In the United States, there are about 28,000,000 deaf individuals with
hearing impairments ranging from mild to severe deafness.
A person who is deaf is unable to recognize sound. Hearing loss can be
anywhere from mild (i.e., when the person only has difficulty hearing
faint or distant speech) to severe (i.e., when the person only can feel
Help For Leaders
- Spend time with the person to find out his or her strengths and weaknesses,
as well as their parents and teachers to gather clues for working effectively
with the individual.
- Smile! Use positive body language and a gentle touch to signal your
- Speak directly to the person who is deaf by maintaining eye contact
throughout the conversation, even in the presence of an interpreter.
Remember that the interpreter's function is to communicate, not think
or answer for the person who is deaf.
- It is important for the person who is deaf to see your face. Be sure
that it is well lighted and you do not cover your mouth or turn away
in the middle of a sentence. Try to arrange your group so that everyone
- Enunciate clearly. It is not necessary to exaggerate or shout.
- Watch the person who is deaf carefully for facial expressions and
body language to help you determine the success of your communication.
A nod does not always indicate understanding any more than a lack of
response indicates belligerence.
- When planning a meeting, visual aids are helpful. If you are showing
a film, provide the member with a written agenda or outline for clear
- A designated notetaker during a discussion or presentation would also
benefit the person who is hearing impaired. This allows him or her the
opportunity to review what was said and to pick up on some points that
may have been missed during the meeting.
- An individual who is deaf may have speech that is difficult, at first,
to understand; however, once accustomed to it, you should be able to
understand. If you are having trouble understanding, don't hesitate
to ask them to repeat. Never say "It's not important" or "never mind."
This may be interpreted as he or she is not important. University of
Illinois Extension provides for equal opportunities in programs and
- Do not expect children with hearing impairment, to sit still for long
periods. They use sight, touch, and smell to relate to people and things
- Wearing a hearing aid does not necessarily indicate that the person
can hear normally or understand the spoken word. The hearing aid may
be for amplification of sound and not necessarily for clarifying the
reception or the sound.
- Use patience, acceptance and understanding.
Ways to Communicate with People Who Are Deaf
There are several ways for you and a person who is deaf to communicate.
- Pad and Pencil. This is a fairly simple way of communicating.
However, remember that for many people who are deaf, English is a second
language (sign language being first), just as French or Spanish might
be for an individual who can hear.
- Lip Reading. This is a difficult skill. Only about 30 to 40
percent of the English language is even visible on the lips. For example,
watch yourself in the mirror as you say the words "bump" and "pump."
These words look the same on your lips but have very different meanings.
Never assume that the person you are speaking to can lip read.
- Fingerspelling. This is a manual form of communication (done
with the hand). The hand and fingers spell out letters of the alphabet
to form words. Children love to learn this type of skill and learn it
easily. You may find that many members of your club already know fingerspelling.
- Sign Language. This is the language that people who are deaf
perform with the hands. A combination of hand movements and positions
are used to express thoughts and phrases. If there is no sign for a
thought, fingerspelling is used to spell it out. There are several different
sign languages. The most prevalent are American Sign Language (ASL or
AMESLAN) and Signed English (SIGLIGH). Learning to sign would be a great
project for your 4-H club.
Sarkees-Wircenski, M., and Scott, J. L. (1995). Vocational special
needs. Homewood, IL: American Technical Publishers, Inc.
American Hearing Research Foundation
55 E. Washington St., Suite 2022
Chicago, IL 60602
National Institute on Deafness and Other Communications Disorders