Deaf people can choose from a number of communication methods. An individual’s choice will have been determined by many factors to do with their experience and the nature and degree of their deafness. The range includes: Sign Language, lipreading, fingerspelling, Deafblind fingerspelling, written, etc.

There are also signing systems which attempts to encode English into sign or to illustrate spoken English.

It can be difficult for a hearing person meeting a Deaf person for the first time, not knowing what communication methods they prefer, but the barriers are usually broken down once communication via the right method is established.

When you meet a Deaf person, you might be unsure the best way to speak to them. Please see below for some simple tips on the best way to communicate with a Deaf person:

Beginners’ guidelines for communicating with Deaf people

  • For Deaf people with limited hearing, or lip-reading skills, speaking clearly will help

  • Speak clearly in whole sentences, without using abbreviations. Be prepared to repeat yourself if the lip-reader doesn’t understand you first time

  • Even the best lip-readers only catch less than half of the words which are said to them, natural facial expressions and hand gestures can really help

  • Don’t be tempted to speak slowly, loudly or exaggerate your mouth movements, because that just makes things harder for the person trying to understand you

  • Make good eye contact; look directly at the deaf person, don’t turn away, and don’t cover your face or mouth (no smoking!)

  • Remember to wait until the person is looking at you before you attempt to communicate

  • Don’t stand with a light or a window at your back; the light needs to be on your face

  • Begin the conversation by saying what you want to talk about

  • Be responsive; nod rather than saying “mmhmm”. Use gestures and body language where appropriate

  • Do speak clearly and slightly slower, but don’t shout or over-enunciate, as this will distort your lip patterns; keep your head fairly still

  • Above all, relax and be patient if you’re really stuck you can write something down

  • Best of all, learn British Sign Language!