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D/DEAF AND HARD OF HEARING

What does d/Deaf and hard of hearing mean?

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.

What might this look like on the footy field?

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.

Strategies and tips

Before the session

  • 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.

During the session

Consider your communication style

  • 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.

Think about the activity

  • 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.


Use visual aids to help communicate

  • 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.

After the session

  • 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.

Recommended reading

If you are coaching a young person who is d/Deaf or hard of hearing, you may also be interested in reading about:

Communication >

Social skills >

Behaviour >

Additional resources

Footy stories. Footy stories are a great way to assist young people with anxiety 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 play.afl/coach/ You can also learn more about how to be an inclusive coach by completing the AllPlay Footy Online Coaching Modules in Inclusion. This course provides you with tools and resources for creating inclusive environments at footy.

AllPlay Footy is a joint initiative by Monash University and the AFL. AllPlay Footy was founded at Deakin University in 2015 and has been part of Monash Education since 2021. The AllPlay Footy content and resources presented here have been developed with people with lived experience of disability, consultants from National Sporting Organisations for People with Disability, psychologists and researchers, and are brought to you with funding from a Department of Social Services Information, Linkages and Capacity Building: Social and Community Participation Stream (2020-2021) grant. We aim to use language that is respectful to everyone.

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