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Advocating for Your Needs with RNID’s Communication Card

Article contributed by RNID

At the Royal National Institute for Deaf People (RNID) we’re often asked the best ways to communicate with people who are deaf or have hearing loss. We know that small changes make a big difference, from turning down background music and adjusting lighting to making sure you face the person so they can lipread. Speech to text apps which transcribe what you say live on your phone can be very helpful, or even writing things down if asked (see our website for a full list of communication tips).

It’s important to emphasise that everyone is different, with different needs and communication preferences.

Volunteers and supporters often tell us that they have to advocate for their own communication needs – people don’t always make adjustments automatically and it’s always them having to ask for the music to be turned down, or ask someone to repeat themselves. This can be tiring, and for many people the pandemic made things even worse.

Communicating During the Pandemic

The pandemic exacerbated existing communication difficulties for the 1 in 5 adults in the UK who are deaf or have hearing loss; with face coverings making lipreading impossible and other measures such as social distancing and Perspex screens muffling sound.

This caused a lot of stress and anxiety for many people, turning regular tasks such as doing the weekly shop or going to a medical appointment into a nightmare. We heard of deaf people being shouted out in the supermarket for not following instructions which they couldn’t hear, or feeling embarrassed at the till in front of a queue of shoppers when face coverings caused misunderstandings and miscommunication.

Our Communication Card

We received lots of messages at the start of the pandemic about the difficulties face coverings caused people who rely on lipreading. RNID secured an exemption in the law, so that anyone assisting someone who lipreads didn’t need to wear a face covering, and we created an exemption card, as well as raising awareness.

As time went on, our supporters told us they wanted something visual which they could use in a public place to show staff that they couldn’t hear, and highlight how to make communication easier.

This led to the creation of our digital communication card, a personalised downloadable card which you can use to show people how they can make communication more accessible for you. The card includes a photo, three statements that best describe you, and your top three communication needs.

Example of digital communication card

To create your card you can visit our website, where you’ll be asked to pick options from a drop down list. Options are wide ranging, from ‘I am deaf’ or ‘I have hearing loss’ to ‘British Sign Language User’, with a free text option.

Individual Communication Needs

The great thing about the communication card is it’s so personal. Hearing loss isn’t a one size fits all approach. What works for someone may not work for someone else. For example, one person may ask you to write something down, whereas someone else may prefer you to rephrase the sentence to help them understand. A sign language user may ask you to book a sign language interpreter to help them communicate, whilst someone who lipreads may ask that you face them.

Everyday Brand Ambassadors

We launched the communication card in May 2021, fronted by our ambassador Samantha Baines. In the first week more than 2000 people downloaded digital communication cards and we continue to get over 100 downloads a week.

Our communication card has enabled thousands of people to get the general public thinking and talking about deaf awareness every time they go to the shops, or the bank, or the post office. We’ve heard many stories on social media of how the card has helped someone at a hospital appointment, or when getting their covid vaccination. People are sharing their communication cards with family and friends, and on social media using #BeDeafAware.

Our Digital Approach

The communication card is part of RNID’s new digital approach, in order to reach more of the 12 million people in the UK with hearing loss. We’ve also launched a new free 3 minute online hearing check, and we’re looking at launching an online community very soon.

A Big Year for Deaf Awareness

The last year has been unprecedented for deaf awareness, with Rose Ayling-Ellis’ awareness raising on Strictly creating a new surge of interest in learning BSL. We were proud to be part of the BSL Act Now! campaign alongside the British Deaf Association, which saw BSL achieve legal recognition. We recently celebrated the launch of the 999 BSL service, enabling BSL users to access emergency services in their first language for the first time. In July, we presented our joint petition with the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) to Government, signed by more than 25,000 people demanding better access to subtitles, signing and audio description on video on demand services.

We know there’s still a long way to go until people who are deaf, have hearing loss or tinnitus are fully included, and we won’t stop until it’s done. You can read more about our work here and our plan to make a difference in four key areas: inclusion, health, employment and research.

RNID Near You

We know that for many of our communities, nothing can replace meeting people face to face. We offer support and information for hearing aid users in some parts of the UK, and we’ll build up to the point where we have services on the ground across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

You can also contact RNID five days a week through email, phone, live chat, text, Relay UK or Sign Video. Whatever your question about deafness, hearing loss or tinnitus, we’re here to help.

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