Communication tips

A conversation with a Deaf person is just the same as having a conversation with a hearing person. The key is to discover what techniques work best.

Deaf people use different communication tools and there are several ways you can communicate with Deaf people to effectively get a message across.

Deaf people communicate visually so gesturing, facial expression and body language is very important.

Here are some tips that will help you communicate easily with Deaf people:

  • Face the Deaf person and get their attention before speaking. Remember to maintain eye contact. Don’t turn away when watching them sign to you.
  • If you didn’t understand what a person signed to you get them to sign it again. It’s okay to check, clarify, tell them to slow down.
  • Keep lips and face clear of obstruction (e.g. hands, cups, large moustaches, etc).
  • Deaf people ask for attention by waving, stamping, touching or tapping one another, or switching lights on and off.
  • In conversation, every contact is very important and people need sufficient personal space for arm movements.
  • Deaf people can’t interrupt conversations the way hearing people can. They need to see what is being said, so they can only pay attention to one person at a time. Deaf people wait for the person who is signing stops before the next person signs.
  • Dim light makes it hard to see facial expressions and sign language. Make sure the light is in front of you – try not to stand in front of a window.
  • Avoid background noise when communicating with someone with a hearing aid.
  • Speak clearly and a little more slowly and rephrase rather than repeat.
  • Use simple gestures, write information down and point or indicate subjects or objects.
  • Learn NZSL!

There are culturally polite ways to interrupt a signed conversation. For example:

  • Wait for a small pause before interrupting.
  • Wave or tap the shoulder lightly and then wait for the person to look.
  • If it is urgent, tap harder.
  • Before breaking off a conversation, tell the person you are talking with to ‘hold’, or point to the interruption so they can see why you will look away.
  • Deaf people get annoyed when they are signing and the other person looks away breaking eye gaze. That is not a polite way to handle an interruption.
  • When two people are signing, it is alright to walk quickly between them. It is not necessary to bend down.