It can be difficult to know how to address a friend who has hearing loss. How do you talk about it? Should I treat her differently? What can she hear? Does she need me to speak really loudly and slowly?
As someone who is hard of hearing, I’ve put together a list of manners to bear in mind when interacting with someone who has hearing loss. This will help you to better support your loved one with hearing loss and set him / her at ease.
Terminology of Hearing Loss
Many people refer to those with hearing loss as the ‘hearing impaired’. This is actually considered to be offensive by many communities. Impaired is defined in the dictionary as “being weakened or damaged”. This phrasing gives a sense of those with hearing loss being lesser, weaker people, which, if you wear an Audicus hearing aid, you know is not only false, but also insulting. The more appropriate phrase is ‘hard of hearing’.
When speaking with someone who is hard of hearing, be sure to over communicate. Use their name to get their attention first. If they’re not facing you, a gentle touch on the shoulder is helpful to let them know you wish to speak to them. Sometimes when you just start speaking to someone who is hard of hearing, it takes them time to even realize they are being spoken to. Remember it takes people with hearing loss longer to process sound and speech. Do your best to be considerate of this.
Keep in mind consonants are often difficult for those who are hard of hearing, however consonants are also what give our language structure and meaning. Imagine only hearing the consonants in the word, ‘Cardboard’: “CRDBRD”. Now imagine only hearing the vowels in ‘cardboard’: “AAA -OOO”.
Be mindful that you don’t slow.. down.. to.. a.. snail’s.. pace.. and exaggerate… Ev-eer-eey.. sound. This can come across as patronizing and can be very hurtful. In addition, if your friend is lip reading, they will have difficulty identifying exaggerated pronunciations.
It can be helpful to identify the topic you wish to speak about first. This will assist your friend who is hard of hearing in placing the conversation within a certain context, allowing them to focus more time on listening rather than multitasking: listening while having their brain work double time to fill in the gaps.
Rephrase, Don’t Repeat
If the person you are speaking with asks you to repeat yourself, remember to rephrase your thoughts. By simply repeating them, you are repeating the same sounds that your partner struggled with to begin with. By rephrasing your thoughts and using different words, you are giving the person with hearing loss another way to understand and hear your thoughts differently.
Location Is Everything
When speaking with someone who is hard of hearing, they will likely require to see your face. This helps them gain emotional clues for what you’re saying as well as use your lip movements to lip read. Ensuring that your lips are visible (you are not backlit by a window, for example.) at all times will improve the success of the interaction.
It will also behoove you to gauge the noise level of your location. The background noise may sound minimal to you, but for someone with hearing loss, it can completely drown out all other sounds. This makes basic conversations difficult to nearly impossible. To best aid your friend with hearing loss, you may want to move to a quieter location. Remember to maintain eye contact at all times and do not speak as you or they are walking away.
Seeing is Believing
Those who are hard of hearing tend to be very visual. This is especially key in educational or workplace settings. They may need to see something written out rather than just spoken. Writing out the meeting agenda beforehand is a great tool as well as captioning / subtitling video content where possible.
Repetition is Key
You may have to repeat yourself many times when working with someone who is hard of hearing. Remember that their brain is being forced to work many times harder to fill in all of the information that they don’t hear naturally. This does not mean they are ‘slow’, it just means they need a little more time and a few key adjustments made.
R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Find Out What It Means To Me
Ultimately the best way to learn what your friend with hearing loss needs is to ask! By asking you will demonstrate your awareness of their challenge and your willingness to adjust to their needs. They will appreciate your efforts and the opportunity to explain their needs.
Hearing loss does not mean the same thing to any two people. Every person who is differently abled relates to their personal challenge in a completely unique and deeply personal way. Take the time to learn about the other person and it will result in a deeper bond as well as increased ease of communication.