One afternoon as I left a restaurant and was loading my wheelchair into my car, I noticed a young couple walking out. I watched as the gentleman stayed on the sidewalk for a smoke break while his spouse took a seat inside their vehicle and started the engine. I thought it odd, but obviously the wife had strict orders that their vehicle be smoke free. What really amazed me was how their conversation continued even with her in the vehicle and him on the sidewalk – with the engine running! They were both speaking American Sign Language (ASL).
We all know how important communication is in the workplace. According to statistics taken in 2011 from the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of employed individuals that reported a hearing disability or impairment was 49.4%, meaning nearly 2 million people in the workplace (1,943,500) need an improved way to communicate.
Only a small percentage of people with a hearing impairment are considered totally “deaf.” Fortunately, there are technological communication devices that can help a person with hearing loss (adaptive technology, Text Typewriter TTY, texting). When adaptive technology is not available, there are some communicating guidelines that we can follow to help these individuals.
First, know that a person with a hearing impairment still has sensitivity to noise. Most individuals have residual hearing, or hearing that remains after a loss that can be amplified with hearing aids. For many, a noisy background can actually distort or interfere with amplification, making it difficult for the user to discriminate among the sounds they hear.
Next, when communicating with individuals with hearing impairments, follow these suggestions:
- Keep eye contact – stay on the same level as the person you are talking to, sitting or standing. This way, the person with a hearing loss can fully see all facial gestures or is able to “speech read” if necessary.
- Use your normal voice – believe it or not, speaking at a higher volume is not necessarily beneficial to the one with a hearing impairment. Usually this simply distorts the sound. Use your normal voice, but speak clearly.
- Establish the context of what you are talking about, first – if a person is speech reading, even one who is really skilled at it, he or she is only getting about 35% of what is being said. However, if a person is hard of hearing but knows the context of what you are talking about, that individual can accurately estimate most of what you are talking about.
- Use gestures and visual cues – sometimes facial expressions or pointing says a lot without speaking at all!
- Open your mouth – do not exaggerate your mouth when speaking, and at the same time, don’t be a ventriloquist! If your mouth is open normally when speaking, the words are enunciated more effectively.
- Stop and start – avoid running your sentences together.
- Use monotone – begin and end your sentences with the same volume. Avoid muttering in the beginning or falling off at the end.
Finally, remember that effective communications can only be achieved when information is sent, received AND understood. You may or may not have a hearing impairment, but if you use these suggestions in your communications, you have a better chance of your message being heard.
The following internet link has frequently asked questions about deafness and hearing impairments as it relates to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): Questions and Answers about Deafness and Hearing Impairments.
David Spears is a member of the Workforce Solutions Navigator team for the Texas Gulf Coast Region. Combining training and education to real world examples, David brings personal and professional experience with disabilities to the table in order to help job seekers with disabilities realize their potential. David has a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Business Administration with over 20 years of experience in the business world.