“You have hearing loss? Really!? You speak so well!” (Because my mommy taught me.)
“You don’t look like you have hearing loss.” (You were maybe expecting a permanent expression of “huh?”)
Here’s some breaking news: I WANT YOU TO KNOW I DON’T HEAR WELL.
That way, you’ve got a head start on my needs. You and I just make minor adjustments and we’ll communicate beautifully. There’s no shame or embarrassment in having hearing loss. We’ve worked hard to get rid of that stigma. And we don’t mind talking about it or explaining our technology.
I’m sure some people might still wonder if we’re hard of hearing, we might also be hard of thinking, or hard of being smart. That’s just old-fashioned, out-of-date, ignorant stigma. Sure, like most people on the planet, we may have other impairments – such as needing reading glasses or having a chronic bum knee, but these have nothing to do with our hearing challenges. (Of course, some people have conditions that cause multiple disabilities, including hearing loss.)
So now that we’ve got that out of the way, how can you tell if someone is having difficulty hearing you?
- We don’t respond when you speak to us from, say, behind our back.
- We answer a question incorrectly or say something that doesn’t fit with what you just said.
- We look at you a bit blankly. Then maybe smile a bit. Or nod. But we don’t reply.
- As we listen to you and others, we follow the speaker with our eyes.
- We’ve said pardon, excuse, please repeat that, more than twice in the last few minutes.
- We are wearing hearing aids.
- We actually tell you we have hearing loss.
In all of the examples above, except the last one, you would be correct in at least suspecting a hearing loss. What should you do?
First, the person should tell you upfront that they have hearing issues or are at least struggling in this particular listening situation. As a person with hearing loss, it’s my responsibility to let you know my needs.
But not everyone is me. Many of us, especially those new to hearing loss, have trouble spitting out the words please speak up, I’m hard of hearing, or whatever term they use to describe themselves. In that case, maybe you can help out a bit.
You could say something to invite a self-declaration and/or a solution. “You seem not to be hearing me, is my voice clear enough?” “It’s very noisy in here, what if we move over here.”
If you’re lucky, they’ll tell you they have hearing loss and what they need from you. If they don’t, you’ve done your best. Everybody deals with hearing loss in a different way, and some people take longer to accept it and learn effective strategies.
And until they ‘fess up, you’re always a good idea to practice good communication strategies with everyone.
- Speak in a clear voice (not too high or low, breathy or booming) at a reasonable pace.
- Speak face to face.
- Don’t cover your face with your hands, food, baseball hat shadow, etc.
- Match facial expressions with your words. You don’t need to be a clown, just smile if it’s good news or small talk but not if it’s bad news.
- Repeat your words if asked. Rephrasing is always a good idea.
Alrighty – go out and find some people with hearing loss and practice what you’ve learned today.