After travelling around the world in the last seven years as a deaf traveller, I’ve become aware that the top issue faced by deaf travellers is simple communication.
In every travel company, every transport route, tourism boards and even fellow travellers, simple communication tips for those talking with people with deafness and hearing loss can really go a long way and improve their stature as a deaf-aware company or traveller.
It’s true. Know that saying? ‘A little something can go a long way.’
It’s not hard. It’s not tiresome. And especially doesn’t take up your time. Heck, it’ll probably take you five minutes to learn all the tips I am about to give you on communicating with deaf travellers.
Easy peasy, lemony squeezy. (sorry lemon.)
So, whether if you are someone who communicates with a person who is deaf on a regular basis, rarely or even not at all, here’s your handy communication tips below. We will love you and become fast friends (perhaps even leaving a good TripAdvisor review too!)
Tips on communicating with deaf travellers
1. Get their attention
Before you start the conversation, make sure you get their attention first so they can focus 110% on you and your conversation. There have plenty of times when I have simply missed the start of the conversation, particularly in group situations that had key information or the subject of the topic. I’m either lost in conversation or simply going about on my way without that important information.
Getting attention to talk about Spanish wine in conversation is a very good idea for me!
For example, while I was putting my passport away into my bag after getting stamped through the border of Laos, I missed the guard saying: “Here’s your VISA paper to get you through the other end” as he placed it on the desk. By the time I looked up, I caught him saying “Thank you, have a nice day”. I said “you too” and walked off without the paper. If it wasn’t for him running after me before I stepped foot on the border river crossing boat to give me the paper, I would have been in serious predicament at the other end without no VISA.
Cue me giving him a teary hug.
2. Face the deaf person
Even before you start the conversation, make sure you face them properly. After all, its only polite irregardless in front of anyone.
Facing them properly means that they can see all the features of your lips in order to lip read you and follow the flow of the conversation even if it’s a conversation about which country is better! If you move your head to the side or turn around completely, deaf people can lose the conversation. Think of a radio that keeps cutting out.
Hi, don’t you want this handsome chap facing you at all times?
I remember once when I was in Uganda, a ranger was taking us on a bush walk alongside the River Nile. He frustrated me as he kept talking while having his back to us as we ambled in single file. I was missing out interesting information. We stopped at one point and he pointed to the side while he had his back to me. I took it to mean “go that way”, which I did. But he grabbed my arm from behind, and seeing his face I understood that he actually meant “don’t go that way, that’s where hippos are!” I certainly would have met a grisly end!
3. Maintain eye contact
Remember, eyes are the windows to your soul. If we can see your soul then we can understand you so much better. (I’m not religious by the way, but you can get the analogy). We simply love eye contact and it really connects the conversation.
If you really want to annoy me greatly, wear sunglasses. I won’t have a clue who you are talking to and for some reason, I can’t understand you as well if you don’t have sunglasses on.
My, what beautiful eyes do you have…
When I checked into a hotel in Thailand, we were shown to our room by a really nice Thai lady. It was the custom that they couldn’t look at us in the eye. So, every time she spoke, I thought she was speaking to someone else at the side of me, behind me or above me. So, I kept following her eyesight just to keep checking. It must have been rude of me to be looking around and be startled no one was there only to ask her to repeat herself. I felt so embarrassed.
4. Speak at a normal pace and naturally at a normal level
Providing you do the above three tips, simply talk to us at a normal pace (not too fast and slow), naturally and a normal level of volume (not too loud and too quiet). There’s nothing worse when you shout as you can distort your speech, too quiet and we can’t make out what you’re saying, too quick and the words are merged together, too slow and the flow isn’t natural, stumping us.
You’re a loser if you don’t talk naturally, speak too loud and too quickly
I remember when I was in Las Vegas in USA at the airport security point. The TSA spoke to me loudly and slowly that I struggled to make out what she was saying. I started stressing out thinking she was going to strip-search me with a ready lubricated finger of a rubber glove. But luckily, I told her how to talk to me and I passed through. Phew!
