Updated: Jul 16, 2020
CN: supporting a deaf person, research, types and levels of deafness, alternative communication
To end this week, I wanted to make a blog on a topic that is constantly asked: how can I support my friend/partner/relative who has recently been diagnosed as Deaf?
My biggest tip is to do your own research!
Find out how they communicate, if they are planning to learn sign, and what support they want.
Just because someone is diagnosed as Deaf, this does not necessarily mean that they can’t hear at all and this is important to find out (especially if you have a close relationship) in order to properly make sure communication is accessible to them. For instance, if someone is profoundly Deaf, phone calls are probably out; if they have a moderate hearing loss, it might be that with adaptions such as a phone with an induction loop, this is still manageable. However, do not push them to do things they are uncomfortable with, and let them take the lead. If they say they cannot use the phone, confirm to them that you understand that and find other ways to communicate.
Deaf and hard of hearing people are all different from each other, so while some Deaf and hard of hearing people do not speak, a lot of us also have at least some oral ability. Many people who are born deaf go through speech therapy and/or have gone through mainstream education; and many people become Deaf later on in life. Also, while I myself am profoundly Deaf, there is a whole spectrum, meaning that many Deaf and hard of hearing people have different levels of hearing loss.
Mild: not able to hear less than 25 - 45 dB, struggling to hear people whispering, a clock ticking, leaves rustling but everyday conversations may still be ok in quiet environments.
Moderate: not be able to hear less than 40 - 75 dB, struggling to follow the conversation even in quiet environments, being able to only pick up some (or parts of) words, but will be hard work.
Severe: not be able to hear much below the 75 - 90 dB range meaning not being able to hear the TV, people talking, phone ringing or most other everyday sounds.
Profound: not be able to hear any sounds below 90 dB, just about able to hear a chainsaw, lawn mower or loud music. They fully rely on lipreading and often sign language.
There are also many different types of hearing loss.
Conductive = caused by diseases or obstructions in the outer or middle ear that usually affect all frequencies of hearing; some is temporary, some are chronic or long term.
Sensorineural = results from damage to the inner ear (cochlea), ranging from mild to profound and often affects certain frequencies more than others.
Mixed = a mix of both conductive and sensorineural hearing losses that occur in both the inner and outer or middle ear; it typically tends to be pretty rare.
Auditory Processing Disorder = APD (often a co-morbidity with autism and some learning disabilities) is caused by central processing disorders; the audiogram may be completely normal, but their ability to hear speech in noise is compromised.
How does your friend or family member want you to refer to them? Ask them and use it!
Top tips for making communication smooth!
Get their attention by waving or tapping their shoulder before trying to communicate with them.
Face them when talking
Have eye contact with them
Try to get into good lighting
Be brief and use simple language
Don’t place yourself too far away or too close
Don’t cover your mouth or eat while talking
Reduce background noise
Don’t talk too fast or shout
Try texting or writing it down if one method doesn’t work
There are many different ways that you can communicate if you are struggling to understand each other:
Pen & paper
A note to bear in mind! Many Deaf and hard of hearing use a mixture of methods! For instance, I now completely rely on a mixture of lipreading and signing following my profound bilateral sensorineural hearing loss diagnosis as being Deaf. Lipreading is really hard, really tiring and only about 30% - 35% of English sounds can be lipread. To get an understanding of how lipreading works, have a go at understanding these phrases [link].
Deaf culture introduction
If your Deaf or hard of hearing family member/friend is struggling, wants you to come along or needs help to find some Deaf culture, try:
Researching and looking for the nearest Deaf club (remember though, if you are hearing, this is the deaf person’s space, let them take the lead unless they are asking for your help or are anxious)
Finding local BSL courses and signing up with your friend/relative (and practice together!)
Looking online: there are many British Youtubers and Twitter users who often engage in Deaf activism.
@ThatdeafgirlKJ (Twitter) or KJ DeafGirl (Youtube)
Jephta: @OfficialJA10 (Twitter) or Mr AsamoahTV (Youtube)
Vilma Jackson (Youtube)
@jazzywhipps (Twitter) or Jazzy (Youtube)
Louise Deaf Awareness
Mr Luke Christian
@JessicaOOTC - Jessica Kellgren-Fozard
…and many, many more!
Things to remember as a friend/family member of a d/Deaf or hard of hearing person:
If they don’t respond, they are not being rude, they probably haven’t heard you
Reading lips is tiring and difficult with only a small percentage being visible on the lips, so it is likely they will ask you to repeat yourself a lot or need to rely on alternative communication
If they ask you to repeat don’t say “it doesn’t matter”, repeat and if they still don’t get it, try rephrasing or writing it down.
It may be useful to learn some basic BSL (e.g. fingerspelling, simple phrases)
Always ensure that you are in the same room and facing them before speaking
They may struggle more to communicate if they are tired, sick or otherwise unable to concentrate, so may need to revert to other forms of communication in these situations.
Be patient with them while they go through their adjustment period from hearing to Deaf
It may be that they now need to use interpreters, look at my blog [link] on accessing medical services!