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Tips for deaf-friendly swimming

Photo: Get top tips to make swimming deaf-friendly

Because a deaf child may not hear what you are saying and miss out on important information, they can misunderstand and make mistakes. This can lead to a lack of confidence, frustration and feelings of isolation.

But small and simple changes can help to ensure deaf young people can enjoy swimming just as much as their hearing peers.


  • Ask the child their preferred communication method in the pool.
  • Get attention before speaking – try waving your hand, a flag or float.
  • Use visual aids like directional lane boards, photos, pictures, videos or wipe-off boards.
  • Stay in one place and keep eye contact (kneel or sit on the poolside if needed).
  • Use gestures, demonstrate strokes and techniques.
  • Repeat other swimmers' contributions to the session.
  • Allow time to put hearing technology on mid-session or talk before they are taken off.
  • Children may not feel comfortable to ask you to repeat yourself, so check for understanding before moving on.
  • Repeat others contributions to the lesson or answers to questions, so they can lip read the answer.
  • Practice races with a touch start or strobe light before competitions.

There are lots of small and simple changes to make swimming more deaf-friendly. Find out more about making swimming deaf-friendly with our useful resources.


  • Speak too slowly or shout! This distorts your lip patterns.
  • Move around the pool when you are talking.
  • Cover your mouth or talk with your whistle in your mouth.
  • Talk and demonstrate at the same time.
  • Give up. Try explaining differently, write it down, use pictures or demonstrations.

Working with a communicator

You may find you are working with a BSL/English communicator in your swimming activities. Here are some tips for good practice: 

  • Remember that swimmers need to see you and the communicator.
  • Keep eye contact with the swimmer, even if the ‘voice’ is coming from the communicator.
  • Swimmers can only look at one place so can’t watch a stroke demonstration and the communicator simultaneously. One, and then the other.
  • Allow time for the communicator to finish and the swimmer to reply.
  • Use your own communication skills to build rapport with the swimmer.
  • Share the session plan in advance and explain swimming jargon.

Is it safe to swim with glue ear?

Children are normally advised by their doctors to continue to participate in swimming and water-based activities if they have glue eargrommets or both, with some or all of the following precautions: 

  • Stay out of the water for three weeks post-operation.
  • Wear earmoulds.
  • Wear a neoprene headband over the ears.
  • Avoid swimming underwater in deep water.
  • Do not swim in lakes or non-chlorinated water (where the water may have a high bacteria count).
  • Avoid jumping or diving in to deep water.

All children are different and not all of the above precautions will be necessary to every individual. It is best to speak to the child or parent/carer directly.

To find out more about hearing technology and swimming, visit our page Hearing aids, cochlear implants and swim moulds.