Sign of the Times

In sunny California this week teaching the Nonviolent Crisis Intervention® course in beautiful San Bernardino. A great mix of human service professionals from security to education to healthcare to residential. There are an additional two people present who are not here for the course. They are interpreters and are signing for one of our participants who is deaf. I also have a woman in the training who is hearing-impaired. Although I have worked with interpreters a few times in the past, I wanted a better understanding of how to communicate with individuals who are either hearing impaired or deaf. The interpreters were kind enough to share with me their thoughts and tips on communicating. Among other things they advised:


Always talk directly to a deaf person. Address your questions to them and not the interpreter. While the deaf person will look to the interpreter for the meaning of what you are saying, it is vitally important for you to keep eye contact with them.


If you are going to hand out training materials, give them directly to the deaf person. Do not hand them to the interpreter.


Always include them equally. Don’t refrain from asking questions of the deaf person because you may think the question is too complicated for them. On the same note, don’t ask them too many questions to check for comprehension. Basically, do not ignore the deaf person, but don’t shine the spotlight on them either. Treat them as you would want to be treated.


Do not assume that a deaf person can read lips. Most deaf people don’t want to read lips. They would rather take the time to write notes back and forth with you rather than read lips. However, my hearing impaired participant can read lips. Accommodate these individuals by not speaking while your back is to them. Invite them to sit in a location where it would be easier for them to see your face. It is not necessary to raise your volume or shout instructions. Do not over annunciate because that can make it more difficult for the person to understand and may even embarrass them.


Try not to include interpreters in your discussion. During interpreting time the interpreters simply act as the eyes, ears and voice of the deaf person.


A deaf person is deaf, not hearing impaired. Some deaf people will take offense at the term.


Try to stay clear of the interpreter and the deaf person while interpreting is going on. The deaf person needs to see the interpreter signing and vice versa. Create an interpretation zone.


For deaf people, English is generally their second language. They primarily rely on sign language. Learning a few signs like “thank you”, “good morning” or “My name is _____” will be much appreciated.


Deaf people and hearing impaired individuals are visual. Try to accommodate the learning process by arranging your learning environment so they can see not only the interpreter, but you as well. Arranging tables in a circular fashion or square shape will also allow the deaf person to see other members as they make a comment.


Following these few simple rules and guidelines can make the training and learning process much more enjoyable, efficient and stress-free. Although I knew most of these techniques, I learned a few more as well. This will enhance my abilities as an instructor. A great many thanks to my interpreters. You guys are the best!

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