How Can You Best Communicate with a Deaf Employee? REI Staffer Shares 5 Simple Tips


As the holiday shopping season has now ended, here is a viewpoint you may have never considered. Today’s guest blogger, Christina Cox, is a sales specialist from the REI Seattle store. Christina works in the climbing and camping departments—and not coincidentally, her favorite outdoor activities are climbing (rock, ice and alpine) and hiking. Christina is also deaf, a fact that inspires today’s blog about communicating with deaf and hard-of-hearing employees.

As a deaf employee at the Seattle REI store, I find that difficult communication patterns can emerge during my interactions with customers. On the sales floor, even the most well-intentioned people approach me in ways that make it impossible for me to decipher their needs due to heavy reliance on auditory signals, which I miss out on. These approaches include walking past me while talking, talking to the product instead of me, talking to my back or mumbling while thinking about a product in their hand.

Deaf or hearing, we are all people with communication needs. The Deaf culture cherishes visual communication, including the use of eye contact and American Sign Language (ASL). Although deaf employees do have an additional need for visual communication, I’m sure hearing people can appreciate the etiquette taken for granted in our Deaf world!

The following tips will help improve your shopping experience with both deaf and hard of hearing employees. With these small considerations, exchanges will be easier for both of us.

  1. Establish and maintain eye contact.
  2. Tap our shoulder if you need additional effort to establish eye contact. Waving your hand considerately is also considered a fine way to get our attention.
  3. If possible, think about your question before asking, and try to enunciate. If you are communicating with a person who reads lips or has some hearing, this will really help.
  4. If communicating through an ASL interpreter, speak to the employee helping you, not to the interpreter.
  5. Never shout at a person who is deaf or hard of hearing. It won’t help.


Deaf people communicate in a variety of ways with hearing people, including writing, speech, gestures and sign language. We’ve spent a lifetime figuring out what works best for us as individuals. Just go with it! Oftentimes, I hand customers paper and pen to request written information—such as a membership number—to complete a transaction.

At REI, we strive to give you great customer service. Sometimes, communication frustrations may make it difficult to ensure you have the best experience possible. These difficulties can be relieved on the sales floor simply by following the above 5 tips!

By bridging that gap faster, it’ll make us both feel less awkward and more confident in our exchange.

Personally, learning American Sign Language has opened up a new world of communication. I have learned to love and embrace my deafness and Deaf culture. I love it when a customer knows the “thank you” sign! If you’d like to know, here’s simple thank you sign instruction that shows you how.

Just a little bit of effort and consideration goes a long way in making your future shopping experiences even better.

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