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Tips for Healthy Communication: Hearing Loss Edition

In my own opinion, there can be several barriers between conversations with hard of hearing individuals and those with “normal” hearing. Usually, this is simply due to being unaware of the extra difficulties that we might face and the several factors that are typically avoidable. I hope by sharing a few tips based on my own experiences with these barriers, it might help a few others in the future.

Here are my top 10 strategies for healthy communication with people who have hearing loss:

10. Limit the distance while you are talking

  • The closer you are to a person, the easier it is to hear! Distance adds many other difficulties when it comes to hearing and listening. To avoid adding this additional difficulty, try to limit the distance as much as possible.

9. Get their attention before you start talking

  • Hearing aids are great at a lot of things and are continuing to get better and better with time. However, they still aren’t perfect and there are a lot of implications that I’ve learned with these devices over the last 2 decades of wearing them. In my own opinion, trying to figure out where sound is coming from is one thing that I still am not great at. So, if you try to start a conversation while behind me, while I’m looking away, or simply right beside me in a busy place, I likely have no clue who is speaking or where the sound is coming from. Simply making sure you have my eye contact before talking helps immensely. On this same topic, to get someone’s attention, try to refrain from physically touching a person (ex. tapping or poking them). This can become a bit uncomfortable, so as a hard of hearing person myself, I would much rather someone wait for eye contact or give me a simple hand signal to get my attention.

8. If possible, try to limit the background noise

  • Whether it be turning the radio down in the car or turning the oven fan off in the kitchen, try to limit background noise before sparking a conversation. Background noise can be a major enemy for hearing aid users as these devices are still not mastered in environments that are hard to hear in. While they have come a long way, they still can’t fix distorted or low-quality sound signals and thus, making the environment easier to listen in will always help!

7. Please don’t tell me to “turn my volume up”

  • This happens to me more times than I would like to admit. People often think that turning the volume up on my hearing aids will help fix my need to ask for clarification during conversations where I don’t hear. While this may have good intentions behind it, try to avoid saying this to a hearing aid user. Usually, it is not the actual level of sound that causes a hard of hearing person to need something repeated and thus “turning up the volume” actually doesn’t solve the issue. Instead, try to repeat yourself again before assuming that the level of someone’s hearing aids is the reason for what they missed.

6. Make sure you are facing them

  • As I mentioned above, hearing aids can sometimes lack with localizing sound. Therefore, if you are not directly facing a person, they likely have no idea you are talking to them. Try your best whenever possible to sit in front of a person or allow them a full view of your face before breaking out in conversation. Similarly, facing a person helps with facial cues and gives a lot more information that may be necessary to figure out what the conversation is about. In addition, lipreading is also only possible if you are directly facing them as well.

5. Keep your mouth visible when possible

  • Anything blocking your lips while speaking adds a lot of difficulty for us hard of hearing folk. Lipreading is a skill that most of us have been forced to learn and seeing lips gives a lot more information about words and pronunciations. For example, seeing lips will help a person distinguish between the words “pop” and “shop”. Without this cue, it can be increasingly difficult to determine subtle differences. Blocking your lips with your hands also distorts the signal in the first place which makes it even more difficult to interpret what was said. So, for best communication, try to refrain from blocking your lips and mouth as much as possible.

4. Be Patient

  • I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to have patience with everyone you talk to. Whether it is a cashier at the grocery store or the bus driver that you see every morning, patience is one of kindest emotions you can show in a frustrating circumstance. If you find yourself getting irritated or annoyed when someone asks you (sometimes even multiple times) to repeat yourself or is confused about what you said, please know that they are likely a lot more frustrated than you are. It sucks having to need sentences repeated, especially from people who are showing negative emotions for doing so. So, having patience is the biggest and easiest thing you could gift a hard of hearing person.

3. Don’t Raise your Voice/ Talk in a Clear Voice

  • When talking to a hard of hearing person, speak in a clear and audible manner. This means that you can talk at the normal volume that you talk in everyday conversation but refrain from altering your voice to be louder or quieter. The game of telephone was my absolute worst nightmare growing up because I never understood whispering and I often became the center of a huge joke with the group I was with. In addition, if someone asks you to repeat yourself, refrain from raising your voice. In past experiences, whenever someone raised their voice at me, I always took it instantly as anger or frustration. Whether that is intentional or not, instead, repeat yourself in the same tone and instead clearer, putting emphasis on pronunciation instead of volume.

2. Never Hesitate to Repeat Yourself

  • Whether it is a joke muttered under your breath or a sarcastic comment, please never hesitate to repeat yourself when asked. Even if you think it is better that a person didn’t hear you the first time, I promise you, it’s not. I have run into a lot of situations where people think it is in my best interest to not repeat themselves, but this often leads me to think “well, I wouldn’t have missed it in the first place if I wasn’t hard of hearing.” Even though it is not intentional in most cases, it can be taken as using a person’s hearing loss to your own advantage. So, whether you think your comment was not important or better to not be repeated, please never hesitate to repeat yourself when asked!

1. Be Kind and Empathetic

  • Try to understand that your frustration in someone not hearing you is likely very much felt by the other person. In my own experience, this often leads to anger and conflict. It can also even lead to feelings of isolation simply to avoid situations like this all together. All of these negative emotions can be avoided by implementing healthier communication strategies. In addition to being patient, kindness goes a long way. Try to picture yourself in another person’s shoes and be more empathetic to their situation. This will help with communicating with everyone in a much healthier and respectful way.

There you have it; my top 10 communication strategies that I wish people would know from my own hard of hearing perspective. I understand that all of these tips may not be possible in every scenario, especially with masks. However, next time you interact with a fellow individual with hearing loss, try to remember at least one of these tips and I guarantee, they will be extremely thankful!


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