14 Tips for Communicating with People with Hearing or Speech Impairments
When someone has a hearing or speech impairment, it may make communication with someone unfamiliar with them a little slower but not impossible. Following these strategies will help you and the person you are speaking with to understand one another better.
- Before speaking, get the person's attention. If necessary, tap him/her on the shoulder or wave your hand.
- Look directly at the person and speak clearly. Speak normally. Shouting or exaggerating mouth movements makes speechreading (lip reading) more difficult.
- Face the person you are speaking with and keep distractions (hands, cigarettes, food) away from your mouth.
- Try to face the light source so your face isn't hidden by shadows.
- Listen attentively when talking with people who have difficulty speaking. Don't focus on understanding each individual word. Try to understand the "gist" of the message. Wait for the speaker to finish then, if necessary, ask short questions to clarify what you heard.
- Never pretend to understand if you don’t. People who are difficult to understand know that they are difficult to understand. It's okay to ask them to repeat what they've said. Listen, then repeat what you have understood and allow the person to respond.
- Don't finish sentences for the person or try to hurry him/her up. This is demeaning and causes frustration.
- Understand that speechreading for an extended period of time can be very tiring. Speechreading is a skill and requires intense concentration. So try to converse in a quiet place with as few distractions as possible. Even under the best circumstances, only about 30% of what we say is "seeable" on the lips.
- If someone has difficulty understanding you, be flexible and rephrase your statement or question. The person may not understand you because the words you've chosen are not easily seen on the lips. For example: "How old are you?" and "How are you?" look similar and could easily be confused.
- Be animated when you communicate. Use facial expressions, body language, and gestures.
- If you are still not understanding each other, be patient and use whatever means are available to help you communicate; write, show, demonstrate, use props or anything else at your disposal to get the message across.
- Take time to listen and communicate. Giving up and saying, "Never mind" or "Nothing, it's not important" implies that person is not worth the extra attention.
- If you know a little sign language or fingerspelling, use it. If the person signs too fast, don't be afraid to ask him/her to slow down.
- If an interpreter is helping you communicate, talk to the person with the hearing/speech impairment and not to the interpreter.
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