December 8, 2013

Rachel Strella

Tips for Communicating with the Hearing Impaired

how to deal with hearing lossOver the past 14 years, I’ve experienced gradual, but significant hearing loss.  A car accident, which left me with head trauma and subsequent hearing impairment, sealed my fate at a young age.

Hearing loss is not something noticeably visible. Being a business owner, I want to focus on what I can bring to the table, rather than my shortcomings, so I usually do not open my meetings by announcing that I’m deaf to high pitches.

It’s a daily struggle to interact with others on a level where I am taken seriously as a communications professional, especially when any conversation I have is immediately strained.   A person with hearing loss must be ‘on alert’ for fear of missing something vital. I often misunderstand simple requests such as when a cashier asks for my ZIP code or if I want paper or plastic bags. At times, I guess the answer and end up feeling foolish. Family and friends sometimes ask, “Why don’t I just tell them I have hearing loss?”

Because I know what the rest of the encounter will typically entail, which includes one or a combination of the reactions listed below. Here are some insights that may help you when communicating with someone with hearing loss.

Clarity vs. Shouting.  When people learn about my hearing loss, some respond by talking very loudly. Increased volume may help for some who have difficulty hearing, but not all hearing problems are the same. Shouting doesn’t do much to help in my case, so it simply annoys me. In my case, the best tactics are to make eye contact, speak clearly and avoid mumbling.

Talking in ‘slow-mo.’ Visualize the TV screen when you hit the lowest level on the rewind button of a VCR. That’s talking to someone in slow motion and it’s typically unhelpful when talking to me. I find that folks often go overboard in over-enunciating their words.  For me, talking in a normal voice works fine, as long as you don’t mumble.

Avoidance.  It’s difficult for me to attend social functions because I fear that I will misinterpret or totally miss parts of a conversation. But, I put my best foot forward and do it anyway.  If I can make the effort, I hope others can, too. I want you to communicate with me and I want to feel like a part of the conversation despite my limitations.  So, please don’t avoid me.  You might need to speak a little more clearly, but I’m ready and willing to engage in conversation!

Learning to better communicate with the hearing impaired may actually help to improve our overall communication skills. As a society, we encounter so many distractions that we’ve become poor communicators.  I’d like to see that change.

Whether you’re communicating with a spouse, a colleague or friend, think of how you can enhance the conversation by making eye contact and speaking clearly. It may make a huge difference in the way the conversation is perceived – and I know it will certainly help anyone who might have hearing loss.

A portion of this blog was originally featured on Xpressive Handz.

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5 comments on “Tips for Communicating with the Hearing Impaired”

  1. Great post indeed! Being the mother of a deaf child I can say that communicating with hard of hearing is not an easy task. Sometimes, I have to use hand written notes, and hand postures to make him understand what I am saying. When I came to know that he has hearing loss in both of his ears, I was shocked and thought that his hearing would change our lives, but it is not so. When I came to know about online hearing test from one of my friends, there was a hope for improvement in his hearing. I consulted for hearing test and now I am happy to see the improvements in his hearing condition. Now, he wears hearing aids in both of his ears.

    1. Amazing story, Cathleen. Thank you for sharing. I can't image the strength you've needed to deal with everyday challenges. Bless your heart.

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