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Manuals, pamphlets, brochures, discharge papers – there’s an endless amount of information that you need to share with your patients or customers. Often this means sending home information with them to peruse in their own time or refer back to later.

Even after translating these materials into your top local languages for your limited-English proficient population, you may wonder, “what about our Deaf or Hard of Hearing (DHOH) customers or patients? What do I need to provide for them?”

The answer is: it depends. There is a range of hearing loss, education, and language skills amongst the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Community. Let’s take a closer look:

If customers or patients became deaf or hard of hearing as children

There is little in common between American Sign Language (ASL) and English—ASL is a separate language, which comes with its own grammar, vocabulary, and syntax. Unlike hearing children, deaf children are learning a new language that they’ve never “heard” before when they learn to write:

“Hearing children rely on the spoken language they already know as the “way in” to writing—essentially talking their way into text. It is their knowledge of the language that guides them in knowing what words to use and in what order. They know what “sounds right” when they say it, so that it makes sense when they write it down. […] It is not possible to sign a sentence in ASL and then write down what you have signed. ASL must be translated into English first. This adds a step to the process, and is a much more difficult task than what hearing children do when they write down what they say.” Raising and Education Deaf Children

As a result, if Deaf children do not receive the necessary support early on, they may struggle with language and literacy. According to one study, the “median reading comprehension score of deaf or hard of hearing students at age 18 was below the median of fourth-grade hearing students.”

When these deaf children become adults, if they have few interactions with hearing people, they may have few instances to use or retain their written English unless they make an effort. That’s why it’s important to use professional, trained ASL interpreters instead of relying on written English or thinking they can lip-read—ASL will be the language they are most comfortable communicating in and understanding.

If your customers or patients became deaf or hard of hearing as adults

Alternatively, over half of those who report being functionally deaf or hard of hearing became deaf well into adulthood. As a result, they are not as comfortable with American Sign Language as their primary communication method. Since English is their first language, they may prefer to read the information rather than rely on sign language interpretation.

How to know what you should use to communicate these take-home materials

Ask! Don’t be afraid to ask them how they would prefer to communicate if the method you first provide does not seem to suit them.

Written Communication Option – Consider translating your materials into Simple English

If the Deaf or Hard of Hearing person requests written materials, it might be worth it for your organization to convert these texts into Simple English.

This is a good policy not just for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community; it could also benefit the quarter of English-speaking Americans who struggle with literacy. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that 50% of US adults can’t read a book written at an eighth-grade level.

Translating patient documents into a language or reading level that they and their family members can better understand may improve patient understanding and lower readmission rates. Using Simple English to explain important member information or banking details may increase customer satisfaction.

CyraCom’s translation and localization team can help you convert your written materials to Simple English—reach out to to request a free quote.

Interpretation Option - Use an ASL interpreter to help you communicate the text

If your patient or customer does not feel comfortable with written text, you can connect to an ASL interpreter and then read the messaging aloud for them to interpret in real-time.

With CyraCom, you can access ASL interpreters via video interpretation. CyraCom’s ASL interpreters are compliant with the ADA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and maintain certification through the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID).

We also offer video interpreters via CyraCom Connect, our teleconference and telehealth solution. Health systems and hospitals across the country have adopted telehealth solutions as an alternative to meeting patients in person. Many businesses and other organizations have also adopted video teleconferencing technology to comply with social distancing guidelines from the CDC. With CyraCom Connect, you can invite a video interpreter to a telehealth or video meeting call that you have arranged through an existing teleconference platform.

Visit our Connect page for more information or to sign up:


Regina Wetzel

Regina Wetzel

An experienced researcher, writer, and editor on language services-related topics, specializing in how language works and translation services.