More than half of Britons don’t feel confident when talking to deaf people, new research has revealed and this is contributing to the isolation and loneliness that so many deaf children and young people experience throughout their lives.

The figures, released by the National Deaf Children’s Society, also show that one in five people (20%) have felt nervous when talking to deaf people because they don’t know what to do, while one in ten (10%) have pretended to understand something a deaf person said instead of asking for clarification.

Previous research shows that many deaf children already find themselves excluded, with 80% of parents reporting that their child struggles to access local activities because of their deafness. The charity says isolation and loneliness are common among the UK’s 50,000 deaf children, with their happiness, mental health and communication skills suffering as a result.

The results of the YouGov survey also reveal that the public has a very limited understanding of what deafness actually means.

Deafness is on a scale from mild to profound and deaf people’s hearing varies significantly from one individual to another. However, whilst there are 11 million deaf people in the UK, equivalent to one in six adults, 70% of respondents said they didn’t know anyone who was deaf.

One in three (32%) also couldn’t be sure that deaf people could detect any sound without hearing technology, even though the vast majority can. A third (34%) also revealed that they’ve slowed down their speech for a deaf person, which actually makes lipreading much more difficult.

Top five tips to make deaf children feel included

In response, the National Deaf Children’s Society is raising awareness of deafness and sharing five top tips to make sure everyone can help deaf children feel included. These are:

  1. Every deaf child will have a preferred method, so find out if they use speech, British Sign Language or a mixture of both.
  2. Speak clearly and naturally. Deaf children will try to lip-read, so speak as you normally would. Speaking slowly or too loudly makes lip-reading much more difficult.
  3. Make sure they can see your mouth. Covering your mouth with your hands, eating or chewing can make lip-reading very difficult. It also muffles any sound you’re making.
  4. Use visual cues where possible. Point to what you’re talking about, and don’t be shy about using gestures to support your communication.
  5. Don’t give up and never say “I’ll tell you later”. Deaf children want to be involved just like their friends, so if one method doesn’t work, don’t be scared to improvise, such as typing things on your phone or writing on pieces of paper.