Interpreters – Self Care

CareRecently I have been thinking about the necessity of self-care in the interpreting profession. This was mostly brought about by a conversation with a colleague about how empathising with deaf clients is a regular occurrence for interpreters. Harvey (2003) states that interpreters are at high risk of becoming overwhelmed with too many emotions and that it is imperative that interpreters have support mechanisms in place. I have been recently thinking about what support mechanisms I have in place….friends/family/my mentor/partner – but is that enough?

It is the unfortunate fact that BSL/English interpreters routinely witness intentional or unintentional acts of oppression experienced by the deaf persons. According to Harvey (2003, p207) “It is largely inevitable…to experience some degree of empathetic pain”. What’s more, he explains that interpreters need to have a balance of being able to empathise but not empathising too much as to get caught up in its perils. I have been advised that especially in a medical appointment, I need to ensure I am mindful to separate myself from the deaf person and remember that it is not me experiencing the trauma. Harvey (2003) suggests that you can become so consumed by the deaf persons pain that you cannot differentiate their pain from your own. Experiencing empathetic pain may happen by me physically seeing a deaf person in trauma but also by what information I hear. Whatever I have heard from my interpreting assignment I cannot ‘un-hear’. The way interpreters are affected by the information they are privy to is dependent upon the individual. However, I think an important characteristic of an interpreter is to have compassion, but that we don’t become compassion fatigued (a gradual lessoning of compassion over time). If the interpreter suffers from compassion fatigue or feels overwhelmed by the empathy they are feeling towards the deaf person, then in my view, this is the time interpreters need to focus on self-care. One way of maintaining self-care is through one-to-one supervision. Whilst many interpreters are involved in group supervision, it is questionable about whether some things can be discussed in a large group. For example, I don’t necessarily want to retell what I have heard (or course adhering to confidentiality protocol) because then all of those involved in my supervision group will then have to carry this traumatic narrative around with them, solving nobodies best interests.

Therefore, could a similar model of supervision used by the counselling profession be adopted by interpreters? There are similarities for the reasons why supervision is undertaken by the counselling profession – enhancement of skills and for counsellors to work through their own personal issues. What’s more, supervision is viewed by counsellors as an ethical imperative to ensure clients are valued, they are helped the best way possible and the client receives a better quality of service (Carroll 2007). Therefore as interpreters are we doing our clients a disservice by not having supervision on a one-to-one basis?

I have mentioned mentoring as an important mechanism for interpreters to continue to grow and develop as professionals in previous blogs. However, I don’t believe I could use mentoring in the same way I am describing the use of supervision. The Oxford Dictionary makes a clear distinction between the two – a mentor is described as a ‘trusted advisor’ while supervision is an ‘overseer’ ,’keep an eye on’. Therefore, perhaps a mentor could be used to refine an interpreters skills and a supervisor could focus on the wellbeing of an interpreter? A friend I know who is a counsellor has supervision on a weekly basis. If the information interpreters hear is sometimes similar to that of counsellors (e.g. accounts of abuse; domestic violence; working in mental health; etc.) then why are we not as an interpreting profession encouraging more interpreters to seek supervision to help towards self-care?

References:

Carroll, M (2007) ‘One More Time: What is Supervision?’ Psychotherapy in Australia Vol 13No.3 35-40.

Harvey, M.A. (2003) ‘Shielding Yourself From the Perils of Empathy: The Case of Sign Language Interpreters’ Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education 8 (2): 207-213.

Advertisements

Subtitle It!

