Then I Said, “I’m A Little Bit Deaf”

I am a big believer in letting people know about my hearing loss right up front. I try to announce my loss at the start of group meetings, inform tour guides and instructors before a talk, and mention it to doctors at the start of an appointment. But the right words to use to communicate my hearing loss to others has always stumped me.

Living With Hearing Loss | A Hearing Loss Blog

There are many different options.

“I have a hearing loss.”

“I am hearing impaired.”

“I don’t hear well.”

“I wear hearing aids.”

“I am a little bit deaf.”

Several convey the message adequately, but the one that got the most helpful response for me recently was, “I am a little bit deaf.”

I tried it out on a new yoga teacher who had an incredibly quiet speaking voice. I chose the words purposefully because I knew I would have difficulty understanding his instructions in class. I wanted him to think it was serious.

“Do you have any injuries I should know about?” he asked me before class. “No, but I am a little bit deaf,” I replied. “Don’t worry, I will set up my mat in the middle of the room so I can follow along by watching the other students,” I continued.

He paused a moment in surprise and said “Really?” I guess I don’t look the part since I am not the stereotypical senior citizen with hearing issues. This question was a great opportunity for me to answer, “Yes, I wear hearing aids which help a lot, but if you could please make an effort to speak clearly and face towards me when you talk, I would appreciate it.”

And, after that exchange, he did.

Maybe it was the element of surprise that made him remember to speak louder or that the word “deaf” sounds more severe to the uninitiated than “hearing loss.” Or maybe it was the specific instructions I provided. I’m not sure, but whatever it was, it worked like a charm.

The teacher spoke very clearly during class and made a point to stand close to me when giving instructions for any complicated postures. I really appreciated his efforts.

For years, I have avoided using the word deaf to describe myself. I don’t consider myself deaf in the strictest definition of the word since I have significant residual hearing which I augment with hearing aids. And, I don’t sign. Often the word deaf/Deaf is associated with using sign language and I don’t want to mislead people. Signing won’t help me.

But I have now added “deaf” to my repertoire. No matter what words we use, calling attention to our hearing issues is the first important step in advocating for ourselves. We need to use whatever words work best.

Readers, how do you tell others about your hearing loss?

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74 thoughts on “Then I Said, “I’m A Little Bit Deaf”

  1. This is rich Shari. 🙂 I can’t believe I never heard it put that way. I think the word “Deaf” conveys the sense of finality or completeness. As in deaf as a stump, or stone deaf. “A little bit deaf” really does say it differently enough to get a “little bit” of attention – I think. My mind jumps to things like, “a little bit crippled”, “a little bit pregnant”, a little bit old”. See what I mean? I love it. There is just a touch of irony within the phrase that could open up a teaching moment. I’m absolutely excited about this new way of expressing my disability. Thank you.

      • I am deaf in one ear and the other I wear a cochlear implant. I still have difficulty when using the phone and tell people I am hard of hearing and could they please speak more slowly and that works like a charm, until they forget….just have to repeat my request and they are so apologetic. Hope this helps someone.

  2. Gosh, I really relate to this. As my hearing gradually deteriorated I passed through all the options you’ve set out, before moving onto “I’m a bit deaf”, followed by “I’m deaf” and, now, “I’m very deaf”. Nothing else gets across to people who can hear how bad my hearing loss now is. If I say, for example, “I’ve got hearing problems” people tend to assume I can cope OK because I’ve got hearing aids (they are very visible with my short hairstyle). However, these days I need to see the person’s face AND be in a quiet setting AND have figured out what the context is before I can make any sense of speech. Like you, I began by feeling a bit self conscious that saying I’m deaf would lead people to think I have no hearing at all, when my world isn’t in the least silent. In my case my high pitched hearing is mainly completely gone but the low pitches are still there (so, huge difficulties with speech but no problems hearing traffic noise). But then I decided that many deaf or indeed Deaf people are in exactly the same position. I’d say – embrace whatever words best get you the result you need. Good luck.

  3. Shari,

    I was like you – deaf had such stronger overtones that like Jerry said, I expected someone to start signing me if they heard deaf. So I used one of the others you mentioned. But I have become more of an advocate for myself in the past year and have started using your phrase at times. Especially when I experience a new yoga teacher who doesn’t know me yet. It has helped a lot. Thanks.


