Deaf and Hard of Hearing

Learn about Deaf and Hard of Hearing and how to adapt your coaching to ensure players with Deaf and Hard of Hearing can join in the fun at footy.

Learn about Deaf and Hard of Hearing

The term ‘Deaf’ (upper case D) describes individuals who communicate using Australian Sign Language (Auslan). These individuals identify as part of the signing Deaf community. This community is like an ethnic group with its own language and culture. Deaf people often do not consider themselves ‘hearing impaired’.
The term ‘deaf’ (lower case d) describes the physical condition of having a hearing loss. It can be used to describe anyone with a hearing loss, including those who use Auslan.

The term ‘hard of hearing’ is used to describe individuals who experience mild or moderate hearing loss, or develop hearing loss in late childhood or adulthood. These individuals might use spoken language, lip-reading, or hearing aids to communicate. Some individuals who are hard of hearing may prefer the term ‘hearing impaired’.

Using the wrong word to describe a person’s hearing can be offensive, so it is important to ask the young person or their parent which group they identify with if you are going to use these terms at footy.
By providing a safe and supportive environment, you can help keep young people who are d/Deaf or hard of hearing engaged and safe. With a little planning, you can ensure they have enriching opportunities to make friends, learn new skills and participate in the footy fun.

Players who identify as d/Deaf or hard of hearing may have different ways of communicating. They may need your support to hear spoken instructions, or see visual gestures or signs, and to practise and play.

[Kielly] Hi, my name is Ki. I play football and I'm Deaf. 

I identify as Deaf, but not profoundly or culturally deaf because I use hearing aids and I'm actively involved in both the deaf and the hearing world.

[Alisha] My name is Alisha and I am Deaf. I describe myself as Deaf because I was born with severe hearing loss. I am able to get by with a little hearing with the help of my hearing aid. So I suppose that might be a bit confusing to people. Some people might think, "Oh, that's hard of hearing". But personally, I identify as Deaf.

So the difference between deaf and hard of hearing is the level of hearing loss. And also whether that individual requires a cochlear implant or a hearing aid.

[Kielly] Really, there are some similarities. People in the Deaf community identify as a cultural and linguistic minority who use sign language to communicate. They may or may not use technologies like hearing aids or cochlear implants or strategies like lip reading or speech to communicate. 

Deaf people can miss out on a lot of things that non-deaf people easily access, which means we are left behind and have to work to catch up. And it can be a hard barrier to manage. For example, day-to-day things like the radio. I can't hear the radio. So I have to rely on social media to access the news and catch up with what's been going on.

[Alisha] Some of the challenges that I face in sport with my hearing loss is being able to hear behind me or around me. So we don't have, like, an audio spatial awareness, but it's more visual. So we depend on a lot of visual cues. When I'm playing sport, it can be very difficult or frustrating to not be able to see what's being said. It's very important to be able to lip read and have a clear line of vision to whoever's speaking at the time.

[Kielly] The best way that coaches can support me as a Deaf person is understanding how I communicate. For example, I use Auslan interpreters. So when the coach understands how to work alongside interpreters, communication becomes clear and smooth between myself, the coaches, and the other players.

[Alisha] My advice for young boys and girls who are deaf or hard of hearing who are looking to getting into sports or AFL, I would encourage them to look into the Auskick program. Definitely give it a go.

[Kielly] My advice to coaches with deaf players would be, try and be patient. Give people time to communicate with you. And if one way doesn't work, try to be creative. Try to mime to explain what they need to do.

[Alisha] Some of the visual aids that a coach could use could be a whiteboard, especially a whiteboard that's already laid up with, you know, like the lines of the field and all that sort of stuff just to easily mark where the players go. Other visual aids might be a card or something to be able to communicate with the players on the field.

[Kielly] I have taught my teammates some basic Auslan and they were really keen to learn and understand the Deaf experience. It had a big impact on them which is why I know it's really important to make sure everyone understands what is happening. Now my teammates can sign "Come here", "He said kick", "They're slow", or "Run". Simple things like that make a huge difference.

