A few weeks ago, we published a blog detailing how to be respectful and considerate of your loved one with hearing loss. Today we’ll discuss the best ways for those of us who have hearing loss to empower and assert ourselves. Ultimately the responsibility lies with us to communicate our needs.
Not just ‘What?’, But ‘How?’
It’s not enough to tell people you have hearing loss. Wearing hearing aids or having hearing loss may indicate any range of needs. Specify how you need assistance. For example, ‘I can’t hear very well so I need you to look at me while you speak.’
Or ‘I’m hard of hearing. This means I would appreciate it if you would give me a tap on the shoulder when you speak to me so I know I’m being spoken to.’
Constructing Personal Boundaries
There is a specific scenario that the hard of hearing community encounters often. You’re in public, maybe at your favorite sandwich shop. It’s one of those places where you place your order and they call your name to come get your sandwich. Suddenly, you notice everyone is staring at you while a sandwich shop employee stares you down, impatiently shouting your name at you. You feel stupid. Embarrassment hits and your cheeks turn red. You quickly grab your sandwich and mumble ‘thank you’.
This is what we call a boundary lapse. You leave your context (where you’re hard of hearing) and fall into theirs (where you’re stupid and not paying attention). These moments happen so quickly that it can take a lot of practice to address them in the moment while keeping your dignity intact. While we understand that, rationally, these people are just normal, impatient people caught up in their own world and unaware of ours. Our sensitive egos tell us that they are cruel people who are out to make us feel excluded and stupid.
I find that the best way to handle these situations is to approach them with the intent to educate. You may state clearly, ‘Sorry about that. I wear hearing aids and I can’t hear when people are not standing near me.’
Most of the time, this is all that needs to be said. Impatient sandwich shop worker will become embarrassed and end the interaction quickly or will apologize. In any case, you have stood up for yourself and educated someone in the process.
Not bad for a simple trip to the sandwich shop.
Knowledge is Power
Beginning a new class or job can be the easiest time to address your needs head on. This can be as simple as taking your teacher / boss aside and saying,
‘Hi, I’m Eli. I wear hearing aids. I am deaf in one ear and partially deaf in the other. This means that I have trouble hearing people who are not looking directly at me in close range. I just wanted to raise awareness; otherwise I will let you know if I have specific needs.’
You are protecting the feelings of everyone involved by putting all of you on the same page. Additionally, you are now working with someone who is presumably an ally for your needs.
If you’re in an office or classroom, do your best to communicate your location needs. If only one of your ears work, do your best to ask for seating that will accommodate that. Arrive early to get the best seating for you or ask your teacher / boss to accommodate you by reserving a seat for you.
Seeing is Believing
There are three different types of learners; auditory, visual, and kinesthetic. Most people with hearing loss (specifically those who have had hearing loss from a young age) will be visual learners. You will need to see and visualize information rather than hear it. In the classroom or workplace, this means that you may want to request written agendas before meetings or a written copy of lectures. This is a simple request and it never hurts to ask!
Location, Location, Location
We have all experienced it. Someone is trying to talk to us in a room where the window’s open and street traffic is blaring outside. Or maybe some construction workers are playing with jackhammers right outside the restaurant where your coworkers love to grab lunch. Instead of suffering through a meal of staring at people’s faces and copying everyone else’s reactions as if you’re playing group charades, why not suggest a different location? It’s as simple as,
‘Hey. I really want to hear what you’re saying, but this room and the background noise is making it really difficult. Would you mind if we moved our conversation down the hall?’
This way you don’t have to suffer through guesstimating an entire conversation and your friends and co-workers will (probably) feel appreciated.
Hearing loss is an invisible condition. Most of the time, others will not notice your hearing aids or know you have hearing loss. This makes it feel easier and safer to nod along to conversations instead of asserting yourself. All relationships take effort and, sometimes with hearing loss, they may take a bit more. Don’t let this intimidate you. By raising awareness of your needs, you invite others to share the burden with you. It may take time, but by the fourth time you say, ‘Sorry. I need to walk on the other side of you.’ People will start to take notice. Those who care about you will do their best to accommodate you and assist you in vulnerable situations.
And for those who don’t? Well, they’ll learn a lesson when you say,
‘Oh, you needed that project today? Sorry. I didn’t hear you.’