Explaining Us to Them

People with hearing loss often moan that ‘hearing’ people just don’t get what it’s like to have hearing loss.

            They think we use sign language.

            They don’t realize we need other types of visual information.

            They call us from another room or start talking before we’ve tuned in.

            They sometimes yell at us, thinking that louder is always better.

            They contort their mouths as they over-enunciate.

            They don’t understand why we do well in some conversations, but not in others.

  They forget, every time we chat, everything we explained to them last time.

People with hearing loss spend a lot of time explaining our communication needs to others. Or we don’t – which means we then spend a lot of time bluffing our way through conversations. Every person with hearing loss – who uses the spoken language and technology to communicate – has gone through some version of the following conversation. We’ll call the hearing person ‘Sarah’.

Sarah: Hi, I’m Sarah and yaddi yaddi yaddah….

Me:  Hi Sarah – could you slow down a bit, please; I have hearing loss and I’m not quite following you.

Sarah: Oh sorry, no problem. I totally understand because my mom was deaf, too.

Me: I’m not deaf but I use a hearing aid and a cochlear implant.

Sarah: Cool. But if you don’t have them on – should I say on or in – can you hear anything?

Me: Hardly anything – maybe a door slamming.

Sarah: Doesn’t that mean you’re deaf?

Me: Audiologically yes, I’m deaf. But I don’t call myself deaf because with my technology I hear quite well.

Sarah: Cool – so how much do you actually hear?

Me: How much do you hear?

Sarah: Oh gosh, pretty well everything. I think.

Me: Are you sure?

Sarah:  What do you mean?

Me: I’m just kidding you. With my technology, I hear a lot, a LOT. But we usually don’t know what we don’t hear. Like right now, I don’t hear the birds singing but I  would go nuts wandering around wondering what I was not hearing. 

Sarah: Just so you know, the birds are singing.

Me: I’ll take your word for it.

Sarah: So, do you do the signing thing?

Me: Just a bit – like the signs for ‘thank you’ and ‘I need to go to the bathroom’. 

Sarah: But if you’re deaf, which you are but you don’t say it, wouldn’t you sign?

Me: That’s why I don’t say I’m deaf because people would expect me to use sign language and I don’t. Most of us with hearing loss use the spoken language to communicate – like you talk and I hear and vice versa. My technology helps me do this. I speechread and all sorts of other strategies, like telling you what I need. So, I say that I have ‘hearing loss’ or that I’m ‘hard of hearing’. 

Sarah: Oh wow, you read lips? (Mouthing) WHAT AM I SAYING?

Me: Hmm, I think you just said what am I saying?

Sarah: Wow, you’re good!

Me: Yes, I am. But what am I saying is what everyone tests us with. Nobody tests us with something like climate change is not a hoax. THAT would be difficult to speechread.

Sarah: If technology is so good, why do people with hearing aids still say pardon a lot? Like my friend’s deaf aunt who uses hearing aids, and still ….

Me: Pardon?

Sarah: What?

Me: You turned your head away, and I didn’t catch the last thing you said.

Sarah: Oh it was nothing, just about my aunt.

Me: Don’t say that it was nothing. Maybe what you said about your aunt was interesting or boring, but I should be the judge of that.

Sarah: Sorry. Will your hearing ever get better?

Me: No, but my technology gets better all the time and that works for me.

Sarah: This is so interesting! Especially because you’re so young to have, you know, the hearing loss. You are so inspiring.

Me: Because I read lips and say pardon a lot?

Sarah: No, because you seem so cool with it all.

Me: Thanks, but I don’t have a choice. This is my life and how I hear.

Sarah: Still. Anyway, it’s nice to meet you. Did you notice how I completely faced you when I said that?

Me: You’re awesome.

This imaginary conversation is partly real because it happens all the time in various forms.  It’s part of the hearing loss life and it’s how we hear.



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.


  1. Insightful reminder about what makes hearing loss unique from other conditions. Being a stutterer, and also around family with mobility problems, I can say any condition has areas that are misunderstood by people without the condition. There’s s bit of comfort in knowing that no one condition is singled out for misunderstanding.

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