5754743006_ab4e5268fe_bRecently I was with my dad and we were going to watch a film on Sky via Virgin Media. My dad is hard of hearing (old age – sorry dad) – but no subtitles were available. I thought I must have been doing something wrong because – hello – it’s 2015 – of course they would provide subtitles. I am not technologically minded, but how hard can it be to subtitle a film or programme?! When I looked into it on the internet I found hundreds of comments on the Sky ‘community forum’ asking for the reason why films weren’t being subtitled. Comments as recent as April 2015, such as this: Hi I have been waiting for subtitles to arrive for catch up and on demand but no joy. I have just started to watch on Amazon Prime and can get subtitles for some of the content so when is Sky going to play catch up?I love the fact there is so much to watch on sky but unfortunately being deaf it is no good to me. Thanks” (http://helpforum.sky.com/t5/On-Demand-Catch-Up-TV/Subtitles-for-catch-up-and-on-demand/td-p/2326136 )This isn’t the only time when my father wasn’t able to enjoy a TV programme or film – most evenings when he watches BBC news with the subtitles – he has to piece together what is being said by having the volume as high as he can without the vibrations of the TV disturbing the sound quality and the disjointed subtitling. So, not only is the lack of subtitling unacceptable, the inaccuracy of subtitling – whilst possibly, funny to us who can hear, can be insulting to the deaf and hard of hearing community. Recently SL First magazine released an article about the importance of subtitling, with the conclusion being that although some progress on subtitling has been made, there is still a long way to go. Check out the article and some mistakes/inaccuracies that have been made on TV here: http://slfirst.co.uk/entertainment/captioned-signed/ofcom-some-progress-on-subtitles-but-further-progress-needed/

Looking to my deaf friends and their individual perspectives on the situation I had some interesting comments. One of my friends recognised that the BBC appear to have a high percentage of their programmes subtitled, however they noted that the infinite number of other programmes available on freeview and other such TV packages appeared to have limited subtitling. Another comment from a different deaf friend was that despite being an avid film lover, and paying for a ‘LoveFilm’ subscription, some of the DVDs he was sent did not have subtitles. What’s more, the LoveFilm website does not make it clear whether the DVD you are ordering will have subtitles or not and it seems to be a luck of the draw whether you receive a DVD with subtitles. I also read on the blog ‘Day in the Life of a Deafie’ https://dayinthelifeofadeafie.wordpress.com/2015/06/08/video-on-demand-services-subtitle-it/ – See how E says “Without subtitles it’s like I am being excluded from the world”.

Coincidentally to me writing this blog, Action on Hearing Loss have recently launched a campaign called ‘Subtitle It!’ http://www.actiononhearingloss.org.uk/SubtitleIt.aspx Action on Hearing Loss state that 80% ‘on demand’ providers do not offer any subtitles for on demand content. The government has pledged to review legislation for subtitling on demand services next year (2016) – please sign this petition to ensure this is a priority and that the government keeps their promise http://e-activist.com/ea-action/action?ea.client.id=1783&ea.campaign.id=38715&ea.tracking.id=WebCampaignPage . Furthermore, looking at America where the amount of subtitled on demand content is high – if they can do it – why can’t Britain?! I have also found that the famous, American, deaf, actress – Marlee Matlin (‘Children of a Lesser God’ and ‘The West Wing’) who is supporting the campaign – ‘VIKI Billion Words March’ where an online TV site streams content in more than 200 languages. Viewers subtitle and translate popular TV shows from around the world (http://www.viki.com/billionwordsmarch)

Regardless of the TV programme, I don’t feel subtitling accurately and consistently is rocket science. People petitioning for this basic right is not something so far-fetched that it is impossible to achieve. We therefore need as much support as possible to ensure that subtitling is featured on all programmes and features accurately. I expect if you think about it now, you can think of someone who could benefit from subtitling.

Image from: https://www.flickr.com/photos/dno1967b/5754743006/in Daniel Oines.

