Deaf Coworker Interactions: How do I talk to them?

Interacting with a coworker who is Deaf may be different than interacting with a coworker who can hear.  We already discussed some things to consider in our blog about culturally appropriate physical touch, but here are a few more tips for Deaf Coworker interactions.

deaf coworker interactionsHow to Speak with Deaf Coworkers: With/Without a Sign Language Interpreter

  • Eye contact is vital in Deaf culture, so keep your eyes on the Deaf person.  You are speaking with the Deaf person, so be sure to look at them and not at the interpreter (if one is there).
  • When using a third person, there is no need to add phrases such as “tell him” or “tell her” when referring to the Deaf person.  Speak normally as you would with any person who can hear.  When in the presence of an interpreter, if you say “tell him” or “tell her,” that too must be interpreted to the Deaf person.  This can become very confusing when trying to determine to whom you are speaking.
  • Speak at a normal pace; no need to stop or slow down for an interpreter.  Certified qualified sign language interpreters can keep up, and they are savvy enough to know when to stop and ask for clarification.

Interpreters are “Invisible”

  • The purpose of the interpreter is for the comfort, speed, and ease of Deaf coworker interactions.  Feel free to say hello to interpreters and ask them about themselves.  Be aware, however, that they must halt or interrupt any conversation if they need to interpret for your Deaf coworker or client.  The interpreter’s job is not to “better” themselves through interactions but rather to allow Deaf coworkers interactions through equal access to communication.

Getting to Know Your Deaf Coworker

  • If you would like to know about your Deaf coworker or client, ask the them directly.  You can do this via email or written communication, if either are options.   You may also do it through a sign language interpreter if they are present.  Even if interpreters have knowledge of the Deaf client, they are not permitted to discuss it due to their code of confidentiality.  Also, as we referred to before, an interpreter’s role is not to “build a relationship” with a Deaf person’s coworkers.  Their role is to allow the Deaf coworkers to build relationships with others through access to communication.

Deaf coworker interactions should not be avoided due to uncertainty.  Since each Deaf person is unique, just like all people who can hear are unique, be open with your Deaf coworkers regarding any concerns you may have.  When feasible, provide and use sign language interpreters to communicate with Deaf people so that productive interactions are equal to all employees.


Additional Resources:

Good Communication Tips

How to Communicate with Deaf People


Photo Credit:

MT & Associates | Sign Language Interpreting Practice BBB Business Review