Seven Ways You Can Make Life Easier for Someone With Hearing Loss

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.

Living With Hearing Loss | A Hearing Loss Blog

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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37 thoughts on “Seven Ways You Can Make Life Easier for Someone With Hearing Loss

  1. Just this Shari: I can become so involved in whatever I am doing that I do not hear my partner-in-life approaching. It’s startling, at times uncomfortably, to turn around or look up and she is there where she is not expected to be. I have suggested that just turning a light on and off several times would be warning enough. Or just a “Hello!” a bit louder than the ambient sound would do it. This is a small thing and is probably just me, but it’s annoying. And yes, we have been over this a number of times. I might need to make a number of signs to place around saying: “Please get my attention before approaching”. I hate signage, but that may be the way to go.

      • This is a big one for me as well. Unfortunately, my initial reaction is usually anger because I hate to be startled. I practically jump out of my skin anytime someone comes up from behind me or speaks loudly when not in my line of sight. I’ve asked coworkers to knock on my desk or to use the office’s internal IM software if it’s not too much trouble. I have to remind my father about it as well. What’s funny is he is also HOH and is very loud sometimes in which he scares me half to death. 🙂 It’s a constant battle, to say the least.

    • Before I retired, I did desk work in a cubby. I asked all other employees to knock first before entering my cubby. One person did not…and scared the hell out of me. I screamed in fright. He jumped backward, knocking down a temporary wall. Later it was funny, but it all could have been avoided had he knocked. Later I got new hearing aids which gave me “surround sound” instead of just sound from the front.

  2. Excellent article, Shari. I’ve posted it on Facebook — it’s succinct you’ve selected the most important behavioral modification. Well done!

  3. This is actually perfect timing!! Unfortunately, however, I will be giving this to my boss when I turn in my resignation letter. Having huge gaps in communication has made for a work environment that I no longer can be in. I will be printing this to give to him as well as letting him know that these are things I have been trying to communicate all along the last few years, but have had no support in.

    I do love this article!!

    • I am glad you find the article helpful, but I am sorry your workplace has been less than supportive. It is very frustrating! Thank you for your comment.

    • Hearing loss in the workplace is so difficult. I used to either pretend I heard what was said or made my best guess rather than ask that it be repeated, just from the attitudes it sometimes caused. But I’m now retired and no longer shy to ask someone to repeat if I miss something. Though I’m sorry it’s come down to leaving for you, getting yourself out of such an atmosphere will do your soul wonders! I often thought my deafness was a gift when the crazy boss went off on something…and I had it over everyone else in the office when it got really bad and I could remove the aids and basked in the silence that it brought! Hang in there…

      • Thank you for your words of encouragement!
        Thankfully I have a second job, and it is an atmosphere where my boss there has had experience with deaf & HOH people. She is WONDERFUL to deal with on a daily basis. And we can laugh together over my experiences, instead of it only being one sided.

  4. Telephone calls are really the obstacle. Cannot lipread the caller! Any closed captions device to be implemented to help in this area of difficulty for the hard- of- hearing community?

  5. I get the “never mind” a lot, especially from my students. I also get the brush off when requesting assistance at work. I’ve asked for a different phone but got no answer.

  6. Please do not consciously lower your voice when speaking to someone else in my presence. If you wish a private conversation, have it some place else. Paranoia of not hearing/understanding is hurtful and real. Also, I love a good joke, but hate being the punch line… is not funny to disparage my hearing, never ever.

  7. I’m experimenting with air pods……ATT product to use in conjunction with I phone
    Clumsy at first but seem to be help in small groups

  8. Both my mother and my husband have hearing difficulties. This article is very helpful. My mother most needs someone to touch her to be sure she knows she is being addressed. The worst thing we (the family) can do to my husband is the “never mind” response to his requests for repeats. Hope many people read this article, especially if they are just learning to communicate with a hearing impaired loved one.

  9. This suggestion might sound a bit extreme, but it is not okay to invade someone’s personal space or physically touch someone (unless you know the person well enough and they are okay with it) when trying to speak to someone who’s hard-of-hearing or d/Deaf. I worked in retail for 15 years and had too many customers become irritated when talking at the back of my head that felt perfectly justified in grabbing my shoulder/arm, swatting at my back, or walking around into my line of sight and then standing within inches of me while they yelled about how rude I was for ignoring them. Fortunately, most of my co-workers were quick to speak in my defense, but there were times that I genuinely felt unsafe.

  10. So glad I found this sight.
    My husband has hearing aids in both of his ears.
    He will not wear them at home.
    He will wear them out in public, at home TV blasting, computer, music….
    I have a headache trying to be supportive.

  11. Hello. Thank you soo much for your information. Invaluable. My question is about tone and loudness of my voice which people often take as aggression and anger. I have profound hearing loss which began at birth and have worn hearing aid my whole life. My family often thinks I’m mad because my voice is loud and think tone of voice is aggressive. Very hard. Lost my job with Social Security because customers complained. Any thoughts appreciated.

    • It is challenging when we cannot hear what we sound like to others. Have you considered working with a speech therapist? Perhaps your audiologist could recommend one. Thank you for your comment.

    • Yes…working a speech pathologist is a great idea.

      I am a speech pathologist…I suggest starting off, using one of the many decibel meter apps, which enable you to self-monitor…adjust tour voice to the needs of communication partners.

      You can’t modulate your own voice because of “bone conduction “…essentially, the loudness of your own voice can be magnified, or even dampened, because of bone conduction.

      Google “bone conduction “..,you’ll learn about the physics involved here…speech and language science.

      You will learn to self-monitor.

      Best wishes and write to me if you have other concerns, questions.

  12. I always get ,you don’t look deaf! How can you be deaf if you can speak,I didn’t know we had a certain look, and I learned to speak before I went deaf!

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