  4. I agree that some explanations – I am hard of hearing, I have a hearing loss, I am hearing impaired – don’t always have much of an impact on others. So, I have started saying that I am “nearly” or “almost” deaf to signify the severity of my hearing loss. I do like “a little bit deaf” and will certainly try that. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Yes Shari, I just discovered my own hearing loss and was shocked. At 62, really? Mine is only in one ear so I always tell those sitting on my left to speak up please. The response is usually good. Raising awareness is always a good thing, don’t you think?

    • Hi, I also am 62 and have some hearing loss in only one ear along with tinnitus in the same ear and it turns out to be caused by a brain tumor (acoustic neuroma). If you haven’t been checked with MRI, please have one to rule it out. I’m just starting to advocate for myself and let people know I really can’t hear very well in my right ear. I figure it’s better to let them know there’s a valid reason why I have to ask them to repeat themselves, but people forget all the time, even within the same conversation. Trying to keep people I want to hear on my “good” side is the best option.

    • Only one ear? Have you been tested yet? Acoustic Neuromas are typically one sided (they grow on the Acoustic nerve). Benign, but can cause a world of trouble if not caught. Look for an otolaryngologist who specializes in hearing loss.

  6. Thank you for your interesting post. I’m having a difficult problem with my class. I Can’t hear my instructor give the commands for us to give our dogs. I’m trying to train my own dog to be a Service dog. I can only follow what the others are doing. I should give my dog the command to follow. All I seem to be able to do is try to keep up with the person in front or back of me. I Can’t afford a trainer to train my dog for me and I have to learn the proper ways to work with him. (He’s a wonderful dog) What do you suggest. Thank you.

    • Maybe talk to the teacher to see if he could use a microphone or try to speak louder. You could also try positioning yourself as close as possible to him to hear better. Hope that helps.

  7. I’m chuckling as I have tried all the same options as you have, including I’m a little bit deaf.
    That phrase works quite well even if some will say “I don’t sign” to which I reply “neither do I”
    Actually I find it has been I good way to get people to understand the needs of the community we belong to whether we call ourselves, hard of hearing, hearing impaired of person with hearing loss.
    Perhaps it is time to think about consolidating around one term ,as difficult as that decision might be.

  8. Beautiful post, Shari! It sounds to me like are owning your predicament, and not allowing it to define who you are. It obviously is a very big part of your life, but, it does not dictate your lifestyle. Perhaps my thoughts are slightly naive being that I am not “a little bit deaf” but, in the event that some day I do end up with an impairment of any sort, I hope I can own it like you do.

  9. I tell the person that I am hearing impaired and need to read their lips. I volunteer at a Habitat of Humanity store and often people approach me with questions and turn their faces away when talking. I’ve learned to explain that they need to face me and it usually works. I often get a funny response “oh, that’s okay” like they think I’m apologizing 😊

  10. I introduce myself and say “I’m profoundly hard of hearing. Please don’t speak to me until you can see the whites of my eyes.” People are pleased to have specific directions and usually follow them. If they forget, I point to my eyes to remind them.

  11. Using the words hard of hearing never worked for me either. Or maybe it would work for a couple minutes, then be forgotten. I now tell people I have hearing issues and need to see their lips to hear them. It occasionally works a little better.

  12. I (somewhat jokingly) tell people that if they talk with their hand over their mouth, I will smack ’em… it gets a chuckle, and occasionally I do punch (lightly) someone in the arm. lol. If they’re giving me a hard time, I punch a little harder. ;-p

    We were at a church planning meeting one time, I was sitting next to someone I did not know yet, but did know everyone else at the table. The gal had long hair AND had her hand over her mouth… eventually, I leaned over and punched (lightly) her in the arm. She had this LOOK on her face, and I realized that I hadn’t given her a warning, nor had we been introduced. lol. The rest of the table burst out laughing, because they all KNEW. I apologized and explained…we’re friends now, lol.

    I think that people think it’s a bit funny and that helps them to remember that I need them to not have their hand over their mouth. 🙂

  13. Thank you. I just learned I have severe mixed hearing loss in my left ear and my right ear is low-normal range. I’m learning all about this ‘spectrum’ of hearing loss/deafness. It reminds me of a saying I know about autism (my son is autistic): If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.

    As for me, I am still shocked by what being deaf ‘sounds’ like. I am both amazed at what I am hearing despite all I am NOT hearing – and I am clearly not hearing much in many environments.

