HAVE YOU HEARD?
Gael Hannan, Editor
The Better Hearing Consumer addresses the personal experience of living with hearing loss. Editor Gael Hannan, and her occasional guest bloggers, explore every corner of the hearing loss life with humor and poignancy. Comment Policy

When people with hearing loss gather together—like 1500 of them—you’d think it would be noisy.  Loud voices talking over each other, yelling what?! or pardon?!

In some ways, however, we are a quieter crowd than an equivalent number of hearing people. If more than one person talks at a time, we don’t understand anybody, so we generally honor the one-speaker rule. And some people don’t speak much at all because they’re bluffing throughout the conversation. Perhaps they’ve never accepted the facts that they have the right to participate, that it’s OK to ask for repeats, and that they must let others know what they need in order to hear or understand. Otherwise they are consigning ourselves to the black hole of non-communication.

Last week, 1500 people with hearing loss from 22 countries gathered in Washington, DC for the joint convention of the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) and the International Federation of Hard of Hearing People (IFHOH).  It was the event on the annual hearing loss calendar for HoHs (aka hard of hearing people).HOHS

For a few hundred attendees, it was the first time they connected with others who have hearing loss.  The ‘newbies’ are easy to spot—they’re the gobsmacked ones with glistening eyes: “OMG, these are my people! They understand!” Powerful, life-changing stuff.

In this, the world’s most accessible environment, the plenaries, workshops and even social events were captioned, looped and amplified. But the personal conversations required a bit more work, and at the convention’s opening ceremonies, I explained a few ground rules of communication when yer talkin’ to a HoH:

We don’t all speak the same language. Most of us do not use sign.  But what we all do is communicate and our goal must be to do that better.  Here we are, wired with technology that receives and sends signals. We write stuff down and read anything with words on it—screens with captioning, people’s lips, name badges.  We say pardon a thousand times a day.

But you have to let people know you are talking to them!  And that can be kind of hard, for hard of hearing people. Get their attention, maybe with a little wave and a big smile, to let them know that you come in peace.

Have your name badge at a readable level at your body, because if we don’t quite get your name when you say it, we’ll search for it on your badge. Some of us just grab the badge and read it.  But most people, especially if they’ve forgotten your name from before, try to read it without getting caught. If your badge is sitting low—on your stomach, say—eyes are going to travel down your body, so unless this is what you want, hold up the badge.  “Hi, I’m Gael from Canada, where no, I don’t live in an igloo.” name badge

Don’t stand too close when talking. This isn’t just because of personal space violation. How can you speechread when you’re touching noses? That’s not communicating—that’s making out. Back off a bit so you can talk without crossed eyes.

Don’t talk with food in your mouth. If someone asks you a question while you’re eating, swallow quickly and do the tongue-over-teeth sweep to remove any bits. Pulled pork hanging from your lip or a gob of spinach wedged in your pearly whites is very distracting for speechreaders

Make sure your facial expressions match your words. Don’t say happy stuff with a sad face.  None of this “I’m really happy to meet you” with the face you normally reserve for cleaning toilets. Don’t laugh while you say, “Yeah, I lost 30dB of hearing this year!” You’ll confuse people or worse, creep them out.

HoHs can be just as impatient as hearing people.  If someone repeatedly asks you to repeat yourself, don’t roll your eyes and think, “Wow, is this guy ever deaf!” Maybe it’s how you speak. Try rephrasing, moving to a quieter spot, or writing it down. And it would help if you’re sure you’re speaking the same language.  As someone rattles on, wouldn’t it be polite—at some point—to let them know that you actually don’t speak Hebrew?  That they lost you at shalom? Or bonjour, hola, ciao, or Namaste?

The number one rule is NO BLUFFING. Why would you travel across the country or halfway around the world just to nod your head and smile like an idiot?  If you don’t understand, admit it. If you’re tired of saying pardon, cup your ear, or make those faces that let people know you can’t understand them and need a repeat.

Faking Interest

Faking Interest

Don’t let other people bluff, either. It’s easy to spot—they just don’t seem connected. They look around to see what other people are doing and then copy their facial expressions. Don’t let them fall into the bluffing pit—these are your fellow HoHs.

That’s about it.  Wave and smile and meet people. Ask for clarification. Don’t bluff. Share stories. Learn. Because this is the best place in the world for that.

If you are affected by hearing loss, consider connecting with an organization in your area.  Next year’s HLAA convention will be held in Salt Lake City in June 2017. The Canadian Hard of Hearing Association conference will be held in Victoria BC, May 25-27th.  I’ll be at both—meet me there.

 

 

This is a simple plea: let there be light.

If you’re speaking with people like me—who have hearing loss and who depend to some degree on speechreading—make sure we can see your face.

Your whole face.  All the time.

That means no shadows.  Examples of shadow-makers include baseball caps, light from beneath or above—which has the added disadvantage of making you look ghoulish—and dim lighting.shadows

You might think, “C’mon! Even if there are shadows, you can still see the face beneath.”  Perhaps, but shadows make understanding speech that much harder.  And if only half of your face is visible, we’re not even getting half the message. Without the speech clues from your facial expressions, or in the movement of your jaw, lips, tongue and teeth, we might not understand you properly—or at all.

And please don’t stand in front of a window or other light source.  This has the unfortunate effect of blocking out your features, like a person on those “real life” TV crime shows who may be in the witness protection program, or who must remain anonymous when spilling the beans, so the bad guys won’t identify and come after them.

And we shouldn’t have to remind you that we want the light on your face, not the back of your head.  It’s rather difficult…let me amend that….it’s freaking impossible to tell what your lips are saying if they are invisible to us,  pointed in another direction.

One of my early and most painful experiences of the facial blackout problem happened in Grade 9.  Our class was having its first weekend class party and we were all excited because for the first time, this meant dancing. More importantly, it meant slow dancing which, in those days, involved clutching each other and swaying slowly from side to side, maybe making two full rotations by the end of the song.  And adding to the excitement: the basement lights would be very dim or completely off.

Does this bring back warm and thrilling memories of your school days?

Those of us who were teenagers with hearing loss remember it differently. Look at it from a speechreader’s perspective; it was dark and your head was on somebody’s shoulder, which would be fine if the boy didn’t try to say anything while you were dancing.

And IF you heard him ask you to dance in the first place.

My girlfriends and I were sitting against the wall, pretending to groove to the music. A dark shape loomed in front of us. From the dim light outlining him, I recognized—oh, let’s call him Ryan—from his height and somewhat pointy head.  He was my secret crush and my heart started beating faster.

But the shape didn’t appear to doing or saying anything, not from what I could hear, given the loud music and his blacked-out face.  As the other girls just sat there, I wondered if he might possibly be asking me to dance.  But what if I stood up just when the girl he was asking, stood up at the same time? How embarrassing would that be?  To a 15 year-old, that would be humiliating beyond belief, causing a good cry in the bathroom and an attack of low self-esteem because of this stupid hearing loss!

So I just sat there, grooving. The figure turned and slunk away. My girlfriends turned on me, “You moron! Why didn’t you dance with him?”  Even to them, I wasn’t going to admit my real problem. “Because I don’t like him, OK?  He’s a goofball.”

 I never had another chance with Ryan. But since then, I have a policy of not conversing with anyone whose face I cannot see.

 

The Speechreader’s Prayer lips

 

May your words flow clearly

And may your lips move slowly

May the light shine nicely

Making your face all bright-ly.