Working with a d/Deaf or Hard of Hearing Client

By Cat Broadhead, Client who is late-deafened

D/Deaf or Hard of Hearing – Not “Hearing-Impaired”

The politically correct terms are “people who are d/Deaf” and “people who are hard of hearing.”  The terms “hearing-impairment” or “hearing loss” can be offensive to some d/Deaf people.  

Generally, Deaf, with a capital D, refers to people who are members of the Deaf community and culture.  Many have grown up without hearing and their first language is American Sign Language (ASL).  Some do not use their voice. Deaf with a lowercase d refers to people who are unable to hear. People who are hard of hearing have some recognition of sound.  They may wear hearing aids or cochlear implants.  Please note that the deaf community is very diverse, and these are generalizations.  Many people prefer person-first references, which means that you would call someone a person who is deaf rather than a deaf person.  Do not worry too much, just please do not refer to us as “impaired” or having a “loss.”  Many of us believe that our Deafness is a gift, so please respect that with your language.

How do I communicate with a client who is d/Deaf or Hard of Hearing?

Your client will tell you how he or she communicates, and it is certainly okay to ask questions about this.

If you want to come prepared, you can download a speech-to-text app on your phone.  This allows you to speak into the phone and your words appear on the screen for your client to read.  Google LiveTranscribe is a great one, and is free, but it is not available for iPhone yet.  In the iPhone, you can use the microphone in your notes, but you need to tap the microphone icon quite often.  There are many other apps available if you are interested.

Persons who are d/Deaf or hard of hearing may not use their voice. Many use an app to communicate with hearing people.  Pen and paper work, too. Some people who are d/Deaf or hard of hearing utilize speech reading (lipreading).  If so, make sure that you are facing them when you speak and speak at a regular pace.  Do not over-enunciate.

Phone calls can be difficult for the d/Deaf and Hard of Hearing, so communicate via text or email when possible.  For example, I rely on a captioning service.  There is a two-second delay as the interpreter transcribes the words, so often people hang up on me or I miss the prompt to get to the right person or leave a voicemail.  

How do I get my client’s attention?

Stand in front of your client and wave.

Can I ask why my client is d/Deaf or hard of hearing?

Some people enjoy sharing their Deaf pride, while others think that this is a personal question and not appropriate. Your curiosity may not be worth the risk of offending a customer.  Use your judgment.  

Please see for more information.