“You have your hearing aids in, how come you didn’t hear me?”
“I guess you see better than other people because of your hearing loss, eh?”
It’s difficult to understand hearing loss if you don’t have it. We know this because hard of hearing people are asked variations of these and many more questions all the time. Every day, everywhere we go. Hearing people seem to have a better grasp of Deaf Culture, even though they might not know a Deaf person and probably know many hard of hearing people.
The comments and questions range from the reasonable to simply silly to outrageously ignorant. Some hard of hearing people are offended by these questions, while others laugh them off. Most of us will try to explain what it’s like, but it’s not easy to express the emotional and practical impact of communication barriers. Even the most easy-going and articulate among us are irritated by comments that are delivered in a flip or disbelieving tone, with the result that nothing positive is accomplished.
I believe that most hearing people are basically uninformed about hearing loss, and their questions show that they are curious and care about learning about our issue – perhaps because they suspect a hearing loss in themselves or a family member.
To a simple request to speak up, here’s a short but by no means exhaustive list of crazy-making comments and questions we might receive, along with some possible responses to try out.
“Would you mind speaking up, I’m hard of hearing?”
1. PARDON? (HA, HA, HA!)
Your normal (and probably the best) response is simply to smile, although you’re thinking, “Thank you for subjecting me to that joke which I’ve heard, oh, about a million times!”
Next time, try one of these:
“You too, huh?”
“My point exactly!”
(Loudly), “I said, would you mind speaking up, I’m hard of hearing!”
2. OH, I’M SORRY!
You answer, “No problem”, or give a little wave of the hand.
How about: “Don’t be, I’M not!” The person has nothing to be sorry for – they didn’t cause your hearing loss – and besides, you certainly don’t need any pity.
3. YOU DON’T LOOK IT! // YOU’D NEVER KNOW!
You answer with another little laugh, but inside you’re thinking, “Well, I’m not trying to hide anything. And what do you think ‘hard of hearing’ looks like, anyway? I’ve met thousands of hard of hearing people and none of them look alike, beyond the presence of technology somewhere on our respective bodies.”
Try a simple version of this: “This IS what hearing loss looks like – we’re just regular people, and we have nothing to hide.”
4. …AND YET YOU SPEAK SO WELL.
“Thank you, I went to school, had parents who spoke, stuff like that.”
And if that’s not edgy enough, you’re thinking: “What, you were expecting me to bark or maybe schlurr my wordsh?”
Try, “Well thank you. Hearing loss doesn’t necessarily affect speech, especially acquired hearing loss. And technology helps – generally speaking, the better we hear ourselves, the better our diction.”
5. CAN YOU SIGN? I JUST LOVE SEEING DEAF PEOPLE SIGNING!
“No,” you answer with a sigh, although you may be thinking, “But I know a choice sign or two that I’d like to show you right now!”
Be an advocate: “Like the majority of people with hearing loss, I use spoken language to communicate. Sign language is wonderful, but it’s not MY language.”
6. IS THERE A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN DEAF AND HARD OF HEARING?
And, if you have the energy, time and desire, you will give a more in-depth description of hearing loss, communication options and accommodation choices. If you don’t, refer them to one of your friends.
7. YOU WEAR HEARING AIDS, HOW COME YOU’RE STILL NOT GETTING WHAT I SAY?
“Hearing aids don’t ‘cure’ hearing loss the way that glasses correct vision issues.”
This is the single best answer to give to a common misconception. I’m open to other suggestions.
8. DO YOU READ LIPS? YEAH? OK, (mouthing exaggeratedly), WHAT AM I SAYING?
You watch, think and ‘guess’: “What am I saying?” When they express delight at your cleverness, you smile proudly.
Inside you’re thinking all sorts of rude things about how like a yawning cow they look, but you restrain yourself, right?
9. OH, IT’S NOT IMPORTANT.
You think and say the same thing: “Yes, it IS important, or you wouldn’t have said it. Please repeat it.”
10. BECAUSE OF YOUR HEARING LOSS, DO YOU SEE BETTER, HAVE A BETTER SENSE OF SMELL OR READ BRAILLE?
“No, no and no” (unless, of course, you are proficient in Braille.)
You’d like to answer:
“Did you perhaps not notice that I’m wearing glasses?
I won’t even go there on the sense of smell thing, except to repeat that one sense does not necessarily compensate for another.
As for the question about Braille (and I attribute this comment to an unknown writer on the internet): sure I read Braille, I just rub my ear all over it and know what it means!”
But you don’t., because you know that most people are asking out of interest.
Let’s be patient, people, use our nice-words and treat each question as an opportunity to advocate, inform – and perhaps support someone who is privately struggling with personal hearing loss.