Meeting with deaf tenants

10 Replies

I have a meeting on Saturday morning with some inherited tenants who are deaf.  I don't know sign language, so I'm wondering if anyone has any tips on communicating with them in a positive, effective way.  It didn't seem like the owner had much to do with them other than initially placing them.  (They apparently weren't even told by the old owner that the building was sold!)

My objectives for the meeting:

- Sign a new lease

- Ensure that the unit has smoke detectors that sound + strobe (not just sound as that is not up to Fair Housing laws)

- Answer any questions they may have

Hi Dawn,

My only interaction I've dealt with in this was bartending. Using pen and pad to communicate is perfectly fine. I guess just have important questions written down ahead of time.

I went to RIt which has one of two national is tired for the death in the country. I did a lot with pen/paper, txting, and many can read lips. You might want to see if you can hire a translator for the "one hour" or so to make sure everything goes smoothly! That being said they are usually very adapt at working around the barrier!


My godson is "legally" deaf and, dealing with him over the years, I've learned the following:

  • They may also be legally deaf, but still have some degree of hearing.
  • There is a good chance your tenants may read lips.   If this is the case, look directly at them when speaking and take care to enunciate.  There is no need to speak slowly and draw out words (as so many folks do when speaking to someone who's mother tongue is not English) as this may make it more difficult for them to understand you.

Bringing a pen and paper, as others have mentioned, is good.  There is a strong chance they will also bring one if they feel they need it.

You could shoot them an e-mail in advance and politely ask them if there is anything you can do in preparation for your meeting which will make it easier for you both to communicate with one another.

If you do engage a professional, you are looking for an interpreter, not a translator {translation is for the written word from one language to another}.

@Dawn A.  Just recently returned home from work and saw your post. 

Here are some typical housing accommodation needs for people who are deaf (or hard of hearing):

1. Visual smoke/co alarms. (Provide these and/or allow permission for tenant to install their own if they have such.)

2. Visual door bell flasher. (Allow permission to hook up their flasher system to your door bell wiring - simple.)

3. Service animals such as a "hearing dog". (Allow these service animals whether or not you have a pet policy, as they are not to be considered pets.) Hearing dogs provide alerts to their owners when they hear specific sounds, such as the doorbell, smoke/co alarms, intruders, alarm clocks, babies/children crying, stove timers, car traffic, etc.

4. Communication in written English in the form of documents, note writing, texting, email.

5. Sign Language interpretation services may or may not be necessary. Your goal is to communicate effectively and this can be achieved by a variety of methods. The more educated and flexible the deaf person's communication skills, the easier it will be to communicate effectively with them. Don't rely on children to interpret. Family members and friends will often add and delete information, counsel and advise, and interject personal opinion if they are not professionally trained interpreters. If you hire the services of a professional interpreter, be prepared to pay for the service.

For sensitivity... be aware of this:

1.  Most educated people who are deaf can communicate effectively with written English, but not all can. The preferred language for people who consider themselves a member of the American Deaf community is ASL (American Sign Language).  ASL is also used in most of Canada. A different sign language, LSQ, is used in Quebec and some other French speaking parts of Canada.

2. Natural gestures can be used to effectively communicate some ideas. Be aware of your body language and facial expressions, as you are always communicating something, whether you realize it or not.

3. Not all people who are deaf use sign language, some prefer speech reading (lip reading combined with facial movement). Elderly people who lose their hearing as a result of aging are not likely to know sign language. 

4. In the Deaf cultural community, people prefer to use the term Deaf and not hearing impaired. The terms mute or deaf mute are considered insulting, especially by those who have good speech skills.

5. Language skills vary widely within the Deaf Community. So do education levels. A person's age at the time of onset of their hearing loss, their family life and their educational experience are significant factors that will determine their preferred means of communication.

6. Don't make assumptions as to what a person who is deaf needs or wants, just ask. Start out by letting them know your goal is to communicate effectively with them and to provide a reasonably safe environment. Ask them how they would prefer to communicate with you and if they have any other needs.

Do a quick study by reading the information about Deaf culture on this website:

What may surprise you:

1. People who are deaf may make more noise than you expect because they may not be aware they are closing cabinet doors loudly, walking loudly, talking loudly, or have their television/radio turned up too high.

2. Some deaf people speak with a "deaf voice" which may sound strange until you get used to it, or they may use some vocalization while signing.

3. People who are deaf tend to be visually alert and will often notice things others do not. From my personal experience growing up around the Deaf community, I was told "Never lie to a deaf won't get away with it!...  They will read the subtle differences in your facial expression and body language and know!"

That's all I can think of now... I agree with the information shared by @Roy N.  . I too have a deaf godson (profoundly deaf), who I've known since he was age 4. I was his first "teacher." He graduated from Gallaudet University and now is an educator and sports coach in an elementary school. I grew up around the Deaf community since 1967 when I met a deaf person for the first time at age 10.  I am also a professional sign language interpreter, RID certified since 1986, and former manager of accessibility services for a large medical center. Working with people who are deaf comes second nature for me. Feel free to shoot me a PM if you want to talk more about any of this at a later time. :-)

Update: met with them this morning. They did have an interpreter, but the interpreter was also partially deaf.  They both use sign language which I do not know.  We did get through the meeting with patience on both sides and having things in writing. The tenants use thumbs up to indicate that everything is okay/good.

I now have the tenants cell phone which I can use to send and receive messages from them.

As a side note, they do have both a visual door bell (which has sound as well) and the visual smoke/CO2 alarms.


Glad to hear the meeting went smoothly.   

We have found that tenants with impairments/disabilities tend to move less.  This is just antidotal on our part as I've not researched to see if there are hard numbers reinforcing or refuting that observation.   

I also do not know the reason and am left to conjecture that it may be due to the effort to make a place comfortable and familiar or a need for certainty and routine in their daily living.   Perhaps @Marcia Maynard  could shed some light here.

@Roy N.  I haven't heard that people with disabilities tend to have longer tenancies. But I imagine if a person feels welcome and treated with respect they will want to stay. If they do not get the same reception elsewhere, other options would be less appealing. Also, if specialized equipment has been installed or the physical environment has been modified to meet a need, and they've settled in and feel comfortable, that would be incentive to stay.

@Dawn A.  I'm not surprised another deaf person interpreted for them. It indicates your tenants' command of the English language may be lacking or not as strong as the other deaf person who did the interpreting. This is important information being exchanged and they probably wanted to be able to fully participate. There are different types of sign language... ASL, Signed English, foreign sign languages, etc.  American Sign Language is a different language than English, with its own syntax, linguistic characteristics and cultural components. A Deaf interpreter who is bilingual and bicultural can easily transition between the two languages and cultures. What is read in English (written or spoken) could be interpreted into ASL for your tenants by someone deaf or hearing who has the skill. Also, your tenants concerns and questions could easily be expressed by them in ASL and relayed to you in written and/or spoken English by a skilled Deaf interpreter. The Deaf interpreter might have been a professional interpreter or an ad hoc interpreter. Either way, the fact that your tenants arranged for their help indicates your tenants wanted to do what they could to ensure they understood and could be understood during this encounter. That is a good thing.

Marcia's response was well-written. As a Deaf landlord myself, she explained it well. She is an interpreter herself and it makes sense she knows what's she's talking about and I agree that is how to do stellar customer services with Deaf and Hard of Hearing tenants.

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