Tips for Communicating With Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students

What is interpreting? – Interpreters are trained professionals who interpret between spoken English and American Sign Language for individuals who do not share the same communication mode. They are state licensed and required to abide by a professional code of conduct that includes tenets around confidentiality and neutrality. They do not participate in discussions or activities and will interpret everything that is said.

What is captioning? – Captioners provide real-time transcription of everything said. They are trained to convey content accurately and abide by a code of professional ethics. The captions may be streamed in a collaboration platform, on a separate URL, or if in person, could be projected onto a screen or onto a laptop, depending on the setting.

For more information on captioning guidelines, please visit UChicago’s Center for Digital Accessibility.

General Communication Tips

  • Ask the person how they prefer to communicate with you, and do your best to accommodate their request. Check in to see if that set up is working if it’s your first time meeting with them.
  • Maintain eye contact. Eye contact facilitates direct communication.
  • Speak directly to the Deaf or Hard of Hearing student, not the interpreter or captioner.
  • No need to speak slowly or more loudly, as these approaches do not aid in understanding.
  • Know there will be lag time. Keep in mind that American Sign Language is a language distinct from English. Captioning is also going to be a few words behind.
  • If interpreting or captioning resources are not available, ask the Deaf or Hard of Hearing person how they would like to proceed. They may want to type, text, call through a relay service, or write back and forth.

Tips for Virtual Settings

  • Turn taking is a must in all settings, but especially in a virtual one. Set this expectation at the start of the class or meeting by deciding how you will moderate. Will you ask people to be on video, and raise their hand? Call on people by name? Use a hand raising tool built into the platform? Ask people to type questions in the chat? Make that expectation clear at the beginning to avoid overlapping conversation.
  • Deaf people using ASL take in information visually. As such, this means they cannot simultaneously read a PowerPoint slide while watching the interpreter. If you ask the group to read something or look at a graph, pause and allow people to read before continuing.
  • If a chat feature is being used, be sure to read salient comments or questions aloud so that all can be included in that discussion as well

Tips for In-Person Settings

In a Group or Classroom Setting

  • Utilize effective turn taking, allowing only one person to speak at a time. Captioners and interpreters cannot convey the message of multiple people speaking at once.
  • Take a brief pause after asking a question of the group to allow the student to be on the same page as the class before proceeding.
  • Provide interpreters with classroom materials ahead of time and consider meeting them a few minutes early to discuss the aim of the lecture.
  • Add interpreters and/or captioners to your Canvas course so they can have access to course materials in advance to prepare for the day’s interpreting.
  • Make sure that all videos you plan to show (or assign) have captions and that they are turned on. Look for a copy of the video that does have captions available. If you are unable to find one, the interpreter will have to interpret the video, so do not turn off all of the lights in the room. In this circumstance, the interpreter will need to have previewed the video before class.

One-on-One Situations

  • Face the person you are speaking to and speak to them directly. If there is an interpreter present, they will position themselves next to, and slightly behind, you, allowing the student to see both of you at once.
  • Maintain eye contact with the Deaf or Hard of Hearing person even though they may be looking at the interpreter instead of you. Also, address them in first person. Refrain from using phrases like “ask him if…” or “can you tell her…”
  • Make sure you are not backlit by a window or light, as this makes it more difficult to see your face. Make sure the room is well lit.
  • If the person prefers to lipread, expect to need to rephrase what you are saying from time to time. There are certain words that may be difficult to understand.
  • Make sure you have the person’s attention before you begin speaking. Deaf people get each other’s attention by waving a hand in front of the person or by gently tapping them on the shoulder.
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