Tips for speaking to someone who is deaf and the barriers they face when participating in physical activity.
Blog Written by Joseph Madge, Marketing & Communications Officer at #TeamSASP
Today, May 2nd, marks the start of 2023’s Deaf Awareness Week with this year’s topic being Deaf Inclusion.
I am a Marketing and Communications Officer for SASP, and I wanted to use this week as an opportunity to highlight the barriers I overcame when wanting to participate in sport growing up as someone who has congenital hearing loss (hearing loss which is present at birth).
I would like to begin this by addressing a common misconception that deaf people cannot hear at all. Deafness is a spectrum, with varying degrees of hearing loss whether it would be not hearing specific sounds or frequencies or not hearing at all, I personally struggle with higher-pitched frequencies. We are told things such as “Oh, you don’t sound deaf!” or “You talk very well for a deaf person!” Everyone is different and this applies to our hearing loss and how we choose to deal with it.
We are all aware of the importance of taking part in sport or physical activity from a young age, both on our physical and mental health and I myself am a very sporty person. I have played many sports including football, cricket and even baseball at university – but there can be some significant barriers to taking part when you are one of the 45,000 children in the UK with permanent hearing loss.
This is unsurprisingly the biggest barrier as someone who is Hard of Hearing (HoH). Communication is a huge part of sport, from hearing instructions from the coach or interacting with your peers; but when communication was difficult for me especially at a young age, this stopped me from progressing both in my sporting skills and my social skills as well – and this drastically affected my confidence.
As my ability to communicate effectively on the pitch became difficult, my confidence levels to be able to engage in sessions lowered. This would result in finding it difficult to make new friends and not understanding what was expected of me because I did not want to disappoint my coach in having to ask twice.
Hearing aids are not cheap! Whether they are bought privately and are at great cost to you, or via the NHS and are of great cost to them – when a child knows this they will often choose to remove their hearing aids or cochlear implant to avoid loss or damage. This will then even further affect our ability to communicate and, in turn affect our confidence.
These issues of communication and confidence arise through no fault of anyone; but as we strive to develop a more inclusive world, I have developed some tips for communicating with someone who struggles with their hearing:
- Do NOT say it does not matter, this is an important one to stress. Levels of importance is subjective, who wins the Super Bowl is of importance and of interest to me but might not be to the next person. Saying it does not matter or “I will tell you later” can make someone who is HoH feel very alienated and left out.
- Keep your mouth on show. Unless you are a Premier League footballer who is hiding what they are saying from the cameras, it’s helpful for us for you to keep your mouth on show as many use lip reading or like myself use it to try and piece together missing bits of context.
- DON’T SHOUT! Speaking any louder to those who have full hearing loss is no help at all, and to those like myself with some hearing loss it makes it uncomfortable. Instead, try speaking clearly, at a comfortable pace and volume and make sure you are enunciating your words.
- Don’t exaggerate your lip movement. This comes across as condescending and distracting.
- Create a suitable environment. With a whole range of background noise, whether it be other students talking in class or general chatter and bouncing of balls in the sports hall, it can make it really difficult to isolate your voice and understand what you are saying. These environments are not always controllable but if they are, create an environment with good lighting and reduced background noise.