[Alisha] These are our stories, but everyone's story will be different.

[Kielly] In the next section, you'll learn tips for how to support young people who are deaf participate in footy.

[Alisha] For example, visual signs or gestures can be used to start, stop and umpire activities.

Strategies and tips

Gather Information

Talk to the player and their parents and find out what you can do to make communication as easy as possible. Ask them at the start of the season how to appropriately get the player’s attention when you speak.

Create a visual schedule

Get creative and make a visual schedule for each session that young people who are d/Deaf or hard of hearing can see at all times so they know what’s coming up next. This can support players to transition from one activity to the next without verbal instructions. You could use a whiteboard or flipchart.

Try to learn basic Auslan

Encourage coaches, volunteers, officials and players to learn basic Auslan skills and practice them regularly. For example, learn signs for handpass, kick and mark.

Ask a role model to join your session

Try to find a young adult role model who is d/Deaf or hard of hearing who could assist your program, if you have players who are d/Deaf or hard of hearing in your group.

Ensure young people can see your face when you talk

Young people who lip-read will understand instructions more easily if they can clearly see your face. Avoid standing with sun or bright light behind you, as this may put your face in shadow.

Encourage the player to stand where they can see and hear as much as possible

Ask the player what works best for them. For example, this might be standing to one side of the coach, or it might be directly in front of you.

Get the young person's attention before speaking

If you are in the player’s line of vision, use gestures (eg. waving or beckoning) so they know you have something to say. It can also be appropriate to use light physical touch, like a tap on the arm or shoulder, to get a young person’s attention before speaking.

Limit Background noise when giving instructions

Reducing background noise will make it easier for the player to hear instructions. Young people who are d/Deaf or hard of hearing may have some level of hearing.

Speak Clearly

Speak clearly, but do not shout or change the inflection of your speech. Be careful not to talk down to the player.

Simplify instructions and limit the amount of verbal information given

Make instructions simple. Try to limit instructions to 2-3 steps at a time.

Subtly check in with the young person to see if they have understood

Do this in a discreet way so that the player doesn’t feel singled out. Agree on an approach for this with the player at the start of the season. For example, you can ask the player to nod when they have understood instructions, or to put their hand on their shoulder if they have not understood.

Try to use basic Auslan

Use your basic Auslan skills in training sessions so that everyone becomes comfortable using it any time.

Have other young people wear earplugs (reverse inclusion)

Consider undertaking activities where the other players wear earplugs. This allows all players to participate in a similar way and may increase young people’s understanding of being d/Deaf or hard of hearing. Let the player who is d/Deaf or hard of hearing lead the activity! Remember to check with the young person and their parent first about whether they are happy for you to share information about the young person with others or do something that may draw attention to the young person.

Demonstrate new skills

Rather than relying on verbal instruction, you can show the players how to do new skills and activities. This may help them to learn the new tasks.

Use visual instructions

Consider using a flip chart with visual instructions when you coach. You can also use a whiteboard to draw movement, player positions and activities on the field.

Use visual signs during game play and to start/stop activities

You can use gestures (eg. a simple raise or drop of an arm) together with a whistle to indicate the start of an activity. You can use lights (eg. green, red) or written signs (eg. GO, STOP) to help indicate the start and end of an activity. Umpires can use gestures or flags as signs during game play.

Provide structure

Use a large clock or timer that each player can see at all times to know when the session or activity will finish.

Check in with the young person and their family

A discreet and brief chat post session with a young person who is d/Deaf or hard of hearing and their family can help identify what activities they enjoyed, and whether some activities can be further modified for next time.

Additional resources

Footy stories

Footy stories are a great way to assist young people with disability to become familiar with the wonderful world of footy. You can find all of our footy stories on the Parent Information Page.

Further training

If you would like further information and resources, you can visit our Coach page. You can also learn more about how to be an inclusive coach by completing the AllPlay Footy Disability Inclusion Coaching Course. This course provides you with tools and resources for creating inclusive environments at footy. Simply create an account or login to your existing profile to enrol in the course!