Can You Smell Better with Hearing Loss? (And Other Crazy Questions)

“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?

“Yes.”

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.

About Gael Hannan

Gael Hannan is a writer, speaker and advocate on hearing loss issues. In addition to her weekly blog for HearingHealthMatters.org, which has an international following, Gael wrote the acclaimed book "The Way I Hear It: A Life with Hearing Loss". She is regularly invited to present her uniquely humorous and insightful work to appreciative audiences around the world. Gael has received many awards for her work, which includes advocacy for a more inclusive society for people with hearing loss. She lives with her husband on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada.

7 Comments

  1. I especially liked the “advocacy” response. I almost always take these occasions to advocate for those of us who are HOH. For me this is a personal responsibility as a member of HLAA & a way to pay it forward.

  2. Just like the waitress in a restaurant who asked me what kind of service dog I had. I responded that Bosley was a hearing ear dog who helped me to hear.

    Whereupon she bent down and bellowed into the dog’s face, “SO WHAT WOULD YOUR OWNER LIKE TO ORDER?”

    I kid you not. After I stopped laughing so hard I almost peed my pants, I gave the woman my order.

  3. Ah, which story should I tell? LOL Because number one is similar, I’ll tell you that I actually had a U.S. Customs agent cover his mouth as he spoke, just after I said “The first thing you need to know about me is I read lips and need to see you speak in order to understand you.”, as a joke. He’s the only one that thought it was funny.

  4. Great post. Having lost all hearing 2 years ago, I can certainly relate to the challenge concerning hearing people who, even with the best intentions, may not understand our silent plight. I am especially impressed by your closing sentiments to “treat each question as an opportunity to advocate, inform – and perhaps support…” Not all questions are unreasonable either– For example, I DO SEE BETTER since losing all hearing, my eye site is clinically better and my over visual perception is far keener. I just explained this my blog post. I value your take on it. “If you could only see what I see!” http://brianpatrickjensen.com/?p=2233

  5. Very well put, Gael! As a late-deafened person who uses a cochlear implant, I get the same questions you posed all too frequently. Thank you for providing ammunition for quick retorts. I hope to see you soon.

  6. Good responses Gael!! It is soooo hard to be an advocate all the time with these ‘ignorant’ people though! I remember once on the way back from a trip and having to ask for the announcements on the plane, each time the steward said….did you hear that one?? My response was not as an advocate that time- The closer I get to Edmonton the better my hearing doesn’t get! At least he stopped asking the question!

  7. Excellent post. We people with hearing loss who speak and listen are usually on our own because our disability is invisible. Asking a person to speak up only last a New York minute. We need to let the hearing population know about our hearing loss even though we sometimes get their eye roll. There are hearing people out there who are also losing their hearing and they should know they are not the only one who cannot hear well. This fall I have been ask to speak to third year medical students about the issue of hearing loss since The Ohio State University Medical School wants their interns to become familiar with all disabilities. I am 75 years old and still kicking.

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