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Basic Etiquette: People Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing

  1. Hearing disability, hard of hearing, and deaf are not the same.
    • Hearing disability refers to both persons who are hard of hearing and persons who are deaf
    • Deaf people utilize their vision skills for communication
    • Hard of hearing persons seek ways to retain their listening and speaking skills.
  2. It is okay to use the terms the deaf or deaf person. This is an exception to the person-first language rule.
  3. There are a wide range of hearing losses and communication methods. If you do not know the individuals preferred communication method, ASK.
  4. To get the attention of a person with a hearing loss, call his/her name. If there is no response, you can lightly touch him/her on the arm or shoulder, or wave your hand.
  5. When using an interpreter:
    • Always address your comments, questions, and concerns directly to the person with whom you are talking, never to the interpreter.
    • Always face the individual, and not the interpreter.
  6. Always look directly at a person who has a hearing loss. Use eye to eye contact.
  7. Use facial expressions and body language to communicate the emotion of a message, such as displeasure or approval.
  8. Watch the individuals eyes to ensure understanding - do not depend on affirmative head nodding only.
  9. If possible, use e-mail to communicate
  10. Tips in using a TTY (Teletypewriter):
    • Make your communication clear, simple, and concise.
    • Typical abbreviations:
      GA - Go ahead - means that the person has finished their statement and the other person can start typing
      Q - Use instead of a question mark
      SK - Means you want to conclude your conversation
      When you read SK, type SKSK if you are completely finished talking.
  11. Can the person read lips?
    • Not all people who are deaf can read lips
    • Speak clearly, slowly, and expressively to determine if the person can read your lips
    • Do not exaggerate your speech
    • People who read lips only understand 20 to 25% of what is being said
    • Be sensitive to the needs of people who lip read by facing the light source and keeping hands, cigarettes, and food away from your mouth when speaking.
  12. If you are asked to repeat yourself several times, try rephrasing your sentence.
  13. When providing information that involves a number or an address, consider alternative ways to provide it; writing, faxing, or e-mailing are great ways to ensure accuracy and decrease frustration.
  14. Have pencil and paper available and use them if necessary
  15. If you are experiencing extreme difficulty communicating orally, ask if you can write. Never say, Oh, forget it, it is not important. Keep messages simple and direct.
  16. Be aware of the environment. Large, crowded rooms and hallways can be very difficult for hearing impaired persons. Bright sunlight and shadows also present barriers.
  17. In group settings:
    • let the deaf individual determine the best seating arrangement in order for them to see the speaker and interpreter
    • watch for signals that the deaf individual wishes to contribute
    • ensure that one person speaks at a time
    • do not pace while giving a presentation
    • do not talk with your back to the audience while writing on a flipchart or blackboard
    • incorporate visual aids, demonstrations, flip charts, written agendas, and handouts in presentations.
  18. Do not change the topic of conversation without warning. Use transitional phrases such as Okay, we need to discuss. . . .

Resources for further information on hearing impairments:

Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf

3417 Volta Place N.W.
Washington, DC 20007
Voice/TTY: (202) 337-5220
Web site:
National membership organization. Provides information and referral for people who are deaf and hard of hearing.

National Association of the Deaf

814 Thayer Avenue
Silver Spring, MD 20910-4500
Voice: (301) 587-1788 Voice
TTY: (301) 587-1789 TTY
Fax:(301) 587-1791 FAX
Web site:
Information and referral source for people who are deaf and hard of hearing. Services and information are available on a variety of topics including closed-captioning, interpreter services, deafness-related information and publications, and legal assistance.

National Deaf Education Network and Clearinghouse

Laurent Clerc National Deaf Education Center
Gallaudet University
800 Florida Avenue, N.E.
Washington, DC 20002-3695
TTY/Voice: (202) 651-5340
Web site:
Information and referral source for people who are deaf and hard of hearing. Has numerous publications and resources available on a wide variety of topics.

National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders Clearinghouse

One Communication Avenue
Bethesda, MD 20892-3456
Voice: (800) 241-1044
TTY: (800) 241-1055
Web site:

National Technical Institute for the Deaf

Rochester Institute of Technology
Lyndon Baines Johnson Building
Center on Employment
52 Lomb Memorial Drive
Rochester, NY 14623-5604
Voice/TTY: (716) 475-6219
Fax: (716) 475-7570
Web site:
Has variety of information and materials on employment of individuals who are deaf and hard of hearing, including information for employers

Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf

8630 Fenton Street, Suite 324
Silver Spring, MD 20910
Voice/TTY: (301) 608-0050
Fax: (301) 608-0508
Web site:
Maintains nationwide registry of where to find sign language interpreters

Written by:

Institute for Community Inclusion

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