Communicating with the Deaf

Working with interpreters and deaf people is new to many people. The process is very simple and nothing to be concerned about. Some basic information is below to provide a starting point and to offer a few tips so you know what to expect.

Please read Using an Interpreter and Do's and Don'ts of Working with a Deaf individual before your appointment.

For more information, visit the Frequently Asked Questions page.

Using an Interpreter

  • Speak directly to the Deaf individual.
  • Speak in the first person. Avoid such phrases as "Tell her" and "Ask him."
  • In most cases, the interpreter will try to position himself/herself next to you so that the Deaf individual may benefit from your non-verbal cues.
  • It works best to speak in your normal tone and pace. The interpreter will tell you if you need to pause or slow down.
  • When reading extensively from written materials or using a power point presentation, consider supplying a copy to the Deaf individual. When this is not possible, be aware of the pace of your speech.
  • When distributing agendas, outlines, or other instructional materials to be referenced during a presentation, offer one to the interpreter as well.
  • Obtain captioned versions of videotapes to be shown.
  • Maintain enough light for the interpreter to be seen during presentations.
  • Whenever possible, make presentation materials available to the interpreter before the event, so that he/she may become familiar with the terminology.
  • Please be aware that the interpreter must interpret everything said. Avoid discussing subjects with the interpreter you do not wish the Deaf individual to know.
  • When out of the presence of the Deaf individual, avoid giving messages to the interpreter for later relay to the Deaf individual.
  • Try to avoid personal conversations with the interpreter during the professional situation.
  • Feel free to correct, agree with, bring back to subject, or give any other feedback to the Deaf individual, as you would a hearing client in the same situation.
  • The interpreter will not share personal opinions regarding the Deaf individual.

Do's and Don'ts of Working with a Deaf Individual


  • Ask the Deaf individual directly what is the best way to interact and communicate with them.
  • If you must use pen and paper initially, use short, simple sentences.
  • Remember, the deaf individual may not read well in English and may not have perfectly correct grammar.
  • Position yourself 3-6 feet from the person.
  • Convey your willingness to communicate, and include the Deaf individual in the conversation.
  • Give clues to the person about your topic, especially as the subject of the conversation changes.
  • Be aware of your facial expressions, eye gaze, etc. as well as the Deaf individual’s.
  • Use appropriate gestures and facial expressions and speak at your normal rate.
  • Repeat yourself if necessary, and use simple-to-understand language.
  • Allow for more time in the communication process; you are crossing several language barriers.
  • Be friendly; they merit the same respect as anyone else.
  • Look directly at the person, keeping your hands and face toward the Deaf individual you are speaking with, even when they are looking at an interpreter.


  • Don’t underestimate a person’s intelligence based on their inability to communicate directly.
  • Don’t assume communication is occurring correctly - nodding doesn’t mean “I understand.”
  • Don’t pretend to understand if you don’t. Ask for clarification if you need it.
  • Don’t exaggerate your words, mouth movements, or yell.
  • Don’t have objects in your mouth, or cover your mouth while speaking.
  • Don’t repeat the same word if there is difficulty understanding it. Use a synonym.
  • Don’t speak to a Deaf individual with your back to a strong light, bright window or shiny mirror.
  • Don’t refer to Deaf people in the third person as if they weren’t present, e.g.“Tell them...” or “Ask them...”
  • Don’t tell the interpreter, “Don’t say this to the Deaf individual…”
  • Don’t discuss something you don’t want “heard”. Wait until the Deaf individual leaves.
© 2011 InterWest Interpreting | Site by InterWestWeb How To Communicate With The Deaf Deaf Individual Resources Video Relay Interpreting Schedule Online