Deafness/Hard of Hearing

  • Hearing loss affects nearly 28 million Americans. It can begin gradually -- with a buzzing in the ears or the sense that others are mumbling -- or it may come suddenly after an illness or accident.
  • It can range from being very mild, when only faint, high-pitched sounds or voices are not heard, to so severe that even explosive noises may go unnoticed.

Deaf Sensitivity Training Video for Police Officers video (Deaf Inc.)

First Responder Communication with Deaf and Hard of Hearing Citizens video (Spokane Fire Department)

deaf symbol

International Symbol of Access for Hearing Loss

Signs and Symptoms:

  • Hearing but not understanding

  • Difficulty understanding conversation within a group of people

  • Difficulty understanding TV and telephone conversations

  • Difficulty conversing in a noisy room

  • Complaining that people are mumbling

  • Continually asking people to repeat words or phrases

  • Ringing in the ears or dizziness

  • May be non-verbal

Types of Hearing Loss:

  • Deaf: a person with severe or profound hearing loss.

  • Hard-of-hearing: a person with any degree of hearing loss who can understand some speech sounds with or without a hearing aid.

  • Conductive hearing loss: outer and/or middle ear are affected. Ear wax and ear infections are examples of conditions that may cause a conductive hearing loss. This type of hearing loss can often be medically or surgically treated.

  • Sensorineural hearing loss: result of damage to the inner ear. Such damage is the result of aging, illness, or noise. People with this hearing loss cannot regain their hearing, but they can enhance it through hearing aids.

  • Mixed hearing loss: a combination of conductive and sensorineural. For an individual with profound hearing loss, a cochlear implant (a surgically implanted device) may be a viable option.

Signer vs. Interpreter:

signer is someone who is acquiring or has acquired skills in American Sign Language to communicate with people who are deaf regardless of the course level s/he has taken, with no formal training in interpreting or ASL linguistics.

  • Personal enjoyment, family communication, partner, friend, etc.

A qualified and certified interpreter is someone trained in an interpreting program and/or is certified by the National Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID).

  • Utmost emphasis on interpreting education, training, certificate advancement and retaining integrity of the profession

General Communicating Techniques:

  • It is important to get the person's attention before speaking. Since deaf people cannot hear usual calls for attention, they may need a tap on the shoulder or other visual signals to gain their attention. (i.e. flicker lights on and off when entering a room, wave, etc.)

  • Maintain eye contact with the deaf person and face them directly when speaking – not an interpreter or signer

  • Speak slow and clearly – avoid shouting, exaggeration, and overemphasis of words

  • Be aware of bright spotlights or insufficient light

  • Don't be embarrassed to communicate via pencil and paper – this method should be used initially to determine how the individual wants to communicate

  • Do not assume that because individuals are wearing a hearing aid that they can hear and understand you.

  • Include individuals in all conversations and describe any commotion in the area. If you look away because you become distracted by another conversation or disturbance let the person know.

Sources: Buffalo Hearing & Speech Center; United States Department of Justice (2010)