How to support a Deaf friend or colleague

Hello there, my name is Henry Hughes DLY. I am 20 years old, a Deaflympian and a Youth Advisory Member for The Mix.

Here at The Mix, we want to ensure that we are striving to be an inclusive place to every young person, Deaf or not. By sharing my experiences, I hope to break down the stigmas of Deaf people that affect our everyday lives.

In this article, I am going to talk about how you can support a Deaf friend or colleague. I want you to keep in mind that this is my experience as a Deaf person. Every Deaf person will have different levels of hearing and ways of communicating. Whether they are a verbal speaker like me, a BSL user (British Sign Language) or a mixture of both, we all have our right to live our lives independently.

So with that out of the way, let’s dive into my advice on “How to support a Deaf friend or colleague”. Firstly, we need to dispel common stigmas about the Deaf community. These are three stigmas that I personally faced, but not all of them.

Assuming that all Deaf people sign

Personally, I do not sign (even though I am going to learn BSL at some point). I am a fluent verbal speaker and spent my childhood and even my teenage years learning how to speak fluent English.

However, all Deaf people are unique and you will only know if you ask the question to them. Do not be afraid of trying to communicate with a BSL user, if you really want to understand their language, feel free to learn BSL (British Sign Language).

All Deaf people lip read

Yes, I need to see your mouth, but I need to also see your face as well to see how you convey the message. Saying “I am Okay” might sound the same, but it can look different on a lot of people’s faces.

Some Deaf people are Hard of Hearing, so not as deaf as other Deaf people, but can get away with hearing someone in the other room, which is a different experience to other Deaf people.

Hearing aids & cochlear implants restore all hearing

If that was the case then Deaf people will be utilized in ways that normal hearing people cannot do. It is a part of me that helps me access sounds that I cannot do myself, but it is not the cure to all hearing loss.

There is always this stigma that when I put my hearing aid and cochlear on, I can understand absolutely everything around me. Just like if you wear glasses and you instantly have X-ray vision. In reality, it is not as simple as switching the lights on.

So how can I help my Deaf friends or colleagues?

These are my five tips that I would love more of in the world…

– Ensuring That Content Shared Have Subtitles

If you are sharing video clips, messages or music, make sure you have the appropriate text to go alongside it.

When people blast music that I do not know the lyrics to, it is very hard to understand what the song is about. Or when sharing a viral social media clip with text. I have no idea what the person has said that has got everyone laughing.

– Talk At A Consistent Pace, But Not Slowly

Some people talk like they are the Flash. That is not a bad thing, but sometimes the Flash does his best work when he is not speeding around. Talking at a consistent pace can be very helpful to understand a person, but deliberately talking slowly can be seen as a rude spoon-feeding attitude.

– Ask How They Are Coping With Their Auditory Environment

Being Deaf and constantly focusing on hearing or understanding something or someone can be very tiring. You know the feeling that you have when you get back home from a long day and you take off your shoes and socks and collapse on the sofa or your bed?

That is the same feeling I have when I come back home or when I am about to go to sleep. Or when I am stressed about something and I cannot hear myself. I take off my hearing aid and cochlear to hear what my inner self is saying.

So I suggest you check in on a Deaf Friend or Colleague if you know they have had a hard time absorbing a lot of sound, whether if that is in a loud working environment or the stress of watching videos to get that assignment in.

And how can I avoid upsetting my Deaf friends or colleagues?

Do Not Raise Your Voice, Thinking That It Will Help

There are better ways to get your points across to a Deaf person if there is a struggle in communication. You can either find a quieter place to speak to that Deaf person, you could write down what you are saying or you can phrase your sentences differently.

Placing Your Back Towards A Deaf Person

It can be considered disrespectful and nasty to deliberately have your back towards a Deaf person. It is a direct intent of inaccessibility and reinforcing social barriers to do such a thing.

That is why when groups of people gravitate or form a closed group away from a Deaf person, it can been seen as hurtful and insulting.

Imagine you are talking to a group of people and they started to include more people and squeeze you out of the group. That is something I have experienced countless times that causes a negative experience on my part and makes me feel very lonely.

Touch a Deaf Person’s Hearing Devices

It is a non-negotiable to snatch a Deaf person’s hearing devices. If you ever see someone do that, please do not be afraid to stand up to that person.

It is a personal belonging to that Deaf person, just like a phone or a pair of glasses. Deaf people build a relationship with their hearing devices, like I have. They mean so much to us, and the thought of it being taken away can be devastating.

Useful resources

  • RNID provides information and advice about being Deaf, including resources on practicing deafness awareness.
  • To learn more about British Sign Language (BSL), visit The British Deaf Association.
  • The National Deaf Children’s Society provides various resources to help understand these topics further and break down stigmas, from diagnosis to finances to education.
  • UK Deaf Sport support all Deaf and hard of hearing people access sport through coaching, participating and volunteering.
  • Our Crisis Messenger provides free, 24/7 crisis support across the UK. If you’re aged 25 or under, you can text THEMIX to 85258

Next Steps


Updated on 07-May-2024

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