artists with a disability or an experience of mental illness.

This year we celebrate 15 years of the CONNECTED Art Exhibition. The Exhibition showcases a variety of artworks in the following forms – painting, drawing, ceramics, sculpture, multimedia and digital arts, photography, printmaking and poetry. This is a great opportunity to purchase affordable original artwork and support our artists.

Source: Vicdeaf

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