Communicating with People Who Are Deaf of Hard of Hearing

It is estimated that up to 9% of the population has some degree of hearing loss, and this percentage will increase as the population ages. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), people who are deaf or hard of hearing are entitled to the same government agency services as anyone else. They may not be excluded or segregated from services, be denied services, or otherwise be treated differently than other people.

Requirements for Effective Communication

The ADA requires that . . .

• Law enforcement agencies must provide the communication aids and services needed to  communicate effectively with people who are deaf or hard of hearing, except when a particular aid or service would result in an undue burden or a fundamental change in the nature of the law enforcement services being provided.

• Agencies must give primary consideration to providing the aid or service requested by the  person with the hearing disability.

• Agencies cannot charge the person for the communication aids or services provided.

• Agencies do not have to provide personally prescribed devices such as hearing aids.

• When interpreters are needed, agencies must provide interpreters who can interpret effectively, accurately, and impartially.

• Only the head of the agency or his or her designee can make the determination that a particular aid or service would cause an undue burden or a fundamental change in the nature of the law enforcement services being provided.

Your agency’s policy explains how to obtain interpreters or other communication aids and services when needed.

Communicating with People Who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing

You may find a variety of communication aids and services useful in different situations.

• Speech supplemented by gestures and visual aids can be used in some cases.

• A pad and pencil, a word processor, or a typewriter can be used to exchange written notes.

• A teletypewriter (TTY, also known as a TDD) can be used to exchange written messages over the telephone.

• An assistive listening system or device to amplify sound can be used when speaking with a person who is hard of hearing.

• A sign language interpreter can be used when speaking with a person who knows sign language.

• An oral interpreter can be used when speaking with a person who has been trained to speech read (read lips). Note: Do not assume that speech reading will be effective in most situations. On average, only about one third of spoken words can be understood by speech reading.

The type of situation, as well as the individual’s abilities, will determine which aid or service is needed to communicate effectively.

Practical Suggestions for Communicating Effectively

• Before speaking, get the person’s attention with a wave of the hand or a gentle tap on the shoulder.

• Face the person and do not turn away while speaking.

• Try to converse in a well-lit area.

• Do not cover your mouth or chew gum.

• If a person is wearing a hearing aid, do not assume the individual can hear you.

• Minimize background noise and other distractions whenever possible.

• When you are communicating orally, speak slowly and distinctly. Use gestures and facial expressions to reinforce what you are saying.

• Use visual aids when possible, such as pointing to printed information on a citation or other document.

• Remember that only about one third of spoken words can be understood by speech reading.

• When communicating by writing notes, keep in mind that some individuals who use sign language may lack good English reading and writing skills.

• If someone with a hearing disability cannot understand you, write a note to ask him or her what communication aid or service is needed.

• If a sign language interpreter is requested, be sure to ask which language the person uses. American Sign Language (ASL) and Signed English are the most common.

• When you are engaging in any complex conversation with a person whose primary language is sign language, a qualified interpreter is usually needed to ensure effective communication.

• When using an interpreter, look at and speak directly to the deaf person, not to the interpreter.

• Talk at your normal rate, or slightly slower if you normally speak very fast.

• Only one person should speak at a time.

• Use short sentences and simple words.

• Do not use family members or children as interpreters. They may lack the vocabulary or the impartiality needed to interpret effectively.

 

Source: ADA: www.ada.gov