Do you have someone with hearing loss in your life? With 360 million people worldwide (nearly 50 million Americans) experiencing debilitating hearing loss, chances are that you do. You probably notice how they sometimes struggle to keep up with the conversation, or that they avoid social exchanges that might be challenging or exhausting. Perhaps you wonder what you can do to help. This post provides my suggestions. Please add yours in the comments.
1. Use communication best practices.
When conversing with someone who has hearing loss, please use communication best practices. Get our attention first — in most cases we need to see your face and lips in order to hear you. Don’t speak to us from another room and be sure to keep your mouth in view when you are talking. Please do not cover your mouth with your hands or talk while eating.
Speak clearly and at a moderate pace, but don’t shout — this makes it hard for us to lipread. When in a group, please talk one at a time so we have a better chance of understanding, and if the topic changes, give us a heads up.
2. Manage the environment for optimal hearing.
The environment is a critical ingredient in our ability to hear. Keep background noise to a minimum and the area well-lit so we can see your mouth for lipreading. Let the person with hearing loss pick where you will meet them so they can choose a location that is conducive to communication. At a table, ask them where they want to sit. I prefer to sit with my back towards a wall to minimize distracting noise behind me, but others may have different priorities. I also like to sit across from the person who is hardest for me to hear so I have a good view for lipreading. If possible, have the person with hearing loss organize the seating for everyone.
3. Provide support, not pity.
If someone tells you they have hearing loss, don’t apologize. There is nothing for you to be sorry about. Simply ask them what you can do to help them hear their best and then follow the instructions. Your effort is greatly appreciated.
Understand that hearing aids do not work like glasses and will not restore hearing to normal. Give us the benefit of the doubt that we are trying our best to hear in each situation. We know it can be frustrating to have to repeat yourself, but try to maintain a positive attitude. Communication takes work on both sides.
When you have hearing loss, conversation takes a lot of effort. We may only catch snippets of certain words so our brain is constantly working to figure out what was said based on the context of the discussion. After a long day of listening, we may be overcome with hearing loss exhaustion. Be patient when that happens or suggest that we take a listening break to recharge.
4. Practice good communication without reminders.
It is not fun to constantly explain to your regular communication partners how to help you hear your best. Not only do we feel like we are nagging, it can be hurtful when the people closest to you cannot seem to remember what they need to do to include you in conversation. We understand that it requires an extra effort to talk with us, but it is worth it. When you remember to face us, keep your mouth uncovered and follow other communication best practices without being prompted, you show us that you care.
5. Partner in our self-advocacy efforts.
It can be tiring to request that the waiter repeat the specials at each restaurant or to retrieve the closed captioning device at every movie. When you assist in these tasks, it makes you a partner in our work, shows us that you understand our struggle and helps us conserve energy for the many self-advocacy moments that are likely ahead.
6. Avoid the dreaded “never mind.”
Repeating what you said can get tedious, but please do not answer our requests with “never mind.” To someone with hearing loss this feels like a dismissal, a rebuke and a slap in the face all in one. This applies to similar phrases like “it’s not important,” or “forget it.” Heard enough times, this type of brush-off can cause the person with hearing loss to disengage, preferring isolation to insult.
If someone with hearing loss asks you to repeat what you said, please do so, or try rephrasing it. Another trick is to ask the person to repeat what they thought they heard so you can provide the missing pieces. With a collaborative attitude, the mis-hearings can often be pretty funny too.
7. Experiment with new technologies.
Hearing aids alone are often not enough in difficult listening situations like a crowded restaurant, a cocktail party or even at the movies. New products are constantly being developed to make things easier for people with hearing loss. Stay abreast of new technologies through a google alert and encourage experimentation with new devices. If you do the work together, both you and the person with hearing loss will benefit, and it might even be fun. Technology is challenging, but with practice it can be life changing.
Readers, what would you add to my list?
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