Lip reading – hearing loss not necessarily predicting ability…

LipsI am amazed at those that can communicate through lip reading. I have had a go at it myself, e.g. when out in a club and trying to lip read my friends as to what they are trying to say to me – not hard considering it’s usually either “Do you want another drink?” and “Let’s dance!” As long as I catch the word “drink” or “dance” then it’s not rocket science to know what they are trying to say. I have also tried lip reading by turning off the sound on my TV and trying to lip read what is being said – for me, this is nearly impossible! Every day I meet deaf people that rely on lip reading to communicate. My concern is that this is then taken for granted as the main communication method the deaf person prefers to use. I remember one deaf person telling me that it is awkward when one hearing person introduces her by saying “This is ‘X’ she’s deaf but can lip read really well!” Lady ‘X’ says that although she can lip read she wished people wouldn’t rely on this. Why? Because lip reading is hard work! The deaf health charity – Sign Health, states that it is a myth that deaf people can understand 100% of a conversation through lip reading (http://www.signhealth.org.uk/national-lipreading-awareness-week/) What’s more, they state that “Lip reading requires a huge amount of concentration and perfect environmental conditions, and even when both of those factors are achieved, a D/deaf person can only understand 20%-60% of a conversation.” 20% to 60% of a conversation – so what happens to the rest of the 40% of the discourse? As a hearing person, whilst I may not always fully understand what a doctor has said to me at least I have received the whole message to be able to have the option of asking questions to clarify what I have heard. However, Sign Health have found from their ‘Sick of It’ report that only 3% of deaf people want to communicate with their doctor via lip reading, but 40% are forced to (http://www.signhealth.org.uk/national-lipreading-awareness-week/).  Don’t get me wrong, I expect there are deaf people who are happy to communicate via lip reading, that is their choice! But as my previous blog says about “Choices https://chhinterpreting.com/2015/02/22/choices/” and as Sign Health states – the best thing is to ask how the deaf person wants to communicate and to not make assumptions about their communication needs. Every deaf person is, of course, different and therefore we can expect people who are deaf to have differing communication needs. What’s more, whilst a person who is deaf may be able to lip read one person this does not necessarily mean they will be able to with another person. So many factors such as accent, facial hair all have a part to play in the ease/difficulty of lip reading. As the Scottish Sensory Centre at Edinburgh University have stated – “There is naturally individual variation in the ability to lipread, and as with any skill, competence varies, with level of hearing loss not necessarily predicting ability.” (http://www.ssc.education.ed.ac.uk/courses/deaf/ddec05f.html)

So many words look the same on the mouth from what is actually being said. We know that this is true just by the amount of videos out there at the moment which are dubbed for comedy value  – take a look at this- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QjGk_jU6t5A. Whilst this video does have comedy value, it also has a serious undertone about how ambiguous lip reading can be. Whilst there may be some situations where lip reading can be used to ‘get by’ and get the gist of what is being said, I do believe there are other situations such as a GP and hospital appointments where getting by, i.e. receiving 20% -60% of the message isn’t good enough and could have devastating consequences.

Picture sourced from: https://www.flickr.com/photos/fauxpress/ Jan McLaughlin

A crash course / blog on how to work with a British Sign Language/English Interpreter

Quite a few times I have arrived at an assignment and I can see from the expressions on the hearing person’s face and sometimes the deaf person – apprehension. This may be because they have never worked with a Sign Language Interpreter (SLI) before or perhaps they have had a bad experience in the past (of course there could be many reasons but these are just a couple which spring to mind). Whilst they may be aware of the purpose of an interpreter – isn’t that why I was booked?  – to facilitate communication between the hearing and deaf person(s) (please look at my blog https://chhinterpreting.com/2015/04/08/british-sign-language-bsl-english-interpreters-what-do-they-do-2/ for more detail on this) they still might be unsure of what to expect – hence, this blog…

I will always be wearing, or at least have in my bag, my NRCPD badge. This shows I am a registered interpreter and have been approved to work with the public as a BSL/English interpreter. If you don’t see this on me  – then please do ask me about it (I should be always wearing it!)

I am present at a booking (whatever the reason, e.g. meetings, interviews, a doctor’s appointment) to facilitate communication for both the hearing and deaf person(s). You may notice I recognise the deaf person(s) through a previous assignment and that’s  just because the deaf community is a small world, but please remember I am impartial and must be in accordance with my code of ethics to which I adhere.

I will sign everything that is said and voice everything that is signed throughout the assignment.

