Are you deaf aware?

Posted 13th August 2008

Have you met any deaf people in the course of your work?  If not, then the chances are that you soon will.  Kim Russell provides this informative guide on working with deaf clients.

Have you met any deaf people in the course of your work?  If not, then the chances are that you soon will.  Did you know that approximately one in seven of the population is affected by deafness?  A client who happens to be deaf may be referred to you, or a member of his/her family could be deaf. 


This article is based on my own experience and training, which I hope will help other Case Managers who meet deaf people in the course of their work.


Types of deafness you may encounter:

  • Born deaf or became deaf before learning verbal communication.
  • Became deaf suddenly as a result of accident or illness after acquiring speech.
  • Deafness as a result of older age. Could be anywhere on a continuum from slight to severe loss.
  • Deaf Blind. May have some sight and/or hearing but registered deaf/blind.


People who are born deaf may describe themselves as Deaf.  They have their own culture and may use BSL as their first language. They may not consider themselves disabled.  They may have limited speech and may not be able to read and write English.


People with sudden onset deafness may prefer to continue to use their voice, even if they can't hear themselves.   They may lip read and may have good written English skills.


Age related deafness may have come on slowly and the person may find this hard to accept.  They are unlikely to use BSL and may not be able to lip read very well.  They may be able to understand written communications better, but their eyesight may be deteriorating as they get older.


Deaf Blind people have to cope with two disabilities.


Initial Contact:

In contacting deaf people there are a few things you need to be aware of.  To state the obvious, they may not respond to a telephone message.  They may not respond to a letter either, particularly if it seems complicated - more about that later.


My advice is to use whatever information is available:  Who has already had contact?  What did they do?  What problems did they have?  Ask the referrer and use their experience as your starting point.  If they had problems, try to learn from them.


Maybe initial contact needs to be via a friend or relative, but in the longer term you need to find a way to communicate directly with the client.  Try Typetalk*, fax, text messaging, a simple letter or e-mail using plain English.


To some extent you can treat BSL users as any ‘foreign' language speaker.  Do you need an interpreter?  If you are writing letters remember that English may not be their first language.  Keep it simple.  Also, for the same reasons, writing notes during a meeting may not actually help much.

Face to Face Communication:

Do you need to book an interpreter?  Try not to use a family member as some issues may be too personal. 


Some people use Lip Speakers, who help by enunciating the words clearly, but without using their voice, to help the person lip read.  They may want a note-taker instead, or just somebody with them in case they miss anything.


  • Ask the person where you should sit.  You may need to be clearly visible (in good light) so that they can see your mouth and facial expressions. 
  • Speak clearly, but don't speak too slowly and don't raise your voice. 
  • Keep your hands away from your mouth - they may want to lip read. 
  • Avoid ‘loud' clothing, jangly earrings, spectacles on the top of your head.  Men - facial hair may cause problems.    All of these can cause distractions and make it difficult to concentrate.


If using an interpreter, don't talk to the interpreter, talk to the client. 


Some More Things to Consider:

Hearing aids don't help everyone.  They amplify everything and you don't get ‘normal' sound.  Some people prefer not to use them.

You may need to book an interpreter well in advance.  There just aren't enough around.

Don't assume your client will use BSL, most people don't.


Is deafness related to the claim?  Could counselling help with the adjustment?

Is deafness something that the person has been managing for years?  They may not consider it to be a major problem, as they may have adjusted to it.  But, their new injury may make things different, e.g. a newly tetraplegic BSL user who can no longer use his hands for signing.

Is the deaf person claiming Disability Living Allowance?

Who should fund interpreters?  Maybe you need to build this into the costs for the claim.



Use your fingers for numbers 1 - 10.

There are basic signs in common usage - mime writing a note, drinking tea - you will be understood.

Use facial expressions - happy, depressed.


During Your Visit:

Be prepared to write notes, but don't assume that this method will be effective.  If the person uses BSL as their first language they may have problems with reading and writing English grammar.  Many deaf people can't spell well and quite a number have dyslexia.


Some Suggestions to Aid Follow Up and Next Contact:

Follow up in writing - but remember to keep to simple, plain English if you have established that English is not the client's first language.

Consider leaving them a compliments slip which says ‘Please call my Case Manager ..(name)..  on  ..(number).. to arrange an appointment.  I will need an interpreter present'.  It may help them to arrange contact with you.


As usual in Case Management the best approach is to be open and honest - let the client tell you what they need, and think creatively to facilitate it. 


Here are some suggestions and contacts you might find useful.


Communication Aids:

  • People - interpreters, lip speakers, note takers, interpreter guides (for deaf/blind).
  • Animals - Hearing Dogs for the Deaf.
  • Equipment - flashing or vibrating alarms (smoke detectors, door bells, alarm clocks).  Loop system.
  • Communication Technology - fax, e-mail, text messaging, Typetalk*, Minicom**.


Access to Aids, Equipment and Services


*Typetalk will enable you to communicate with a client by telephone if they have equipment at home.  You speak via an operator who types a message to them and relays their typed response verbally to you.


**Minicom requires you to have equipment at both ends of the telephone, and is used by organisations such as Social Services to communicate with Service Users.




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