    I appreciate this advice. I think from the start, I’ll be going with “I’m deaf.” because it will open up a conversation about what that can mean (I’m a teacher, thus I like teachable moments). But it also (hopefully) gives people a chance to err on the side of OVER doing it when it comes to making sure they are communicating with me well.

    As I know my hearing will continue to worsen – can I ask what you would have liked to have known when you first starting losing your hearing? As in, “I wish I had known _________.” So far, all I wish I had known was that deafness doesn’t = absolute silence.

  14. “I’m a little bit deaf.”
    OMG, that is *exactly* the wording I use.
    People always say, “I would’ve never known!!” which is understandable because I was deafened post-lingually so I don’t have the deaf accent. My hearing aids are small — too small. My last set was bigger and easier to notice.
    Makes me wonder how they can miss the tattoos behind each ear. One is a switch set to “off” and the other is a big “out of order” rubber stamp. 🙂

    • I absolutely love the ideas of tattoos! I have profound hearing loss in my left ear from several years ago. I just stood up in my garden, head filled with pressure, and it never left that side of my head so there is ringing, pressure and no hearing. I can’t use a hearing aid, according to my hearing specialist, as there isn’t enough hearing to amplify. I tell everyone I meet that they need to sit to my right, and speak into my right ear. And, I was a primary school reading specialist when it happened, so that made my work very interesting. I’m retired now, and am thinking of pursuing treatment once again, to see if anything new has been developed (besides the BAHA) that may help me. I’m so glad I found this blog!

  15. Hi Laura,
    I so appreciate your words! with Usher Syndrome, I struggle with how to tell people. I always wonder how others feel and deal with it.
    Thank you again!
    Amy Bovaird

  16. I like it! I learned that “hard of hearing” doesn’t work for me. “Deaf in one ear and can’t hear out of the other” said with a smile and point to my hearing aid works most of the time. However, folks tend to think of HA like glasses = corrective, so no problem. When I’m really serious and the conversation is important or urgent, I quickly say, “Wait. I can’t hear a word you’re saying. I need …….(a quiet place, to see your lips, a visual cue like a notepad, slower speech, louder speech, etc”. Being specific with what I need in that specific situation is helpful because sometimes the problem is the environment. In a meeting, we simply rearranged the chairs around the table so I could see faces.

  17. I’ve had a hearing loss in both ears since infancy. Wore a hearing aid in only the right ear for 45 years. Think hearing aid cost in 1966 and you quickly understand why correction was limited. I’ve always been forthright about my hearing needs (loss) and never embarrassed to ask someone to repeat themselves. I learned to read lips (can read others’ conversations) but never learned ASL.

    At 54, got hearing aids for both ears and hearing life in stereo was like the visual epiphany when my cataracts were removed. I advocate hearing tests to those who turn their head to hear me better because it’s a “tell” that something’s amiss.

    LOVE your “I’m partially deaf” pronouncement. Succinct and unambiguous!

  18. Great article. My 4.5 year old son has just started asking for us to repeat words slowly so he can make out the sounds when he is not wearing his hearing aids… specifically at story time before bed. He likes to put his ear right close to my mouth.

  19. Hi

    I tend to find that due to a very short hair cut people tend to notice my hearing aids (standard BTEs with standard ear moulds). This I hope gives them a big clue that I don’t hear well.

    The problem is that some people seem to imagine that because I’m wearing them I can hear perfectly.

    Erm! No. Heads up hearing people they are “aids” not “cures”.

    I’ve learnt to tell new people I meet that they need to face me when they talk and to speak normally but not too fast. That way I can fill in any gaps with my limited lip reading skills and use their facial expressions.

    If they don’t then I bring “I’m a bit deaf” into play.


  20. Hello Shari. This is a great post. I am deaf in one ear, and hearing aids can’t help. This means i don’t have the visual sign of having any difficulty hearing.
    I have also started to just tell people that i am ‘a little bit deaf’ (In fact, i am a lot deaf if someone talks to me from my deaf side 😛 ) Like you, I am not the stereotypical old lady with hearing aids. I just look like an average 35 year old. People usually want to help, and will often speak more clearly, but i find the main misconception is that sometimes people speak in a loud voice, which isn’t helpful for me as it seems to distort the words.
    Thank you for sharing
    Take care
    – Carly

  21. Shari, I know this is an old thread, but I often come back too see what, if anything, has been added. I am deeply impressed with the realization that among the HOH crowd, identity is crucial.