Please speak or sign one at a time. I cannot interpret what is being signed or said by more than one person at the same time. It is also difficult for me to look at more than one deaf person at a time and decipher what they are individually signing.

I will usually voice over what the deaf person is signing in the first person. As an interpreter it is usual that I do not take part in the discourse between the hearing and deaf person(s).   This does not mean I am a robot and so if you ask me a question directly, I will of course answer – but it can become confusing if I am talking in first person interpreting what the deaf person is signing.

If you are hearing and having discourse with a deaf person, please look at the deaf person you are having the discourse with. I know it will be alien to a hearing person who isn’t used to working with an interpreter not to look at where the sound is coming from, but you are having the conversation/presentation/diagnosis/etc with the deaf person (not me!) However, the deaf person will need to look at me to see what I am signing.

It is not a great idea to use me as an example in your discussions – again, because I am usually talking in first person so it becomes confusing who is speaking.  Interpreters don’t tend to take part in group work because this could affect their ability to interpret if their concentration is torn between processing the information and trying to be part of a group. Of course, I am flexible and I have been part of some groups where it was necessary, but as a standard rule – probably best you don’t include me.

The interpreter and the deaf person will try to sit away from a window being behind us. Otherwise, the light will make a person’s face very dark and hard to see what the person is signing.

The mental process of interpreting can take time so there may be a small delay in the message being processed from one language to another. Please remember, interpreting into BSL is not a case of replacing the English words with signs.

It is always good to have plenty of light on me (but remember, no light behind me).

It can depend on the assignment, but most of the time I will need to sit opposite the deaf person for them to see what I am signing and vice versa. For presentations and conferences I am best sat as close to the presenter and near to any visual aids so that the deaf person(s) in the audience can see both quickly and easily. Sitting close to the person who is talking also means I can hear easier.

Sensitive and confidential information can often be signed and spoken in a wide range of different assignments. Please rest assured that I am bound to keep everything I hear and see in an assignment absolutely  confidential.

Of course, I am not a machine, and so although the above points are good practice, an interpreter is flexible  and will always hold in mind what is best for the deaf and hearing person(s) in that particular assignment. This could mean that on some occasions the above tips are more or less appropriate. I hope they will be of some help!

 

The value of having a mentor….

adviceMentoring – a place to go for further skills development; sharing of experiences in the interpreting field; and, release of empathetic pain. I personally go to my mentor as a safe place to ask questions that I can sometimes feel I can’t ask anyone else – “Did I interpret that correctly?” Dean and Pollard (2001) refer to this as ‘inner noise’. These real or perceived skill inadequacies need to be dealt with otherwise, according to Heller, Stansfield, Stark and Langholtz (1986) cited in Dean and Pollard (2001), it is the most commonly cited source of stress. Whilst I recognise that additional training can also help to develop and improve the skills of an interpreter, it is not the same as having a one to one meeting with someone who is paid to focus on your skills and needs, rather than trying to share their time with an entire class.

Mentoring has provided me a way of discussing demands interpreters can experience in an assignment and how I can explore ways to control some of these demands. Lee and Llewellyn-Jones (2011) refer to this as ‘interaction management’. These are interventions or behaviours that the interpreter uses to manage the interaction in an assignment; these are specific things the interpreter feels they need to do to make sure the interpretation is not impeded (Lee and Llewellyn-Jones 2011). These interventions could be things such as asking for repetition of the speaker, or to turn down the heating in a room because it was getting too hot. Having a mentor is also a release of empathetic pain that I may have experienced from interpreting assignments. Without a mentor I have no release for any negative emotions I may be feeling about an assignment. Emotions can develop inside of me which could potentially have an impact on my ability to interpret in situations which I am consciously and unconsciously sensitive (Harvey 2003).

