Making your CU accessible - hearing impairments
There are many terms used to describe people with impaired hearing, including deaf, profoundly deaf, hard of hearing, deafened and deafblind. The wide range of terms represents the different degrees of hearing loss (from slight loss of particular frequencies, to totally unable to hear), and also the fact that some people are born deaf whereas others lose their hearing either suddenly or gradually through old age, illness or exposure to noise. Not all deaf people use sign language – many use hearing aids or lip-read. People born into the Deaf community who have BSL as a first language and see themselves as culturally Deaf use a capital letter – Deaf.
As a CU you may feel a little nervous about welcoming a deaf student, but be assured that the deaf person is well accustomed to being in gatherings of hearing people and probably won’t share your nervousness. Most of what is needed to include them fully is a little sense and consideration. Allow them to tell you what helps them in communication, and try to accommodate this in your gatherings.
- Always make sure that the person is aware you want to communicate before speaking; a touch on the arm is an acceptable way to gain attention.
- The wall or area behind you should be plain with no windows, so that those who rely on lip reading can see your face with no shadows or reflections.
- Look directly at the deaf or hard of hearing person, speak at a normal pace and be aware that the person needs to be able to see your face as you talk.
- Talking slowly or shouting will distort your mouth and make lip reading harder.
- Keep your hands away from your face. Eating, drinking or chewing gum also hinders effective lip reading.
- Don’t worry if you are not immediately understood. Try rephrasing, rather than repeating, your sentence and cut out any long or unusual words.
- Be prepared to write things down if necessary.
- Always address the deaf or hard of hearing student directly, not a hearing person with them. However, a deaf person will look at the person interpreting for them rather than at you.
- Background noise can make it very difficult for people who use a hearing aid. It distorts and blurs sound.
- For larger events such as mission week, find out from the university admissions department if there are any BSL users, and if so, consider booking an interpreter from Signs of God.
- You will help a BSL interpreter by providing in advance the Bible readings, any song words used and an outline of any talk.
- Remember to advertise the presence of a BSL interpreter at your meeting/event by using the international symbol.
- Deaf and hard of hearing people who lip read need reserved seating near the speaker or the face of the speaker projected onto a nearby screen.
- If communication is difficult - don't give up. It is so discouraging when people do.
- Don’t assume, always ask
www.gosign.org.uk – Go! Sign
www.openears.org.uk – Christian fellowship mainly for those not using sign language
www.signsofgod.org.uk – Christian Interpreters
www.rnid.org.uk – Royal National Institute for the Deaf
www.sense.org.uk – Information on deafblindness
This resource is part of our Accessible CU series, created especially for Christian Unions by Through The Roof, a Christian Disability charity. To read this article in full, and other articles on including disabled students, download the student version of Through the Roof's publication Be a Roofbreaker for just £3.