Hearing loss is one of the leading chronic health conditions in the United States, and yet, it largely remains invisible. While advocates continue to work tirelessly in order to educate the public — even those with hearing loss themselves — about the issue, there are many things that people with hearing loss wish you already knew.
Hearing loss is all around you
It’s safe to say that you know someone living with hearing loss. More than 30 million Americans demonstrate hearing loss in both ears. It’s highly likely that you’ve had a conversation involving someone who has trouble hearing within the last week and perhaps even in the last 24 hours.
A few strategies will make listening easier for us
And although you may have had an interaction with a person with hearing loss, you probably don’t know these simple strategies that will make a conversation with you much, much easier for us:
- Get our attention before speaking, this can be a tap on the shoulder or standing in front of us and making sure you’re within view.
- Stand directly in front of us when talking, so that we can see your facial expressions and mouth movements for context.
- If we don’t catch what you said the first time, rephrase your thought using different words.
And here’s a few things not to do, just to be on the safe side
- Don’t shout something from another room and expect me to hear you.
- Don’t stand behind me or out of view and try to get my attention.
- While it might help if you slowly and clearly enunciate your words, shouting or speaking loudly will not help me to hear you.
Hearing loss most commonly results in trouble with speech clarity, meaning that it’s difficult to discern speech. That’s why early signs of hearing loss include asking ‘what?’ a lot more often in conversation or relying on closed captioning for film and tv.
When you stand directly in front of me, I am directly in the path of your voice and I have a better chance of understanding what you are saying. Because hearing loss means losing access to certain frequencies, changing the words you are using is a much more effective way to help me if I didn’t catch what you said the first time.
Hearing loss makes conversation exhausting
Even if you employ all of these strategies, long bursts of conversation are exhausting to me and that has nothing to do with my ears and everything to do with my brain. Because each sentence is like a puzzle I’m trying to complete with only half the pieces, my brain is working extremely hard. All of that extrapolation I’m doing is tiring!
Please keep engaging
That said, people with hearing loss have a tendency to feel isolated and even depressed as social connection becomes more and more difficult. I always appreciate when someone takes the effort to talk to me at a party or event, regardless of the fact that it might take a bit more work. I still love connecting with people and miss the way it used to feel easier.
My trouble hearing has nothing to do with my intelligence
There is a difference between not being able to hear you and not understanding you. Just because I’m not able to hear clearly doesn’t mean that I lack intelligence and I don’t appreciate being condescended to.
This also means that I do not need people to speak for me. I can still speak just fine and I like to continue using my voice for myself.
Hearing aids work differently than glasses
Of course, hearing aids are a successful and proven intervention for people with hearing loss. However, they don’t work exactly like glasses, which can immediately restore vision. Instead of restoring lost frequencies, hearing aids amplify sounds. Even with hearing aids, things like background noise and group events remain difficult hearing environments for me.
I’m not being intentionally rude
If you speak to me and I don’t reply to you, odds are that I didn’t hear you. Instead of imagining that I’m snubbing you, please assume best intentions and understand that I probably didn’t hear you. Please take a moment to get my attention and then I’ll happily engage!