In my view, interpreters should obtain mentors that have undertaken formal training. Being able to give constructive feedback can be challenging for some people. In particular, giving advice to a friend can be skewed by the blurred lines between a friend and a mentor – with training these boundaries can become clearer. In addition to this, it is important mentors know how to encourage interpreters to self-reflect so that they can make decisions for themselves, rather than mentors telling them what to do. The most important thing is who the interpreter chooses to be their mentor Block (2013). In particular Block (2013) emphasises the importance of having someone who has years of experiences, rather than how many credentials they have gained. Therefore, it is important the interpreter thinks carefully about the person they want to discuss their issues with and whom they will be happy to take advice from!

In addition to the above, having a mentor could help not only the mentee but also the deaf community. This is because those interpreters with little experience can be assisted by mentors to develop a higher level of competency at a faster pace (www.rid.org). According to the Registry of Interpreter for the Deaf (RID) Standard Practice paper ‘Mentoring’ those interpreters who provide mentoring, experience greater job satisfaction increasing the likelihood that they will remain in the profession long term, therefore making more interpreter available for consumers.

I personally really value the benefits of meeting my mentor on a regular basis and feel it is a great way to look at how I can put the theory I learned at university and on other training courses into practice. This, I believe, can be gained by those interpreters who have been in the field of interpreting for many years and have been trained as mentors. As with many things, theory can sometimes take you only so far, is it not the ‘doing’ and self-reflecting and learning from others that can take us further?

References:

  • Block, K (2013) ‘Mentorship: Sign Language Interpreters Embrace Your Elders’ [on-line] Street Leverage, June, last accessed on 4th January 2014, at URL http://www.streetleverage.com/2-13/6/mentorship-sign-language-interpreters-embrace-your-elders/;
  • Dean, R.K. and Pollard, R.Q. (2001) ‘Application of Demand-Control Theory to Sign Language Interpreting: Implications for Stress and Interpreter Training. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education 6 (1) : 1-14;
  • Harvey, M.A. (2003) ‘Shielding Yourself From the Perils of Empathy: The Case of Sign Language Interpreters’ Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education 8 (2): 207-213
  • Lee, R.G and Llewellyn-Jones, P (2011) ‘Revisiting Role: Arguing for a Multi-Dimensional Analysis of Interpreter Behaviour’ [on-line]last accessed on 5th January 2014 at URL: http://clok.uclan.ac.uk/5031/1/Lee%20and%20L-J%202011.pdf

Image source: Advice support and tips signpost courtesy of BigStockPhoto.com

Is some access better than no access at all?

318947873_12028f1b66_oThis is a question that crops-up time and time again in my profession  – and one which doesn’t have an easy answer in my opinion. One thing that springs to mind when thinking about this is the abysmal access the deaf community received at Nelson Mandela’s funeral with the fake interpreter. It is still not clear to me why he was hired in the first place. Perhaps it was a case of forgetting to book an interpreter and they were in desperate need of someone and he was the only one available; or perhaps he came out cheapest – some similar reasons I hear now and again why an interpreter wasn’t booked.  Whatever the reason in this situation, if this was the only person available (and I find that hard to believe) but let’s just say he was – then I would think the right decision would be not to provide an interpreter at all.

Speaking to a deaf lady recently, she said that perhaps it depends on the situation which requires an interpreter. She gave the example of a child protection meeting compared to a parents evening, giving less weight to the importance of a registered interpreter at a parents evening. Another example she gave is the utmost importance of having a registered interpreter available at a GP or hospital appointment so that the deaf person goes away with the full knowledge of what was their problem, diagnosis and treatment. Unfortunately, as the charity SignHealth has found all too often this is not the case as shown by the ‘Sick Of It’ report (http://www.signhealth.org.uk/health-information/sick-of-it-report/sick-of-it-in-english/sick-of-it-poor-treatment/ ) However, whilst this particular deaf lady may feel that she could tolerate an unregistered interpreter/signer, another deaf person’s view could be that this would be unacceptable. Perhaps this comes back to my previous blog about ‘choices’ https://chhinterpreting.com/2015/02/22/choices/.  That is, is it the deaf person’s right to choose who is and is not acceptable to interpret for them depending on their opinion of the situation?

