D/deaf and Hard of Hearing

Why Physical Activity is Important to People Who Are D/deaf or Hard of Hearing

Being physically active and exercising is beneficial for individuals of all abilities in a variety of ways including socially, physically, physiologically, and psychologically. Ensuring everyone, including those who are D/deaf or hard of hearing, have opportunities to effectively engage in physical activity is essential to their personal development.

Creating a barrier free environment to enable those who are D/deaf or hard of hearing to be exposed to the benefits of physical activity is definitely attainable.

Physical Activity Tips and Modifications for People Who Are D/deaf or Hard of Hearing

  • In sports for people who are D/deaf or hard of hearing, common auditory cues are made visible (i.e., a flashing light tells swimmers when to start; a flag or arm can indicate the start to runners; and umpire signals can inform players of the call).
  • In some high contact sports, it may be advisable to remove assistive hearing devices.
  • Helmets should always be worn as required by the rules of the sport and modifications should not be made unless approved by the manufacturer. Unfortunately, this headgear may interfere with a D/deaf or hard of hearing participant's hearing equipment. A helmet with a faceguard will also interfere with this partipcipant's ability to read lips.
  • Assistive hearing devices are not designed for immersion in water, so activity leaders will need to use visual strategies to communicate with a participant who is  D/deaf or hard of hearing.

Teaching and Communication Techniques for Physical Activity Leaders

  • For many people who are D/deaf, English is not their first language - Sign language is. Therefore, writing might not be clear for either the coach receiving the communication or easily understood by the participant.  For those who do understand written communication, have a pencil and paper readily available for communication.
  • For those who are hard of hearing, use an amplification system if available.
  • Use visual aids, demonstrations, flip charts, written agendas and handouts.
  • If using video for instruction, ensure it is captioned.
  • Ensure all instructors and coaches are informed that they will be working with someone who is D/deaf or hard of hearing.
  • Bring in an interpreter to work directly with the participant if necessary.
  • When communicating orally, try to maintain eye contact with the participant you are speaking to. Attempt to speak slowly and clearly.
  • Position yourself in appropriate lighting so you can be seen clearly.
  • Break up sentences and try to simplify communication where possible.
  • Encourage the participant to ask questions as needed.
  • Reduce environmental distractions such as background noise.
  • Reinforce verbal information with written, text and visual materials.
  • In a group setting:
    • Consider the layout of the room. If in a classroom, use a circle technique so everyone is able to see each other’s face.
    • Have name tags available for initial meetings.
    • Point to the person who is talking in a group setting.
    • Ensure one person is speaking at a time.
    • Avoid talking with your back to your audience.
    • Speak closely in a group setting.
    • Ensure everyone is included in the informal and social conversations.

More About D/deafness and Hard of Hearing

The term "D/deaf" is used as a collective noun to refer to both those “Deaf” people who identify with the Deaf is culture and those “deaf” people who do not.

The term "deaf" (small d) is a medical/audiological term referring to those people who have little or no functional hearing (deaf, Deaf, and deafened). It may also be used as a collective noun (“the deaf” or “deaf”) to refer to people who are medically deaf but who do not necessarily identify with the Deaf community.  In addition, children who are deaf are usually referred to as “deaf” because they may not yet have been socialized into either the Deaf or the non-Deaf culture. If they use Sign as their first language, they are referred to “Deaf”.

The term "Deaf" (large D) is a sociological term referring to those individuals who are medically deaf or hard of hearing who identify with and participate in the culture, society, and language of Deaf people, which is based on Sign language. Their preferred mode of communication is Sign.

What is D/deafness and Hard of Hearing?

Deafness is defined as the absence of functional hearing, where an individual is reliant on visual means of communication such as Sign language, lip-reading, reading and writing. An individual who is hard of hearing can understand some speech through their ears. For these individuals, hearing loss can vary from mild to severe. Individuals who are hard of hearing may use hearing aids to enhance their hearing.

It is important to note that individuals can either be born D/deaf or hard of hearing (congenital), or they can acquire a hearing impairment later in life (acquired).

Typically, it takes more time to teach a new skill to someone who has a congenital disability than someone who acquired a disability later in life. Again, this will vary depending on the individual involved.

Impact of D/deafness and Hard of Hearing

  • It is important to note that D/deafness is considered a culture and is rarely seen as a disability within the D/deaf community.
  • Persons with congenital hearing loss may have affected speech and language development, and cognitive skills may be impacted.
  • A person who is D/deaf or hard of hearing will rarely lack physical literacy skills solely due to their hearing loss.
  • Individuals who are D/deaf or hard of hearing may face difficulties following verbal instructions in large spaces and/or with large groups, verbal communication that is fast-paced, and unstructured group conversations.
  • A person who is D/deaf or hard of hearing may grow frustrated and lose interest if these barriers are not considered.
  • Persons who are D/deaf or hard of hearing may face social isolation.

Useful Information About D/deafness and Hard of Hearing

  • Deafness and hard of hearing are prominent in Canada - 357,000 Canadians are D/deaf, while 3.21 million Canadians are hard of hearing.
  • Persons with congenital D/deafness may not have a complete understanding of the English language, as it is often viewed as a second language. The first language for a person who is D/deaf is visual or gestural (sign).
  • It is said that communication depends 7% on what is said, 38% on how it is said and 55% on body language. Therefore, what a person sees is very important.


Canadian Deaf Sports Association - www.assc-cdsa.com
Canadian Association of the Deaf - www.cad.ca
Canadian Hard of Hearing Association - www.chha.ca/
Coaches Resource Guide: Supporting Young Athletes Who Are Deaf and Hard of Hearing in a Mainstream Setting - www.coach.ca/sites/default/files/2020-02/Coaches_Resource_Guide.pdf
Facts about deafness - www.who.int/pbd/deafness/facts/en/
Physical Activity and the Deaf Community - www.benefitshub.ca/entry/physical-activity-and-the-deaf-community/

Helping Canadians with Disability/Chronic Disease Get Physically Active

For Canadians with a disability, regular physical activity may be even more important than it is for the rest of the population. For a person with a disability, an active lifestyle can open doors to increased health, social inclusion and self-empowerment - doors which might otherwise remain closed. Access to physical activity can eliminate the likelihood of acquiring secondary health conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure or heart disease. Being active builds resiliency and can provide an all-important outlet for a person with a disability.


This project would not have been possible without the expertise of our partners. ALACD would like to sincerely thank these organizations for working with us to develop this resource: the Ontario Blind Sports Association, Variety Village, the National Network for Mental Health, and the Learning Disabilities Association of Canada.