What a HoH Needs to Know (to Explain Hearing Loss)

Note:  Person with hearing loss = hard of hearing person = HoH

 

She did it again—she started talking to me from another room. 

His baseball cap shades his eyes, and I always have to ask him to take it off.

 

People with hearing loss complain that other people don’t accommodate us, or make an effort to meet our needs.

 

But, is it possible that….maybe…some of the ‘fault’ lies with us? Perhaps the people we care about (and even those we don’t) may not truly have the full picture of our hearing loss? Are we perhaps unrealistic in expecting them to recognize and remember our communication challenges in the very moment they occur? And when they don’t, do we spit it out, expecting them to instantly and expertly adapt on demand?

The issue of hearing loss is big and complicated.  It takes time and a great deal of information for hearing people to absorb the full scope of our needs.  We can help by boiling it down into digestible chunks.

 

There are four main messages—words that a HoH should know how to say and that our circle of hearing family, friends and assorted others need to grasp:  the fact that we have hearing loss, what technology can and cannot do, an overview of communication tactics and, finally, the nitty-gritty details of what we all have to do in any given moment (and which, of course, are subject to change without notice).

 

Message #1:  I have hearing loss.  This is the starting point. I need to tell you this, and you need to absorb it. Once that’s done, there are things we both need to do in order to communicate, because it takes two to tango.

 

Message #2:  I use technology (hearing aids or a cochlear implant) that can help amplify sounds, block out unwanted noise, and tell me what direction sound is coming from. But even with this electronic support, I may not understand in quite the same way or in quite the same time frame as you.

 

Message #3:  This is what I need from you—all the timebecause my hearing loss is permanent, although I hear better on some days than on others.  

  • To see your face so that I can speechread you. This means your entire face: eyes, eyebrows, mouth (and, unfortunately, the tongue and teeth inside it) and jaw.
  • Clear articulation.
  • A minimum of background sounds, because noise interferes with speech comprehension.
  • Acceptance that I may need you to repeat, or reword, what you say.
  • Realizing that although I may seem to be following the conversation, I may, in fact, be lost. (However, it’s also my responsibility to not ‘bluff’ in the first place and to admit that I’m having difficulty following).
  • Total recall of my hearing loss needs.
  • Courtesy and patience even if I get emotional or cranky.
  • (Those last two are a tall order, but a HoH can dream, can’t she?)

 

Message #4: These are the brass tacks—what I may ask you for in any given moment to improve communication:

  • Face me
  • Speak louder
  • Don’t shout
  • Take your hand away from your face
  • Move your lips
  • Say that again (and again…)
  • Rephrase what you just said
  • Remove your hat
  • Take off your sunglasses
  • Turn down the music/noise
  • Don’t talk with food in your mouth
  • Move into the light
  • Come closer
  • Write that down
  • Don’t nod your head while talking

 

 

The above points are all commands.  To make them easier to comply with (and make you seem like a nicer person), you can pretty up the requests with please, thank you, would you mind, and I’m sorry, but…Of course, these nice words are optional but trust me, they help keep things civil and emotions from overheating.  Saying sorry doesn’t mean we’re apologizing for our hearing loss; it’s a common figure of speech, a placeholder, an introduction into what we really want to say.  If you can eliminate it, do so.  Saying please doesn’t mean that we are groveling or begging for communication crumbs from the table.  It’s just polite—part of the happy dance of people who talk together.  A quick gesture of thanks—a word, nod or smile—when they do what we ask will help reinforce our needs, and may help them remember what to do the next time. Hey, I’m supposed to face her, because that helps her understand, and our chat goes more smoothly. 

 

These are the words a HoH should know how to say, in our own style of talking.  And, as people with hearing loss, it might be time to drop the self-damaging notion that other people are deliberately trying to provoke us by ignoring our needs or not responding fast enough.  It’s very easy to forget the ‘rules’ during the normal ebb and flow of a conversation, but guess what?  People with hearing loss do it too. Yes—we do. Because we’re not perfect people or perfect communicators either.  But if we’re clear about what we need, and perhaps cut the other guy a little slack, we will be better communicators.

 

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. Great stuff Gael,

    You truly have a knack for telling it like it is and offering practical spot-on advice. Thank you once again for making our daily trudge on the road to happy destiny that much more tolerable and gratifying!

  2. This is really excellent and better than some handouts that I have to distribute.
    I love your writing style
    My one suggestion is that number 3 needs to capitalize ALL THE TIME . :>)

    Peace

    Dale

  3. If you were at a party and gave that speech to everyone there, people would think you were really focused on yourself and not want to talk. I think it might be easier to tell them, you are hard of hearing and if they ask questions, you could give more details. If I say I am hard of hearing, they say: That’s alright. But to me, it’s not alright, if I can’t hear them. They don’t really ask questions because they really aren’t interested. Sometimes, they speak louder because that is the natural response….if you can’t hear, I’ll talk louder. I try communicating my problem to people and some understand but usually it’s only those who are empathetic or have experienced hearing loss themselves. Sorry to be negative but I think it’s better to give regular reminders to people as you talk to them.

    1. I didn’t think of this as a speech to be given, but merely a summary of what a person with hearing loss needs to convey. Not all at once, but what’s applicable to a situation.

  4. Hello Gael,

    Glad I found your blog as I will visit often.

    This was an interesting article; however, if anyone calls me “hard of hearing” they will get a look so sharp it could cut stone. I am not hard of anything … I just have lousy hearing.

    Also, I go by the fact that everyone has something they are dealing with. If we all “nicely demanded” others to adopt to OUR issue, that’s all everyone would be doing. I would be adopting Person “A’s” sight issues, Person “B” would be adopting to Person “C’s” mobility issues, and so on.

    Perhaps in need to know situations, but in nice to know situations, the world doesn’t revolve around MY hearing loss. We all try to accommodate each other, but within reason. If I am with someone in a wheelchair, I certainly would only suggest a restaurant with a ramp and wide restroom stall. But I am not going to start seeking a table in this particular location when the group might want to sit in the back and enjoy the view anymore than I would want people to pick a quiet restaurant for me when everyone wants to go to Restaurant “A” and listen to the music.

    Sure, I will suggest things from time to time and when we have meetings at work with need to know information, there’s a captionist. But otherwise, life goes on.

    And somehow with my lousy hearing and hearing aids (profound progressive nerve deafness … can’t hear anything when the aids are out), I’ve accomplished a few things in life. You can visit my Linked In page, which hasn’t been updated to include my involvement with the new Hearing Loss Assoc. of America chapter. I’ve been a member for years, belonged to one chapter for a while, and then decided to get involved in other activities. Now that a new chapter is forming, I am back again.

    I wrote a column about my hearing loss and buying a smartphone. The photo isn’t the best, but the column might interest you.

    http://www.oc-breeze.com/2015/01/18/65573_marketing-and-more-trying-to-be-smart-with-my-new-smartphone/

    You have definitely been very successful in your life and I tip my hat (or hearing aid) to you.

    Regards,

    Robin

  5. This is excellent! Thank you for such sweet clarity. I have two very precious HoH grandchildren. One has two implants, the other a hearing aid and an implant. I will send this to every one I know, and discuss it with my kindergarten granddaughter. We all need to work together and be patient with ourselves and each other.
    Again, thank you do much!

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