Engaging with people with hearing loss, who are hard of hearing or who are Deaf

Tips to support an effective engagement process with people with a hearing loss, who are hard of hearing or who are Deaf.

General

In general, follow these guidelines.

  • Make sure that only one person speaks at a time; this will make it easier for everyone, including New Zealand Sign Language interpreters. Ask people to raise their hands if they wish to speak, or otherwise visually indicate the intention; this will give Deaf people an equal opportunity to contribute.
  • Some people who have a hearing loss identify as being Deaf. This identity is grounded within the Deaf culture with its own language, values and history.
  • Many people with a hearing loss do not use sign language interpreters. They may however use a personal assistive listening system. This can either be in the form of a personal microphone which amplifies sound, or it may use FM radio frequencies to send sound from the source, eg, a presenter using a microphone, directly to the listener. The system can be connected to a hearing aid, a cochlear implant, or received through a headset.
  • Make sure that people with hearing impairments have the option of sitting near the front of the room as many people with hearing loss need to be able to see body language and lip movements in order to understand what is being said.
  • If you are using breakout groups, be prepared to offer a separate room for people with hearing impairments, as the background noise of multiple groups working in the same room can make it very difficult for people using hearing aids or other assistive listening devices to hear what is being said in their own group.
  • Always use a microphone when a hearing loop is in use, and request speakers to  say their names before speaking. People using hearing loops often cannot differentiate between different voices, as all tend to sound mechanical.

New Zealand Sign Language interpreters

If you are considering hiring a New Zealand Sign Language interpreter, follow these guidelines.

  • Preferably, book New Zealand Sign Language interpreters at least four weeks in advance, as there is a shortage of trained interpreters. This is particularly true of tri-lingual interpreters (eg, Te Reo–English–New Zealand Sign Language).
  • Although it is unlikely that a qualified tri-lingual sign language interpreter will be available, a New Zealand Sign Language agency may have alternate suggestions that could assist the engagement with a particular non-English speaking group; discuss your needs with them.
  • Consider how many interpreters you require. You will need at least two interpreters, who can take turns, if a meeting goes longer than 1.5 hours or requires technically complicated signing. It is best to discuss this with the interpreting agency.
  • If you are engaging interpreters, discuss with them the speed at which presenters should speak, and whether they will need a pause to allow interpreters to swap over.
  • Send any written material you will use at the event to the interpreters ahead of time, to allow them to familiarise themselves with the content.
  • Make sure the venue has appropriate lighting for hard of hearing people who rely on lip-reading and for users of sign language. Sign language interpreters need to be well lit, so that their face, hands and body can be easily seen. Reserve seats opposite interpreters for Deaf people. Ensure there are no barriers, such as poles, that may obstruct people’s view of the interpreters.
  • When you are asking for comments from the audience, have at least one person (depending on the size and configuration of the group) ready to take a microphone to participants, and ensure that sign language interpreters have a microphone available. Be aware that you may need more than one microphone.
  • If a New Zealand Sign Language interpreter is not available, or you wish to engage with Deaf participants who do not use New Zealand Sign Language, consider using an electronic note-taker/live captioning to transcribe the discussion in real time; this will transfer your material on to a data show or computer screen which the participant can read.
  • If you are going to use videos in presentations, consider inserting captions or video clips of New Zealand Sign Language interpreters.

For more information about working with interpreters, see Effective communication with deaf people: A guide to working with New Zealand Sign Language interpreters, produced by the Office for Disability Issues.

Working with hearing dogs

This information is adapted from the information produced by the Blind Foundation’s guidelines for interacting with guide dogs.

  • Hearing dogs need to concentrate on doing their job. Do not interact with them unless the dog’s handler gives permission – avoid eye contact with the dog, do not talk to or pat the dog and do not feed him/her.
  • Ideally, the venue should include a lawn area for hearing or assistance dogs, or one should be available close enough that the handler can safely toilet their dogs.

For more information contact Hearing Dogs New Zealand.

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