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?