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Helping Deaf Patrons: Home

This guide provides information to learn best practices and to enhance interactions with deaf and hard of hearing students at the library.

Did you know?

Approximately 1 in 5 students with a disability in the 28 college-Florida College System is a MDC student (MDC Institutional Research Department).


Joselyn Escobar

Most professional kitchens are noisy places filled with loud talk, banging pots, popping hot oil, knives chopping and water running.  It is all part of the soundscape, but for Joselyn Escobar, the first deaf student at MDC Miami Culinary Institute, it is a whole different world.  She is typically busy watching demos from her instructors and focusing on the hands of her sign language interpreter who dexterously communicates about a range of ingredients,techniques and recipes (Riera, 2017).

First Step in Communicating with a Deaf Patron is to Determine the Need

Some individuals will identify themselves as deaf or hard of hearing immediately. In that case, let the individual tell you the means of communication that works best for him.

Other individuals may be reluctant to identify themselves as deaf or hard of hearing.  In that case, if you see an individual who tilts his head toward you when you are speaking, speaks more loudly than usual, or just doesn't seem to understand you, he may not be able to hear you clearly.

A man is using an ASL gesture.

Communication Styles and Preferences

Deaf individuals

  • Use sign language
  • Read lips
  • Use assistive listening devices
  • Use writing


Patience and careful attention are the keys to communication, regardless of the preferred method.

Two people are using sign language

Face to Face Communication: Visual Cues Guidelines

  • Face and lips must be visible (hands, papers, etc. should not be directly in front of your face).
  • Choose a location that is well-lit.
  • Avoid standing with your back to any light source.
  • Look directly at the person with whom you are talking.
  • Avoid distracting background noise (conversations, printers, etc.); move to another location if necessary.


Face to Face Communication

Getting the Person's Attention

  • Call him by name or title.
  • Tap her on the shoulder or arm (if you know the person).
  • Wave your hand (but not frantically).
  • Make sure person is looking at you before you speak.
  • Tap on the table or counter.


  • Avoid eating, drinking, or chewing gum while talking.
  • Keep your hands away from your mouth.
  • Speak naturally – Do not exaggerate, shout, or speak too slowly.
  • Use natural facial expressions.
  • Use gestures.

Two men using gestures

In a Classroom

  • Make sure the deaf or hard of hearing person is in the best location possible to satisfy communication needs.
  • Avoid pacing and other distracting movements.
  • Make sure you face the deaf or hard of hearing person when you speak.
  • Use visual aids and allow the audience time to look at them before speaking.
  • Prepare written instructions and handouts.
  • Use hands on activities.
  • Repeat questions/comments from audience members.


In the Reference/Circulation Desks

  • Repeat the question back to the user, in writing if necessary.
  • Use short sentences, simple language, and avoid unnecessary words.
  • Minimize use of idioms.
  • Write important words as you speak and keep the paper in clear view.
  • Follow up to make sure the question has been answered.

A deaf patron at the circulation desk

The Listening Project

The profound impact of technology on the lives and identities of young deaf adults is explored in The Listening Project.  Fourteen deaf people tell stories beginning with a childhood wide-eyed about sound, into their growing pains of adolescence and, eventually, their professional lives.

Working with an Interpreter

  • Look and speak directly to the deaf or hard of hearing person and not to the interpreter.
  • The interpreter is not a participant in the conversation or program and should not be brought into discussion or asked questions.

Be Aware

The interpreter will probably be a few words behind the speaker.

Sign Language Interpreter in a Classroom

What is a Deaf Culture?

Gallaudet University

How do I log in?

If prompted for a login, enter your MDC username and password.



Gallaudet University. (2003, April). Working with deaf patrons.

Miami Dade College. (2017, January, 26). MDCNEWS: First deaf student at MDC's Culinary School.


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