Unless you interact with a disabled person on a regular basis, you may not be familiar with appropriate etiquette when it comes to basic communications with a person who has limited sensory abilities.
One of the most common disabilities is someone who has hearing issues. While every person is different, there are certain strategies you can follow in most cases to make sure you are communicating as effectively as possible.
Not every deaf or hard or hearing person lip reads, but for those who do, this can be an effective way to bridge the gap between you. To make sure you are understood as well as possible…
Check Your Eligibility
- Speak normally and don’t over enunciate or under enunciate (in other words, make sure you are not mumbling).
- If you normally talk fast, slow down, but not too much, which can be just as hard to understand as speaking too fast.
- Make sure that the disabled person is facing you and that you are in a well lit area, if possible.
- Don’t put food or gum in your mouth and keep your hands away from your lips while you’re talking.
- For people who are hard of hearing and combine lip reading with some sound identification, be aware that background noise can be confusing. Try to find a quiet area, mute a television or a radio and speak up in a clear voice.
- Try to minimize body movements and gesturing because it makes it harder to follow your lips and the movements can be distracting. The best thing to keep in mind is to try and keep eye contact at all times because if you have good eye contact, there’s a good chance you’ll also have good lip visibility as well.
- Some hearing impaired individuals use hearing aids, implant devices and other forms of assistance to augment lip reading. If that’s the case, be courteous and give time for them to put the devices in if requested.
- Be prepared to repeat what you’ve said if you are asked. Sometimes the deaf person will only miss a small part of what you said and will let you know what they need to see and hear again. An important thing to note is that a single syllable word is much harder to lip read than a multi-syllable word because there’s much less lip movement. If you are having trouble with a particular word or phrase, trying using a multi-syllable word instead.
- Before speaking, make sure you have the person’s attention. Make eye contact before you speak. Tap them on a shoulder if needed. Do not wave your hand in front of a hearing impaired person’s face though–it’s considered rude.
- If you have a family member who is deaf or hard of hearing, one of the most valuable skills you can learn is sign language to enhance lip reading. Accept that you’ll make mistakes, but showing you care is crucial in a family setting. If you are in a public customer service or emergency services field, you should know at least some rudimentary sign language to convey basic meanings in all kinds of situations.
- Do not assume that every last word will be heard, or interpreted properly. Just like everyone else, hearing impaired people have bad days too. Fatigue or distractions can make it harder to communicate on some days more than others. It’s best to be patient and be ready to communicate key parts of conversations more than once. The worst thing you can do when a disabled person asks you to repeat something is to tell them the conversation wasn’t important or that you’ve moved on to other things.