    During my early years wearing “invisible” HAs I took pride in having a secret condition. Nobody knew that I was struggling to be sure I was getting the information I needed out of a conversation. Nobody knew (not the least of whom was me) that I was becoming a master at lip reading. Nobody knew that I was “a little bit deaf”.

    When I went to BTEs and ultimately my CI the jig was up. You just can’t hide these instruments with the hair I don’t have. I remembered asking on Hearing Journey about hats for CIs. I have to laugh now. The answer, of course, is a bigger hat. Or none at all. I don’t cover the CI at all unless it’s raining. People often come up to ask about it or to tell me that they are considering it.

    Actually, these days I am quite a bit deaf. Without my instruments installed, I can not hear thunder. This discussion has made me realize how crucial it is to identify one’s self and set the rules for communication right up front. I consider myself to be socially competent yet I have to admit to being a little reticent to say something about what I need – muddling through more often than not – specially among friends who KNOW ABOUT ME! Those are the very people who need to be “taught” over and over until they get it right. 🙂 They are the ones I love the most and need the most to understand.

    It’s just hard.

    Thanks again Shari.

  22. So glad I found your blog. It means so much to find that I am not the only one that struggles. You are very encouraging. Thank you for all that you are doing in the hearing community.

  23. I have been saying “I am deaf in one ear.” But I like yours better. “ I am a little bit deaf.” Might get the point across in a gentler but effective way. Thanks.

  24. Wow – I see this post has been going for a whie – a friend just shared it. I started wearing hearing aids a few months ago. It took a while to accept the impairment (at 62) but as someone who grew up with a father who was highly hearing impaired, (with the old fahsioned hearing aids that looked like transistor radios and got him in trouble a few times for “not paying attention to customers who suspected he was lsitening to a ball game) I got over it pretty quickly. My hardest situation is as a teacher, in class. I told them even before I got the aids that I was hearing impaired, but now with the aids, the noise in the class is sometimes very challenging.

    My line is: “I am hearing impaired”, although I have not yet gotten used to “putting it out there” at the get go… although having been inspired by what you wrote, I really must. I keep reminding myself that I am not ashamed of my glasses (in fact I have BRIGHT red glasses, and love them!) there is no reason why I should be embarrased about my hearing aids. As you said, I deserve to advocate for myself. I deserve not to be isolated from those with whom I am in company, and THEY deserve to be heard! THANKS!!!

  25. Wow! This blog is really good. Im partially deaf in both ears and wear hearing aids and have tinitus too, im only young (35 is young isnt it??😂) and can totally relate to this blog. I lip read most people and always have the subtitles on when watching tv.
    Its true, telling people your a bit deaf doesnt seem to get the message across to people. Im going to have to try being more direct.
    Thank you xx
    Feel free to read my blogs regarding my struggles

  26. I have hearing loss and use hearing aids that help some but I still can’t hear if there is background noise or on the phone well. I’m looking for a job and am really wondering when is the right time to disclose my hearing loss. Any suggestions?

    • This is a tricky and personal decision, but my advice is that if you think you will need assistance to hear in an interview, that you should disclose it. Otherwise, you may appear ineffective and miss out on the job opportunity regardless. I hope others weigh in as well. Thanks for your question.

  27. Hi Renee — This response is very late but I just saw this thread for the first time and wanted to share in case it’s helpful to you or anyone else. Like you, I wear hearing aids that help but don’t replace the lost capacity to hear. (I’ve recently been approved for CIs and now deciding…) Employers saw the hearing aids, of course, but nobody had any idea how much I was still missing because I hid it. For example, I never spoke up about how challenging it was for me in certain large group situations, such as the weekly meetings for dept. heads set in a large auditorium. I walked into those meetings filled with anxiety that I would be called on to respond to what someone else was saying. Unless the speaker was on stage with a mic, I rarely knew what was being shared. I see, in my mind’s eye, a picture of that younger me shrinking down into her seat trying to be invisible! This is just one of many times where I pretended to be okay with the expectations of a job instead of disclosing the truth.

    Looking back from where I am now, I see that I had a secret fear of being dismissed as unable or even unworthy of the job. So I pretended instead of being honest with myself and others. Instead of asking for accommodations, which may have made a difference. I practiced deception because I was deceiving myself and although I pulled it off, I paid a price for that on the “inside”. A big learning for me has been that honesty and transparency is in my own best interest — and therefore, in everyone’s best interest!

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