by Carmen Green
More than 55 million people in the United States currently experience some degree of hearing loss, which means at least 10% of the public you may interact with will have hearing loss. As a first responder being armed with the knowledge to properly communicate with a deaf or hard of hearing individual can mean the difference between life and death.
As a first responder every second matters. Being able to quickly assess a situation and make split second decisions is of the utmost importance. When it comes to an emergency or medical situation clear communication is critical, because decisions must be made in a moment’s notice. Clear communication between a first responder and a deaf or hard of hearing individual is crucial to ensuring situations are handled quickly, safely and efficiently.
Ineffective communication can cause frustration, angst and anxiety and is a problem that occurs far too often in emergency situations. Either because the first responders are not aware that a person is deaf or hard of hearing or they don’t know how to communicate with a deaf or hard of hearing individual.
To assist with communication below are a few tips for communicating with a deaf or hard of hearing individual in an emergency situation:
• It is critical to understand that a person who is deaf or hard of hearing will be even more stressed in an emergency situation due to their inability to hear clearly.
• As a first responder you make among the first things you do to look for hearing aids, cochlear implants, or other types of assistive devices that may be attached to the head.
• Make and maintain eye contact with the individual.
• Eye contact is important because individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing read the nuances of facial expressions and body language for additional information.
• When you are trying to get the attention of a deaf or hard of hearing individual, hand waving, tapping the shoulder or arm or flickering lights on and off are the most effective.
• Masks, mustaches, and accents can make it difficult for a person to lip-read and a person who is deaf or that has a severe hearing loss may not hear alarms, smoke detectors, and emergency sirens.
• Deaf individuals are part of a community in which American Sign Language is their first language and English is their second language.
• Handwritten instructions may not be the best way to communicate with a deaf individual. Just as if Spanish was your second language and a person tried to communicate with you via written Spanish.
• A hard of hearing individuals who lip-reads depends upon good lighting and less noise in the background.
• A first responder should speak a bit louder and slower so the hard of hearing person can hear and if possible, try to get closer to them.
It is also important to understand that in an emergency situation communication is key with every individual. The Arizona Commission for the Deaf and the Hard of Hearing provides free training for first responders on working with the deaf and hard of hearing communities.
For more information on the first responder training contact the Arizona Commission for the Deaf and the Hard of Hearing at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the author: Carmen Green
Carmen Green is the deputy director for the Arizona Commission for the Deaf and the Hard of Hearing, as well as a member of the National Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, Arizona Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, National Alliance of Black Interpreters and the National Association of the Deaf.