“Some people don’t even want to try to communicate with a deaf person and seem afraid to talk to us or ask questions. We are just regular people too. Don’t be afraid. Talk to me! I love talking to people.”
–Treshelle Marie Edmond, Glee, House, Master of None
Lawyers Haben Girma and Claudia Gordon, actor Nyle DiMarco, Academy Award winning actress Marlee Matlin, The Silent Child’s Maisie Sly and filmmakers Delbert Whetter and Jevon Whetter also are deaf.
Deafness is defined as a hearing loss that prevents a person from understanding speech through the ear. People who are hard of hearing have a more mild or moderate hearing loss that may or may not be corrected with amplification. A person who is deaf may also have speech difficulties. A 2011 study led by Johns Hopkins researchers which used the World Health Organization’s definition for hearing loss (i.e. the inability to hear sounds of 25 decibels or less in the speech frequencies) found that nearly a fifth of all Americans, or about 30 million people, have hearing loss in both ears, and that 48 million Americans have hearing loss in at least one ear.
To get the person’s attention, touch the person lightly, wave your hand or use some other physical sign. If an interpreter is being used, speak directly to the person who is deaf rather than to the interpreter. If the person is lip-reading, look directly at the person, speak slowly and clearly, but do not exaggerate your lip movements and especially do not shout. Speak expressively because the person will use your facial expressions, gestures and body movements to help understand what you are saying. Keep your hands and any other objects away from your mouth when speaking. If you are still having trouble communicating, feel free to use written notes.
Deaf and Hard of Hearing persons often have different preferences as to mode of communications. Some may wish to communicate via e-mail and/or text/SMS. Social media also has become a popular means of informal communication. Others may wish to communicate through a “relay interpreter,” often referred to as a “relay operator” or “communications assistant.” It is important to ask the individual what the preferred mode of communication is.
In early years, people who are deaf and hard of hearing would communicate through telecommunications devices known as TTYs or TDDs, either between two users of such devices or between a user and a relay operator. Although there remain numerous references to such devices in many contemporary resource guides, it is important to note that they are generally no longer in widespread use.
Today, many telephone communications take place through a video-based relay service (“Video Relay Services”) or a text-based relay services. These services differ only with respect to the user experience of the deaf or hard of hearing caller. The user experience of the hearing caller will remain in the same manner as with any other telephone call. The relay call will be conducted by the communications assistant (“CA”) voicing everything to you that the Relay User types or signs, and by the CA signing or typing to the Relay User everything that you voice.
There is no cost to use these services, nor is there a special telephone number. If given a telephone number by a deaf or hard of hearing individual that utilizes a relay service, you need only to call that number. The relay interpreter/operator will automatically facilitate the telephone call for you.
If you are unfamiliar with Relay, ask the operator to explain how Relay works. When the CA says, “Go Ahead,” that means it is your turn to respond. Speak slowly and directly to the deaf/hard of hearing caller, not to the CA. When you are finished speaking, say, “Go Ahead” to signal that it is the other persons turn to talk.
Some people who are deaf would not like to be called hearing impaired due to the negativity of the word impaired. Say “person who is deaf” or “person who is hard of hearing.” If someone is both deaf and blind, the term is deafblind. Never say deaf and dumb. Many people in the Deaf community prefer use of a lowercase “d” to refer to audiological status and the use of a capital “D” when referring to the culture and community of Deaf people.
When hiring a sign language interpreter through a service, do so as early as possible. Two weeks is recommended. Be sure to confirm that the sign language interpreter is certified and experienced, and let the interpreter know it is for an entertainment industry event. Interpreting in the theatre, television or film industry requires more than just knowledge of sign language. It takes knowledge of the industry as well as the performing arts. A certified interpreter is someone who has met a minimum of hours of training on a regular basis, and abides by a code of professional conduct. This is important to ensure that your communications, and the conduct of the interpreter(s), meet the appropriate quality, ethical and professional standards. The Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) maintains a searchable directory of interpreters and their certification status.
Hiring an interpreter for a person who is Deafblind may require a specially trained, qualified interpreter, who is available through interpreting agencies. When hiring an interpreter for a person who is Deafblind, disclose the appropriate circumstances and requirements and confirm that the interpreter will be certified.
Certified Deaf Interpreters (CDI) are deaf professionals that have specialized training and/or experience in bridging the language and cultural gaps that sometimes exist between Deaf/Hard of Hearing and hearing parties. They possess native or near-native fluency in American Sign Language and may be recommended for circumstances where language difficulties or cultural differences occur, for instance, in highly traumatic emergency or medical situations, legal proceedings and technically complex assignments. CDI’s work alongside ASL interpreters as a team and can play an instrumental role in ensuring that communications on set are efficient and effective.
A list of interpreters is available in Appendix A.
National organizations for people who are deaf or hard of hearing:
- The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) is the national professional, scientific and credentialing association for 198,000 members and affiliates who are audiologists; speech-language pathologists; speech, language and hearing scientists; audiology and speech-language pathology support personnel; and students.
- The American Society for Deaf Children is a nonprofit parent-helping-parent organization promoting a positive attitude toward signing and Deaf culture. It also provides support, encouragement and current information about deafness to families with deaf and hard of hearing children.
- Greater Los Angeles Agency on Deafness (GLAD) provides support and advances the life of deaf and hard of hearing individuals by empowering them with information, training and opportunities. GLAD also provides training and technical assistance to hearing service providers, employers and community organizations and agencies. GLAD runs the LifeSigns interpreting agency and is a good resource for Deaf culture.
- Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) provides assistance and resources for people with hearing loss and their families to learn how to adjust to living with hearing loss. HLAA works to eradicate the stigma associated with hearing loss and raise public awareness about the need for prevention, treatment, and regular hearing screenings.
- National Association of the Deaf is the nation’s premier civil rights organization of, by, and for deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals in the United States of America. Established in 1880, the NAD was shaped by deaf leaders who believed in the right of the American deaf community to use sign language, to congregate on issues important to them, and to have its interests represented at the national level.
- National Black Deaf Advocates is an organization that promotes leadership, deaf awareness and active participation in the political, educational, and economic processes that affect the lives of black deaf citizens.
- National Center on Deafness at California State University at Northridge’s advocacy, programs and services support the acquisition of marketable skills and lifetime opportunities for deaf, hard of hearing and deafblind students. The center is a good local resource with a deaf studies department, professors and students.
- TDI (formerly known as Telecommunications for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Inc.) was established in 1968 originally to promote further distribution of TTYs in the deaf community and to publish an annual national directory of TTY numbers. Today, it is an active national advocacy organization focusing its energies and resources to address equal access issues in telecommunications and media for people who are deaf, hard-of-hearing, late-deafened and deafblind.