How To Talk to a Hard of Hearing Person

Gael Hannan
October 4, 2011


Conversing with a hard of hearing person is much easier if you, the ‘hearing’ person,  are aware of the hearing loss.

If you don’t know that the person you’re talking to has a hearing problem, you might be forgiven for looking in another direction (into space for example) as you prattle on, or mumbling, or putting your hands in front of your mouth. It’s understandable that you might continue to speak softly, indistinctly, or use unconnected phrases with no verbs.  And how could you possibly know that your facial expressions and body language should match your actual words?

Question: What do the following have in common?

A. The chance that all the arrows of a blindfolded, novice archer will hit the bulls-eye

B. The likelihood that a hard of hearing person will understand all of the words you throw out to the universe

Answer: The accuracy rate for both of these is about the same – not very good. (But how could you be expected to know this?)

Many people  are hesitant to broadcast their hearing loss for a variety of reasons, but that’s not your problem.

So, if the hard of hearing person has not made you aware of their communication needs, you you’re off the hook!  You cannot be held accountable for assuming that this seemingly normal person requires anything beyond the standard communication mode of the hearing world.


Once someone tells you about their hearing loss, from that point on – forever and ever – you share the responsibility for effective face-to-face interaction with that person.

(Note: For those who care to re-read paragraph two – very carefully –  there’s no need to keep reading. All the basics are covered there.)

If you are like most ‘hearing’people, you may find you forget about the hearing loss from time to time, and lapse into poor communication.

My husband forgets, my 16-year-old son forgets.  My audiologist forgets.  And to be truthful, on some occasions, I forget too.

Why else would I start a conversation from another room, and expect my husband to think, “Well, even though Gael started talking to me from the kitchen, I know she won’t understand my response. Therefore, I shall get up from my comfy couch and go down and talk with my beloved, face-to-face, the way I should.” (Like that’s gonna happen, but I live in hope.)

If you do forget, on occasion, don’t beat yourself up too much…just re-read the guidelines below – and try harder next time.

How to Talk to a Hard of Hearing Person

1. With the same respect and courtesy that you accord to anyone.

2. Ask the person with hearing loss what would work best for optimal communication.

3. Get the person’s attention before starting to speak. It’s difficult to catch up when tuning in halfway through the first sentence.

4. People with hearing loss need to see the face. Make sure the light is on your face, and that nothing is obstructing their view of your lovely eyes and mouth.

5. Communication Calisthenics: Keep the head up, minimize head and body movement, keep mouth clear of hands and other objects, keep moustaches trimmed and lose the gum, food or cigarette.

6. Speech should be clear and at a normal or even slightly slower pace. Do not shout; this is painful to the ears and visually distorts the words, making speechreading difficult. You also run the risk of looking mean.

7. Facial expressions and body language should match words, helpful when a tone of voice can’t be heard.

8. Eliminate background noise, whenever possible.

9. If asked, use assistive technology: computers, text interpretation, captioning, FM systems, and amplification.

10. A reminder – ask the person with hearing loss if the communication is effective.

These are the basics. There’s an advanced course in Effective Communication for People With Hearing Loss, but this will do.

For a start.

  1. “And to be truthful, on some occasions, I forget too.” Phew, good to know I’m not alone. I think this is a common thing for those of us who started hearing and went deaf later – we keep forgetting we’re deaf! I often ask my husband questions while my head’s in the fridge deciding what to eat.

    Great article for those who live with people with hearing loss.

  2. Great blog on communication. We teach at the Lip Reading Academy that hard of hearing people should stop acting like hearing people and practice what you want others to do for you. Treat hearing people as if they are hard of hearing and they will respond the same.
    From Chattanooga, TN

  3. Great article, Gael, though some of us have heard all of this before, but as you pointed out, people (even we who are hard of hearing) forget and need to be reminded. I’ve shared this on the SayWhatClub’s facebook site.

    One other point that a hearing person might be interested in knowing: It’s impossible to see and read lips/speech when a person is backlit. If the hard of hearing person you are with asks to change the seating, or rushes to get the best seat at the table or in the room, it’s probably because they are trying their darnedest to do everything in their power to stack the deck in their favor. Skills those of us with progressive hearing loss spanning several decades learned subconsciously as we struggled along — anticipation, inference, and observation.

  4. Gael, it’s HOW you say it that makes a difference. Your article is fun to read and should reach the audience – hearing people – gently. Thanks for adding to the tools we have to keep on teaching and keep communicating.

    1. Thanks Kathy. Those of us with hearing loss who are active in the field, are immersed in this information. We forget that, for most of the hearing people ‘out there’, this is still new stuff.

  5. Thanks for this, Gael. I’ m going to pass this on to my eye doctor, who had to be told 3 times in 10 minutes to face me when speaking.

  6. Thank you Gael for this article. I will be sharing this with my family. There is one thing I find is different for me. Shouting doesn’t hurt my ears, but it does distort the words vocally as well as visually. That’s why I have difficulty hearing people on the phone when they start shouting. It becomes gibberish.

  7. My husband sits at table with laptop and I sit in chair several feet from him. It has come to the point where I don’t want to talk to him because if I say something he replies in a hostile tone, “what?” And then tells me I need to sit directly across from him to converse.

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