Communicating With Students Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing
Living with hearing loss
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Deaf and Hard of Hearing people are diverse.
If you have never interacted with a student who is Deaf or Hard of Hearing, you may be unsure of how to best communicate or what to expect.
Individuals who areDeaf or Hard of Hearing come from a variety of backgrounds. Some voice for themselves, while others speak through an interpreter. Some use sign language, while others may use real-time captioning or rely on lip reading, written communication, hearing aids, or FM systems. It is important to always listen to what a 

Tips to improve communication:

  • Face the individual when speaking to provide visual cues that assist with communication.
  • Avoid chewing gum, placing a hand over your mouth, or turning your back. These actions make it difficult for the individual to lip-read and see facial expressions.
  • Enunciate clearly, but not in an exaggerated fashion. Speak at a normal pace.
  • Speak directly to the person and not to a sign language interpreter, captionist, or friend.
  • Check lighting. If you are darkening a room for a program (e.g., a slide presentation), make sure you have a light for the interpreter.
  • Give materials to the student, interpreter, and captionist in advance whenever possible. Reviewing lecture notes, handouts, song lyrics, etc., in advance helps orient the student and allows the interpreter or captionist to better prepare to translate the class content.
  • Place yourself and the interpreter in the same line of vision for the student. Interpreters may ask where you will be sitting or standing so they can sit or stand near you. Make sure there isn't a window (glare) behind either you or the interpreter.
  • Repeat questions from others in the classroom before answering.
  • Remember that there is a lag time when an interpreter or captionist translates. So, for example, in group discussions, use strategies that facilitate inclusion, such as allowing time for the deaf or hard-of-hearing student to respond.
  • To get the attention of a deaf or hard-of-hearing person, use a hand motion or wave in the person's field of peripheral vision.
  • When a student doesn't understand what you're saying, rephrase rather than repeat.
  • Be patient. When asked to repeat your statements, do not say, "Never mind." Consider communicating in a different way, such as in writing.

Hints for Setting Up Interpreters for a Mother or Father who is Deaf
who has a child in a School Setting


Suggestions for Effective Use of Interpreters or Transliterators taken from:
Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.

Do I need to speak slowly?

Speak at your natural pace, but be aware that the interpreter/transliterator must hear and understand a complete thought before signing it. The interpreter will let you know if you should repeat or slow down. Also, taking turns in an interpreted conversation may be different from what you are used to. This is due to the slight time delay required for the interpretation process.

Should I look at the interpreter/transliterator?

Look at and speak directly to the Deaf person. Do not say "tell her" or "tell him". The Deaf person will be watching the interpreter and glancing back and forth at you.


Where should I stand or sit?

Usually it is best to position the interpreter/transliterator next to you (the hearing person), opposite the Deaf person. This makes it easy for the Deaf person to see you and the interpreter in one line of vision.


What about group situations?

Semicircles or circular seating arrangements are best for discussion formats. For large group situations such as conferences or performances, be sure to reserve a "deaf participants and their friends" seating area near the front for clear visibility of the interpreter.


Do I need to meet with the interpreter/transliterator prior to the assignment?

Meeting with the interpreter/transliterator fifteen to thirty minutes before the assignment begins is helpful. It is especially helpful at large conferences or meetings where a fair amount of participants are expected. If possible in advance of the assignment, provide the interpreter/transliterator with materials such as a brief outline, agenda, prepared speeches, or technical vocabulary, and background information on activities such as showing film, role playing, and meditation exercises.


Do I need any special visual aids?

Visual aids such as xeroxed handouts or writing on a chalkboard can be a tremendous help to both the interpreter/transliterator and the Deaf person, insuring correct spelling of technical terminology or names. Remember to pause before giving your explanation of the visual aid so that the Deaf person has time to see it, look back at the interpreter/transliterator and still "see" everything you said.


Are there any suggestions on lighting?

Interpreters/transliterators and hearing speakers should avoid standing with their backs to windows, bright lights or busy colorful designs. These backgrounds make it difficult to see and receive a clear message. A solid, dark colored backdrop or background is recommended. If slides or movies are to be shown, make sure the interpreter/transliterator is visible. A flexible arm desk lamp can be used as a spotlight, or a dimmer switch is often sufficient.


Often two interpreters/transliterators are referred to one assignment, why is that?


The interpreting/transliterating process is very demanding. Two interpreters/transliterators will often be assigned for any job over an hour and half in length. Interpreters/transliterators working as a team will allow communication to flow smoothly, therefore minimizing distractions to the meeting process. In this interpreting/transliterating situation, one interpreter/transliterator would be actively interpreting/transliterating for 20 to 30 minutes while the other is providing backup to the active interpreter, then switching. If only one interpreter/transliterator is assigned to a job that lasts over an hour and half, consider taking breaks at convenient times to allow the interpreter/transliterator to recover the appropriate quality of interpreting/transliterating.


Sometimes an intermediary or relay interpreter who is deaf will be requested in addition to one or more hearing interpreters/transliterators for court proceedings, legal situations, competency evaluations, mental health treatment and medical settings. A skilled, hearing interpreter/transliterator who is not a native user of American Sign Language may determine that s/he is unable to interpret accurately for a deaf or hard of hearing person who uses natural or unusual gestures, or a mixture of gestures, American Sign Language, Signed the Deaf person and the hearing qualified interpreter/transliterator to ensure total accuracy of information and details between deaf and hearing persons.


Can I ask the interpreter/transliterator about the Deaf person or sign language?

The interpreter/transliterator is present to facilitate communication. If you have questions about the deaf person or sign language, ask the Deaf person directly and the interpreter/transliterator will interpret your questions.


Can I ask the interpreter/transliterator about the field of interpreting?

Yes. The interpreter/transliterator is one of the best resources about the interpreting field; however, all questions should be asked before or after the interpreting/transliterating assignment so that the interpreter/transliterator is then finished with the actual interpreting/transliterating and is free to converse with you.