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.
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?