5 tips to help you communicate with deaf colleagues

Thursday, 22 March 2018

Being a better communicator with colleagues who are deaf or hard of hearing is simple. Start applying these 5 tips and you’ll make a big difference.

1. Gain attention

Make sure you have your colleague’s attention before you start speaking to them. Put yourself in their line of vision, wave or gently tap their shoulder or desk. Maintain eye contact by directly facing them during the conversation.

2. Speak clearly

There’s no need to slow down your speech or speak with exaggerated lip movements. Talk at a natural pace and a normal volume, and avoid long and complicated sentences. Avoid covering your mouth – pens and hands are common culprits. Body language and visual cues, such as nodding and hand gestures, will help you get your message across, particularly if you have an accent.

Remember that people who are deaf communicate in lots of different ways – lip reading, Auslan and other sign languages, interpreters, written messages. The best thing to do is to ask what they prefer.

3. Have good lighting and limited background noise

To help your colleague see you clearly, stand 1-2 metres from them. If you’re too close, it’s harder to lip read and see visual cues. Have adequate lighting on your face and don’t sit with bright lights behind you. Pay particular attention to visibility conditions in outside situations, such as meetings at a café.

Limit the background noise when possible, and ask your colleague if they’ve caught the whole conversation. Noisy workplace locations can make it difficult for deaf colleagues to keep track of conversations.

4. Check for understanding

Provide context at the start of your conversation so you’re both on the same page. If your colleague shows signs of not understanding you, repeat or rephrase what you’ve said and make sure you’re being clear. When in doubt, ask your colleague how you can improve your communication.

5. Provide additional communication support

There are lots of services and assistive technologies that can support people who are deaf. Here are a few to consider for special events, training, meetings and workshops:

  • Live captioning
  • Interpreters (remember to always speak directly to the person, not their interpreter)
  • Notetakers
  • Captions and transcripts for videos

Follow these tips and you’ll be on your way to better communication in the workplace.