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Assisting Patrons Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing

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Hearing loss ranges from mild to profound. One person may be able to hear everything but very high-pitched sounds while another may hear only the roar of a jet engine and another hears nothing. A hard of hearing person may have difficulty developing his or her speech depending on the degree of hearing loss and when it occurred. The range of hearing loss includes the person who has age-related mild hearing loss to the person who is congenitally (born) deaf.

"One in every ten (28 million) Americans has hearing loss." (Self Help for Hard of Hearing, 2006). Of these, the vast majority of Americans (95%) with hearing loss could be successfully treated with hearing aids. However, the number of these individuals who actually use a hearing aid is only 22% (6.35 million individuals). As of 2004, across all age groups, in the United States, approximately 1,000,000 people (0.38% of the population, or 3.8 per 1,000) over 5 years of age are "functionally deaf" (Gallaudet Research Institute (GRI)).


Hard of Hearing: Used to describe people who have usable residual hearing or who use hearing aids to amplify sounds.

Deaf: Used to describe people who have little or no usable residual hearing.

When assisting people who are deaf or hard of hearing,Remember These Basic Tips:

  • Get the person's attention before speaking. Wave your hand, gently tap their shoulder, or flash the lights.
  • Be a lively speaker. Use facial expressions that match your tone of voice, and use gestures, body language and pantomime to communicate. Do not look serious if the message is not.
  • Look directly at the person while speaking. Even a slight turn of the head can obscure the deaf person's vision. Other distracting factors affecting communication include mustaches obscuring the lips, smoking, pencil chewing and putting hands in front of face.
  • Keep in mind that while some people who are deaf or hard of hearing will read lips it is generally believed that only 30% of what is spoken can be easily read on the lips and understood. Be prepared to repeat information, and change your words to increase understanding.
  • Don't be embarrassed about communicating via pencil and paper. Getting the message across is more important that the medium used.
  • Try to re-phrase a thought rather than repeating the same words. Sometimes a group of lip movements is difficult to speech read. If the person doesn't understand you, try to re-state the sentence.
  • A brief outline or script printout may aid the person in following a lecture, play, or movie. This can be provided in advance, or accompanied by special lighting.
  • Be flexible with language. If the person does not understand you, rephrase your statement using simpler words. Do not keep repeating the same phrase over and over. Try writing it down.
  • Speak clearly and slowly, but don't exaggerate or shout. This does not help the person to hear. Keep your sentences short.
  • If a sign language interpreter is involved, speak directly to the person who is deaf - not the interpreter.
  • Be sure only one person is speaking at a time in a group situation. When the speaker changes, indicate so with a visual cue.
  • Don't assume that a person wearing a hearing aid can hear you. Sometimes hearing aids are used to increase general sounds like traffic alarms, etc. Also, hearing aids amplify all sounds, including background noise, air conditioning units and audience rustling. They do not help to discern between speech and background noise.

Useful Accommodations:

Assistive Listening Devices (ALD): The job of an ALD is to make the sound louder and give volume control to the individual. In general, ALD's block out most of the ambient noises that come from the audience and just amplify the sounds coming from the speaker/stage. Most systems require the patron to check out a receiver with an earpiece or a set of headphones; and the system should also include neck loops for people with T-coils and hearing aids. It is also important that the equipment be checked, maintained, and cleaned on a regular basis. Systems must be checked for battery effectiveness, earpiece cleanliness, availability of ear foam pads, and other factors that can disrupt the effective working of the ALD. There is a more complete explanation of ALD's following this section. Resources - ALD

Sign Interpreted Performances: Generally, interpreters translate from spoken English to American Sign Language. However, there are other forms of visual/manual communication that also may be used (i.e., Signed English, cued speech, etc.). Arrangements for the interpreter are made well in advance so that the interpreters are able to attend a museum tour or get a performance script well in advance to clarify details and rehearse the interpretation. Ideally, the interpreters are located in the same visual field as the performance/lecture, with subdued lighting on them at all times.

Art Spark Texas is always looking for people to join us in our goal of assisting arts organizations to achieve maximum accessibility.

Contact us for more information on how you can help.

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