As the deaf lady said, if she knew a person who was a proficient signer but had no qualifications to prove this and she wanted to use that person then she said that it was surely her right to have that person if she wished. I agree. Perhaps the problem lies when that choice is denied – that is, the deaf person wasn’t given the option. What’s more, perhaps one deaf person can get by with a level 2 signer that a school provided for a parents evening because they are able and happy to lip-read most of what the teacher is saying, so the signer is barely needed, except to clarify a few words lost on the lips. But how will that affect other deaf parents in the future? Perhaps in two years’ time in the same school a deaf parent will require an interpreter but is provided with an unregistered interpreter with no choice in the matter because the school saw how it ‘worked so well’ for a previous deaf parent so they now don’t understand why there should be a problem. The problem could be that this deaf parent finds it difficult to lip-read and can’t follow English as well as the previous deaf person (for example). Is there also an issue of hearing people being under a misapprehension when an unregistered interpreter and/or signer is used? They could believe that access has been provided and the needs of the deaf person matched by a level 2 signer being provided. However, that perception may well have been misinformed due to the hearing person having limited signing skills themselves and sees a person waving their hands about as satisfactory (as I probably would if I heard a German interpreter as I cannot speak or understand German).  Couple that with the deaf person declining to complain, and it could be assumed all is well and standards don’t need to be improved.

Furthermore, although it is about choice, if the deaf person was asked their preference how does this impact on the deaf person in feeling pressurised to accept a signer which is less costly than a registered interpreter? As with all people, this doesn’t just relate to the deaf community .  Some of us can be assertive and are aware of our rights, whereas others could feel obligated to accept whatever is provided and don’t want to ‘rock the boat’. Perhaps this contributes to the devastating results found in SignHealth’s ‘Sick of It’ report.

On top of that,  there is a lot more to interpreting than just being skilled in BSL. Swabey and Mickleson (2008 cited in Valero Garces and Martin 2008, p51) described sign language as “complex, linguistic, social cognitive and cultural process” and that interpreters have the potential impact on people’s lives (Swabey and Mickelson 2008 cited in Valero Garces and Martin 2008). Furthermore, an interpreter needs to be a holistic thinker, have reflective skills and be observant about experiences (Napier, Mckee and Goswell 2010). Therefore, whilst an unregistered interpreter / signer may have excellent linguistic skills, do they have the other attributes that have been described above to ensure high standards are maintained for the deaf person receiving the service?  Whilst it could be argued that registered newly qualified or trainee interpreters may not have attained all of the skills listed above, the assumption is that by being on a training course the interpreter is aware of their learning needs and seeking ways to achieve this.

Overall, this makes me think it’s about the importance of deaf people choosing who they wish to interpret for them. At the end of the day I am in my profession for the deaf community, so they should ultimately have the say on who they want to use as an interpreter (registered or not). I don’t believe there is anything wrong with trying to strive for the best.  One of the biggest reasons I believe in using registered interpreters is to promote, and to endeavour to have, the highest standards of interpreting available for all of the deaf community – that is if they want it.

References:

  • Swabey, L and Mickelson, P,G (2008) ‘Role Definition’ in Valero-Garces, C and Martin, A Crossing Borders in Community Interpreting Definitions and Dilemmas (2008) Amsterdam, John Benjamins Publishing Company, P51-71;
  • Napier, J, Mckee, R and Goswell, D (2010) Sign Language Interpreting Theory and Practice in Australia and New Zealand, Sydney, Federation Press;

Photo by Oberazzi found here – https://www.flickr.com/photos/oberazzi/

Deaf awareness – for what it’s worth…..

This week (4th to 10th  May 2015) is deaf awareness week, so I thought it was worth re-sharing my previous blog about why I think deaf awareness is important and some tips to encourage those of you who want to become more deaf aware….

