Those who have hearing loss have a wide range of experiences. Some people are hesitant to disclose their situation, while others are quite open about what life is like from their perspectives. Some people with hearing loss would like more help, while others feel resistant to any form of assistance. While some people are able to explain to you what they need to make communication work, others simply can’t describe what would make things better.
Although each person’s experience of hearing loss is unique, there are some trends that you can keep in mind when it comes to interacting. Although a person might push back against any of these general principles, the important thing is to open a dialogue, creating space for openness, expression, and safe disclosure. If you open the door to this type of communication, you might be surprised by what you discover. These general claims form the position of a person with hearing loss should be a way to open that door as you interact.
“I’m not stupid.”
When you see it spelled out so plainly, it might seem obvious and even offensive to you that some people with hearing loss feel as if they are being treated like they are not intelligent. Although you might not have that intention at all, some of our communication habits can make people feel like we’re talking down to them.
If you slow down your language to an extreme, simplify your sentences, put breaks between words, or take other speech accommodation approaches, you might be doing so with the best of intentions. However, those styles of communication can come off as rude or even insulting.
When you are communicating with someone who has hearing loss, be careful not to change the way you speak too much. Raising the volume a little bit doesn’t hurt, but a subtle shift in your approach can sometimes make it feel like you’re talking down to this person.
“I’m quickly exhausted.”
If you can get inside the experience of someone with hearing loss trying to make sense of a conversation, you won’t be surprised that they can become quickly fatigued. Rather than hearing entire words or phrases, they often pick up only fragments of language or isolated syllables. With such insufficient sound to work with, they are then expected to put together that communication puzzle and quickly respond with an appropriate answer to a question or a follow-up comment in a conversation. The rush to try to understand language and then turn it around into comprehension and response can be quite exhausting. If a person with hearing loss shies away from big social gatherings where lots of conversations will be necessary, who can blame them? If a person with hearing loss cuts short a conversation abruptly, perhaps this exhaustion is part of the explanation.
“Here’s how you can help…”
Although changing your style of speech to the extreme can come off as insulting, there are simple things you can do to help make communication easier.
Simply remembering to only speak to the person when you are in a room together can make a world of difference. Though you might feel like you’re raising your volume sufficiently when you call out from another room, your visual cues, such as facial expression, mouth movement, and body language, are important missing pieces of the puzzle.
Simply wait to speak until you are in the same room with the person who has hearing loss. In an ideal case, wait until you are directly in front of the person. This position makes it easiest to hear and see what you are trying to communicate.
Other things you can do to help depend on the individual. Some people like to be assisted in conversations by a relay system, repeating what others have asked, while other people might find that intrusive.
Some people like you to stand near their good ear if one of them works better than the other. The key is to get acquainted with the individual needs of the person with hearing loss.
Simply asking is the most direct and simplest way to figure out how to help. Your intention to make communication easier goes a long way toward building that bridge in the future.
If you are concerned about your hearing abilities or that of a loved one, it is important to seek a hearing test! Contact us today to schedule an appointment for a consultation.