5. Make sure they knows the topic of the conversation
Get to the point what the topic of the conversation is all about. We can totally think you are talking about something else completely if it’s not made clear to us.
Let’s talk about whiskey in Ireland, ok?
When I was in Australia, I visited a prison museum in Perth and was picked out by the tour guide to take part in a demonstration. I knew it was talking about prisoners’ treatment and I assume he was going to slap on a pair of handcuffs on me. But when he said ‘are you happy for me to do this?’ I nodded, none the wiser, what I just let myself in for. People started guffawing when the tour guide did something behind me, making me break in a cold sweat! Without warning, he bent me over and demonstrated with his hand with a rubber glove on what guards would do toe fish hidden drugs in hidden crevices… you get the picture!
6. Keep your mouth visible
If you have a scruffy beard or you’re prone to covering your mouth with your hands, we can’t lip read you!
A trimmed beard will help!
Don’t keep turning around, as again, we can’t see your lips. That’s why on plenty of walking tours in Europe, I always put myself in front of the tour guide and follow his head movement path. Just call me a moon!
7. Always be in good light
I know, my face can light up in beautiful scenery
Ever heard the expression ‘your face lit up?’ Well, that what will be on our faces if you ensure you have good lighting on your face for us to easily lip read you.
I tend to discourage myself going on cave tours as what’s the point, it’s complete darkness and there’s absolutely no way to lip read. But I had an amazing experience with Clearwell Caves near the Welsh border in England when the tour guide kept a torch on his face at all times. Thanks!
8. Use your expressions!
This is probably standard for everyone. But it’s of interest to deaf travellers. 70% of language is conveyed through your body and expressions are part of them. We want to know the mood and emotion being conveyed through them. Having a resting ‘bitch’ face is the worst for me as I simply cannot fathom if you’re serious or annoyed all the time.
‘Where the hell are we going?!’
It’s okay to smile when communicating with deaf travellers, you know. There’s always a sense of awkwardness to begin with when you discover a traveller is deaf and you’re unsure how to communicate. Just stop. Smile and we will smile back. Everything will relax.
My favourite country where people are constantly smiling is New Zealand. I just couldn’t get enough of it!
10. Speak one at a time
If you’re travelling together as a group with a deaf traveller, try to make sure that you speak one at a time. There’s nothing worse for a deaf traveller to lose the train of conversation and feel like they cannot get involved.
Know the saying, ‘alone in a crowded room?’ That’s what we could feel like. We’ve got time, it’s best for everyone to get the full information too being said by one person instead of being interrupted by another person outside of your vision.
I’m thankful to my fellow travel bloggers through my time with them over the last seven years to employ this method every time we attend a networking event. They are a pretty amazing bunch!
11. BONUS – NEVER ever give up and say ‘it doesn’t matter’
If you really want to truly annoy a deaf traveller and make them feel really low (I sincerely hope you don’t), give up communicating with them and say ‘it doesn’t matter.’
That’s the absolute worst thing you can do.
NEVER ever do this. Keep persisting. Phrase your conversation differently. Write it down even.
Everyone on this Earth are social creatures and not having the chance to be involved can be devastating.
The lowest I felt travelling because of this definitely had to be in Australia down the East coast in hostels. I couldn’t communicate with fellow backpackers (rather annoying in the end) who simply couldn’t be bothered to take the time to communicate properly with me. Luckily, I met another backpacker in a bar and we hit it off and went campervanning together through the jungle and the outback – one of the best moments of my backpacking trip.
Doesn’t this just say ‘Never give up!’
So how about you? Are you a deaf traveller? Do you have other tips for backpackers, travellers and others to communicate with you?
Or are you a traveller who have communicated with a deaf traveller? What’s your tips and your experience?
Let me know in the comments below or message me on the following:
Facebook: The Deaf Traveller