At the moment, deaf awareness seems to be a very popular, interchangeably used, term. I’m not sure if some people really know what is meant by it and its worth. I include myself in this category, saying things such as ‘they need more deaf awareness!’ but perhaps overlooking the fact that hearing people are not naturally deaf aware. Maybe, I have gotten used to the unfortunate fact that a good proportion of people I work with do not have any deaf awareness – even if as a trained interpreter I have methods to try and quickly educate the hearing person in the 15-20 minutes I have before the interpreting begins. Maybe my attitude links back to the point I made in my previous blog (‘How to book an Interpreter’) about taking things for granted. I take for granted that people have an innate deaf awareness. I hear myself saying things such as “She is deaf, why would anyone treat her any differently?!” or “If I met a deaf person for the first time and wasn’t an interpreter I am sure I’d know the basics of being deaf aware or ‘deaf friendly”.

That just isn’t the case. I recently witnessed an event where there was no deaf awareness from the hearing person. The consequence of this was upset to the deaf people and hearing person; confusion for both; and, ultimately, discrimination to the people who were deaf. Recently, Gloucestershire Deaf Association (GDA) released a video called ‘Dave the signer’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1JH6zV2ltsQ. If you haven’t already watched it then I really recommend that you do!! It is produced very well and it’s very funny! I remember forwarding it to my friend who replied “SHOCKING!” He is right, it is shocking, to which I replied “Sadly, this is the reality for a lot of deaf people.” My recent experience proved this. Without deaf awareness, people could be excluded and in this 21st century, this can’t be acceptable or necessary.

In my last experience, there was a lot of worry about health and safety linked to people who were deaf. I know, health and safety does have to be a consideration, but honestly, how do you think people who are deaf managed in the past?! Believe me, with some of the current, poor, provision for people who are deaf – having fire alarms with no flashing red light for example, they have had to develop strategies  and know what to do, long before any health and safety regulation was introduced. In a similar situation, the other day I attended a lifeguarding course and the trainer was unsure how a person who is deaf could become one. The trainer missed what one of their hearing colleagues remarked: that as hearing people rely on their hearing, people who are deaf rely on their eyes. For lifeguarding this is ideal, and she went on to say that they usually spot someone in danger long before the hearing lifeguard does. So again, how do you think people who are deaf get by in everyday life?! I don’t believe there are more deaths or injuries because of someone being deaf.

Below I have some tips for someone who wants to be more deaf aware. Before I move onto these tips I think it is important to say that people should have the opportunity to become deaf aware at a younger age. I know that not everyone will meet a person who is deaf (although I find that hard to imagine) and I think it’s brilliant that so many businesses, individuals and charities have taken the initiative to go on courses to be more deaf aware. But is this something people could be learning in schools? For example, I know that at the moment Danielle Williams http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/lets-break-the-silence is trying to get British Sign Language taught in schools – this would help normalise it and it wouldn’t be so alien. I have seen people appear unnerved when meeting a deaf person for the first time. I still witness people’s attitudes that it is a ‘lesser’ language or some sort of strange way of communicating – where has this attitude come from and why is it still present in 2015?!

So, the tips…this is not a comprehensive list and is not a one size fits all for every deaf or hard of hearing person you meet. I hope these will aid or improve your communication in the future:

  • Before starting to talk to the deaf person make sure you have their attention (you may need to wave or tap them);
  • Face the deaf person and make eye contact;
  • Speak clearly, don’t over-exaggerate your lip pattern, just speak like you normally would;
  • Tell the person who is deaf the topic of the conversation;
  • If you are in a group of people, speak one at a time;
  • If someone doesn’t understand you, don’t keep repeating it. Try saying it in a different way. Also, don’t give up or say ‘it doesn’t matter’ – imagine someone saying that to you, it’s not nice!
  • Be open and honest – if you are unsure of the protocol of using an interpreter (where or where not to look, etc.) just ask. Attitude is key!
  • Try your best. Of course we cannot all be proficient signers, but there are other ways, e.g. gesturing, perhaps the deaf person can lip read, pointing to things. Perhaps if you have learnt some signing in school you could use a little?
  • If you are communicating with a deaf person, look at them (not the interpreter!) I know it can be strange at first because people who are hearing will instinctively look at whoever is talking, but no eye contact with the deaf person is rude!