There are currently 48 million people in the U.S. suffering from hearing loss making up 20% of the population! With the prevalence of this condition and the estimated rise to 1 in 4 people worldwide by 2050 it is important to stay informed about hearing loss.
It is also important to understand the clearest way to speak and communicate with people with hearing loss, as the likelihood that you converse daily with someone with hearing loss is already high. Hearing loss is often referred to as an “invisible” disease because it cannot be readily detected or recognized unless someone tells you. Clear communication strategies with those with hearing loss ensures that they don’t get left behind in conversation and have the tools to succeed. Here is a list of common misconceptions around hearing loss and important facts on the best ways to help those succeed.
“It may look like I’m ignoring you, but I’m not.”
One issue with hearing loss is you often miss when people are addressing you. You say something to someone, and they don’t respond. It’s easy to become offended, as if the person doesn’t seem to care about what you have to say. Even if the person is using hearing aids, it can still be challenging to hear in crowded or noisy environments. Don’t take it personally if you try to communicate with someone who has hearing loss, and you don’t get an answer. Instead try getting their attention before addressing them. A gentle tap on the shoulder or making sure you have eye contact before you start talking will help them know it is time to listen.
“It looks like I’m unintelligent, but I’m not.”
Ancient philosophers such as Aristotle and Plato, had uninformed perspectives on the deaf and hearing impaired, considering those with the disability to be unintelligent. Today we know of the ignorance and cruelty of these assumptions. Intellect is not bound to hearing loss. However, hearing loss can present added challenges in working and educational environments. Making accommodations for those with hearing loss can help them succeed and even give them an equal chance to thrive. Make sure to face a person when you speak. When you are in clear view, they can rely on visual cues such as lip reading and body language to help supplement what they may have missed in the auditory field. Make sure to speak clearly, at an even pace, giving them time to process each sentence and pause between thoughts, before moving on.
“Hearing loss makes me exhausted.”
It may not seem obvious at first, but hearing loss is extremely exhausting. It takes extra focus to hear with limited audio information. This is because hearing loss starts slowly, with the absence of only certain tones or pitches. The conditions manifest slightly differently for each person but leave gaps in words and sentences. During a normal conversation, the brain has to work overtime to fill in the blanks in conversation.
“Certain communication strategies will help me to hear.”
Even with hearing aids, a person with hearing loss has a better chance for success in a conversation when the speaker on the other end is aware of techniques to help the other to hear:
- Get their attention. This was mentioned before and can allow the listener to prepare to hear what you have to say.
- Use visual cues. When the sense of hearing becomes less acute it is common to rely on the other senses to fill in. People with hearing loss may rely on lip reading and not even notice it. Make sure to maintain contact and a clear view of each other, throughout the conversation.
- Try repeating and rephrasing. Certain tones or frequencies can be difficult for a person to hear. Some consonants are lost. When someone asks you to repeat what you’ve said, try rephrasing the comment or question. This adds context to the previous statement. Sometimes identifying what word the person is having trouble hearing helps. This can clarify things significantly.
- Write out important information. Addresses, phone numbers, dates and times are two specific and important to risk being misheard. Make sure to text or write out this type of logistical information to ensure it’s clear.
“Don’t give up.”
Patience equals caring for those with hearing loss. Spending time to ensure that you care that a person with a hearing impairment can engage in conversation is priceless.