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Disability Etiquette: People Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing

The purpose of the Discovering Diversity Series is to assist the Director and the Pacific Islands Area Civil Rights Committee, and the Special Emphasis Program Managers to deliver information about equal opportunity, civil rights, and special emphasis issues and events. You also can discover a convenient starting point to obtain information pertaining to equal opportunity, civil rights, or special emphasis by going to the NRCS Pacific Islands Area Civil Rights website at

This website provides access to agency and departmental civil rights information as well as information specific to the Pacific Islands Area..

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) prohibits discrimination in all its programs and activities on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, religion, age, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, or marital or family status. (Not all prohibited bases apply to all programs.) Persons with disabilities who require alternative means for communication of program information (Braille, large print, audiotape, etc.) should contact USDA’s TARGET Center at (202)720-2600 (voice and TDD).

To file a complaint of discrimination, write USDA, Director, Office of Civil Rights, Room 326-W, Whitten Building, 1400 Independence Avenue, SW, Washington, D.C. 20250-9410 or call (202)720-5964.

� American sign language (ASL) is an entirely different language, with a syntax all its own. Speech reading (lip reading) is difficult for people who are Deaf if their first language is American sign language, because the majority of sounds in some languages are formed inside the mouth, and it is hard to speech read a second language.

� People who are hard of hearing may however communicate verbally. They use some hearing but may rely on amplification and/or seeing the speaker’s lips to communicate effectively.

? There is a range of communication preferences and styles among people with hearing loss that cannot be explained briefly. It is helpful to note that the majority of late deafened adults do not communicate with sign language, do use verbal language, and may be candidates for writing and assistive listening devices to help improve communication. People with cochlear implants, like other people with hearing impairments, will usually inform you what works best for them.

� When the exchange of information is complex, the most effective way to communicate with a native signer is through a qualified sign-language interpreter. For a simple interaction, writing back and forth is usually okay.

� Follow the person’s cues to find out if he prefers sign language, gesturing, writing, or speaking. If you have trouble understanding the speech of a person who is deaf or hard of hearing, let him know.

� When using a sign-language interpreter, look directly at the person who is deaf, and maintain eye contact to be polite. Talk directly to the person, rather than to the interpreter.

� People who are deaf need to be included in the decision-making process for issues that affect them; don’t decide for them.

� Before speaking to a person who is deaf or hard of hearing, make sure that you get his attention. Depending on the situation, you can extend your arm and wave your hand, tap his shoulder, or flicker the lights.

� Rephrase, rather than repeat, sentences that the person doesn’t understand.

� When talking, face the person. A quiet, well-lit room is most conducive to effective communication. If you are in front of the light source with your back to it, the glare may obscure your face and make it difficult for the person who is hard of hearing to speech read.

� Speak clearly. Most people who are hard of hearing count on watching people’s lips as they speak to help them understand. Avoid chewing gum, smoking, or obscuring your mouth with your hand while speaking.

� There is no need to shout at a person who is deaf or hard of hearing. If the person uses a hearing aid, it will be calibrated to normal voice levels; your shout will just sound distorted.

� People who are deaf and some who are hard of hearing may make and receive telephone calls with the assistance of a TTY (short for teletypewriter; also called a TDD). A TTY is a small device with a keyboard, a paper printer, or a visual display screen and acoustic couplers (for the telephone receiver).

� When a TTY user calls a business that does not have a TTY, he/she places the call through his/her state’s relay service. Likewise, a business that does not have a TTY can reach a customer who is a TTY user through the relay service. If you receive a relay call, the operator will identify it as such. Please do not hang up; this is the way that people who are deaf are able to place an order, call a store, or make a reservation.