How to Communicate with Deaf and Hard of Hearing People

Various Ways of Communicating

When most individuals think about communicating with deaf people, they think of sign language. What they may not know, however, is that there are different forms of sign language. Moreover, there are other communication options and methodologies, such as cued speech, auditory verbal communication, and lipreading.

Sign Language

When I request an interpreter, I am asked what type of sign language I use, and for good reason.
American Sign Language is popular and has its own grammar and syntax. I use what is known as Pidgin Signed English, a mix of American Sign Language signs and signs in English word order. Still others may use only exact English order for their signs, a form of sign language known as Signed Exact English.

In schools, there are two different ways to make use of sign language. Some educational programs use sign language in combination with speech, with the philosophy of using any method to teach and communicate. That is what's known as total communication. There are also schools that believe in using American Sign Language to teach English. That is called bilingual bicultural education. Many charter schools for the deaf operate with a bilingual bicultural philosophy.

Cued Speech

Although the hands are used to visually depict sounds in cued speech, it is not sign language. Cued speech was developed by the late Dr. Richard Cornett.
Users of cued speech swear by its effectiveness as a means of teaching languages.

Speech and Lipreading

I may have hated speech therapy while growing up, but I admit today that it has given me a valuable tool for communication with hearing people. It is likely that most speech therapists who work with deaf individuals in this regard are members of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.

For me, even more important than the ability to speak is the ability to lipread (or speechread).

It is an essential skill for a deaf or hard of hearing person because, when the battery in a hearing aid or cochlear implant dies (or the person is not wearing either), lipreading is often the only means available to communicate.

There is some disagreement as to whether lipreading is natural or taught.

No matter what communication method(s) are selected, in the case of children, it should be whatever works for the child. Some deaf and hard of hearing children are naturally oral, while others are naturally visual. Still others thrive with a combination of both.

Learn more about hearing loss.

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