With Hearing Loss, We Must Remember to “Use Our Words”

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My family and I have done a lot of hiking during the pandemic. Hiking is a wonderful family activity with many health benefits, but it can sometimes be frustrating for people with hearing loss — especially if we want to walk and chat at the same time. My family usually lines up tallest to shortest meaning I bring up the rear. This makes it harder for me to chitchat since all the mouths and therefore all the conversations are aimed directly away from me.

Some of the time I am not bothered by this. I walk on my own, enjoying the buzz of their chatter and the beautiful scenery. But other times I feel left out, especially if a particularly interesting conversation seems to be happening without me. That happened this past weekend.

“I can’t hear people when they are facing away from me,” I called out from the rear. Nobody answered.

“I can’t hear what you are saying if I am in the back,” I said a bit louder. “OK,” one of them replied, but nobody moved. I was starting to get annoyed.

Hearing Loss Self-Advocacy Requires Clear and Direct Communication

We stopped at a view point and before we continued on I said, “I want to be second in the line so I can hear,” and immediately, the sea parted. My husband stayed in front so he can clear out the cobwebs along the path — nobody wants that job! — but my children stepped aside, making a space for me. We started walking, but now, in my new location, it was much easier for me to participate in the chatter.

“Why didn’t we do this in the first place?” I wondered aloud.

“You didn’t use your words, Mom,” my son told me. “I did, but nobody listened,” I replied. Whenever they were upset as children, instead of crying or whining, I would ask them to use their words to explain the problem. That way we could work together to find a solution. Now that they are teenagers, they enjoy throwing my words of wisdom back at me.

“You didn’t use your words,” he repeated.

Our Communication Partners Cannot Read Our Minds

And then I realized he was right. I had used words, but only to point out the obvious — if I am in the back I would not hear well, if at all. I had not used my words to ask for what I needed. I was relying on them to read my mind rather than being explicit in my requests. I was being passive, rather than assertive. I was complaining rather than advocating for my needs.

It is easy to fall into this trap. We know the hearing loss drill so well, that we expect others to know it too. We require them to anticipate our needs or to read between the lines of our statements and know what needs to be done. This is not always fair. As people with hearing loss, it is our responsibility to be straightforward and up front with our requests — the more specific the better. Only then can we expect others to act as we have asked.

On our next family hike I plan to request the second spot in the line right from the start. Now that we have figured out the solution — I need to put it into action every time. Hopefully, overtime, it will become second nature for us all.

Readers, do you “use your words” to ask for the specific assistance you need to communicate?

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15 thoughts on “With Hearing Loss, We Must Remember to “Use Our Words””

  1. I’ve had the same experience countless times walking with others, not just on trails but on wide sidewalks. When we are able to walk in a side-by-side line, I try to be in the middle but have to keep asking people to move as the trail narrows and widens and often end up walking behind, thinking my own thoughts because it becomes depressing to have to explain over and over again your need to be near to those speaking.

    Once the pandemic set in, I was very clear with people: I will walk with you if you are willing to be unmasked outside and I can be parallel with you as much as the path allows. Otherwise, no thanks–it’s too frustrating. All of my friends have understood and it actually has worked out well.

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate, writer, speaker and avid Bikram yogi. She blogs at LivingWithHearingLoss.com and serves on the Board of Trustees of Hearing Loss Association of America. She is the former Board Chair of Hearing Health Foundation. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, it will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      So glad you are asking for what you need! Thank you for sharing your experiences.

  2. Hi Shari, instead of asking each time to be second in line, I would think that family policy could be that when you go hiking you are always in the second place! In other words, ask for more! 🙂

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate, writer, speaker and avid Bikram yogi. She blogs at LivingWithHearingLoss.com and serves on the Board of Trustees of Hearing Loss Association of America. She is the former Board Chair of Hearing Health Foundation. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, it will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      Yes, that is the plan! Thanks for your comment.

  3. Since pandemic and masks, I usually walk in single file with only one other person at a time. I hang my Roger select IN around neck of walking partner, and can clearly hear her regardless of whether I am in front or back, and 6, 10, 15 feet or more away. I felt a little embarrassed the first time I asked her if she would wear Roger. She instantly said “of course,” and it is now part of our walking essentials — water, phone, Roger, keys, ID, hat, etc.

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate, writer, speaker and avid Bikram yogi. She blogs at LivingWithHearingLoss.com and serves on the Board of Trustees of Hearing Loss Association of America. She is the former Board Chair of Hearing Health Foundation. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, it will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      What a great idea! Thank you for sharing what works for you.

  4. I walk daily with a few neighbors, mostly just two others. Although one of them is HOH himself, he has never learned to “speak up”, so I cannot hope to participate in a conversation. I generally walk solo, but nearby, bobbing and weaving if I have something to share by voice. Nowadays I wear my Bose Hearphones daily (which I love). Formerly, I wore my hearing aids, and one companion wore my clip-on external mic. That worked great for one-on-one and getting the general drift of things. But nowadays I am happier concentrating on exercise and catching a word now and then. Shared walking is just another example of how we HOH people have to struggle in every social situation.

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate, writer, speaker and avid Bikram yogi. She blogs at LivingWithHearingLoss.com and serves on the Board of Trustees of Hearing Loss Association of America. She is the former Board Chair of Hearing Health Foundation. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, it will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  5. I have used my ReSound Multi Mic in the same way with great success! There are various external mics on the market at less expense than the Roger Pen. External pick-up is a great idea!

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate, writer, speaker and avid Bikram yogi. She blogs at LivingWithHearingLoss.com and serves on the Board of Trustees of Hearing Loss Association of America. She is the former Board Chair of Hearing Health Foundation. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, it will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      Good point! Thank you for adding your voice to the discussion.

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate, writer, speaker and avid Bikram yogi. She blogs at LivingWithHearingLoss.com and serves on the Board of Trustees of Hearing Loss Association of America. She is the former Board Chair of Hearing Health Foundation. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, it will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      Excellent! I hope the story will help others to “use their words” too! Thanks for your comment.

  6. Hi Shari – Loved this piece. You described so well I personally experience while hiking or walking in a group, even with family members who are usually understanding. After leading a recent cub scout hike I was so wiped out from managing and navigating the communication + masks. Like you, I don’t want the hearing loss to stop me from enjoying the outdoors, but it does take tremendous energy! It helps to know you understand!

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate, writer, speaker and avid Bikram yogi. She blogs at LivingWithHearingLoss.com and serves on the Board of Trustees of Hearing Loss Association of America. She is the former Board Chair of Hearing Health Foundation. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, it will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      So glad you liked it. Thanks for sharing your experiences too. It helps to know we are not alone.

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