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Communications Guidelines for Meetings with Deafblind Members

It is crucial for the members of a group to understand why the following communication guidelines are so important when one or more of the members are DeafBlind. Sight and hearing are our two distance senses and when either or both are limited, communication does not flow as freely. DeafBlind persons are often left behind or left out in a discussion when a hearing group does not take the time to ensure full participation.

By following these guidelines, communication between members of your group will flow better:

  1. When introducing group members, speak slightly slower than normal, especially if you are describing your background in great detail. If you have an unusual name, spell it after saying it as the interpreter must fingerspell proper names. If you have a name sign, indicate that as well. Take a 2-3 second pause between speakers. This allows the interpreter to catch up and let the DeafBlind person know that the next speaker is about to introduce him/herself.
  2. Always identify yourself prior to each time you speak ("This is Joan speaking…"), and direct your communication to the DeafBlind person, not his/her interpreter. This also helps the interpreter if he/she does not know the names of all participants or cannot easily see name tags.
  3. Turn taking during discussions is critical! An interpreter can only interpret for one person at a time. When hearing members of a group do not turn take, such as in a heated discussion, it is difficult for the interpreter to follow and keep clear who said what. Group members must be patient and accept that communication will take a slower pace than they are used to. It is strongly recommended that turn taking be done by having the chair of the meeting call on each speaker in turn. It is often helpful for someone to keep a list of names of who wants to speak so that fair turn taking occurs (and members don't have to keep their hands up in the air for a long period of time!).
  4. Realize that there is a slight delay between the spoken or signed communication and the interpretation. Make sure the DeafBlind member has finished speaking before jumping in with the next comment.
  5. Realize that there is a slight delay between the spoken or signed communication and the interpretation. This is often called 'processing time' when the interpreter is processing the message from one language to another. Be mindful to make sure the interpreter has completed the interpreted message before jumping in with the next comment.
  6. When comments or feedback are requested, or if a question or vote is posed to the group, leave enough time for the interpretation to be completed and the DeafBlind person to have a chance to respond. For example, often time votes on motions are made and by the time the DeafBlind person gets the call to vote, the motion has already been determined passed or failed. In addition, because the DeafBlind person cannot see people's hands raised or hear a voice vote, the interpreter must indicate the vote of each person by name. This will take longer than a visual count of hands.

When referring to print information, whether by handout or PowerPoint presentation, avoid pointing or the use of "this" or "that". The interpreter is likely not able to see what you are referring to, so they cannot convey the information accurately to the DeafBlind person. It is preferred that you describe specifically what you are referring to ("please look at the first sentence in the 3rd paragraph" or "click on the 2nd tab from the left that says FOLDER"). This is generally helpful to everyone in the group, not just the interpreter and the DeafBlind member.

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