How to support your hearing-impaired colleagues

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South Africa has a well-established deaf community with more than 4 million deaf and hard-of-hearing people. This means you are likely to work with hearing-impaired colleagues at some point during your career.

From brushing up on sign language basics, to accommodating their needs, your efforts can make the workplace a comfortable, inclusive space. If you’re unsure how best to support your deaf or hearing-impaired colleagues, try these tips to get started.

Get clued-up on the basics

Deaf or partially deaf people have different communication needs depending on their degree of hearing loss. Keep the following in mind and ask your colleagues for more guidance:

  • A cochlear implant is a small device that helps those with severe hearing issues to hear sounds. People with a cochlear implant can’t hear anything without using their speech processor.
  • Most people from the deaf community communicate by speaking (orally). How well they speak may depend on how well they can hear.
  • Generally, only those who are completely deaf use sign language.
  • The volume of what your colleagues can hear could depend on environmental factors. For example, if too many people are speaking at once or if the office is noisy, it could make it especially difficult for them to distinguish between different conversations.

When communicating with a hearing-impaired colleague, keep the following in mind:

  • Make sure you have their attention when you approach them, and provide a clear topic.. For example, tell them you’d like to talk about the meeting tomorrow before diving into details.
  • Use your body language. Along with facial expressions, body language can help shape the tone during a conversation.
  • Talk at a normal pace, as talking too slowly can be patronising. Your colleague will let you know if they need you to slow down.
  • Pause now and then to allow them to digest what you’ve said and formulate any questions they may have.
  • Ask open-ended questions instead of ‘yes’ or ‘no’ ones. You’ll get a better idea of whether they’ve understood you or not.
  • Speak clearly, but don’t exaggerate your lip movements.
  • Try to use visual aids such as PowerPoint and email notes during meetings.

Most of all, remember that your colleague is best able to advise you on how to support them, so take your cues from them and ask questions if you’re unsure.

Use resources such as the South African National Deaf Association to learn more about the deaf community and how to support them.

For more advice on disability support, read these helpful articles:

The information is shared on condition that readers will make their own determination, including seeking advice from a professional. E&OE.


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