Adults and children with hearing loss often have difficulty understanding people around them, even when they use hearing aids, cochlear implants or other assistive listening devices. Many factors including background noise, proximity to the speaker and, in the COVID-19 era, masks are especially problematic.
Below are five simple, helpful tips to implement. They will go a long way toward facilitating and easing communication with people you know with hearing loss.
1. Pay attention to noises around you
Typically, hearing aids and cochlear implants amplify noises as loudly as they amplify speech. (Unless those devices have been programmed to reduce background noise.) Thus, music, finger drumming, keys tapping, air conditioning, fan or heat motors, moving cars, wind blowing, etc. will all make it more difficult for the person to hear. Think about and listen carefully to detect noises around you and try to reduce or contain them as much as possible.
2. Check your location
Proximity to the person is very important. The farther away you are, the more a person with hearing loss is likely to miss. Wait until they are reasonably close to you before beginning to talk. Situate yourself comfortably close to them. If you can, ask if they have a better ear that they prefer you sit closer to. For some people, sitting opposite them is best so they can see your face. Asking people what works best for them is a courtesy they will appreciate.
3. Attention, please!
Get the person’s attention, make sure you have it and then tell them what you want to say. This will reduce the likelihood of having to repeat yourself and prevent frustration on both sides. Take note if their attention seems to be wavering. This could be a sign that the person is becoming fatigued. Be aware that people with hearing loss often need to work hard to hear which can be an exhausting exercise.
4. Keep speech clear and your mouth uncovered
Do you mumble, talk with food in your mouth, speak quickly or lean on your hands when speaking? All of these can impede how well someone with hearing loss will understand you. Look the person in the eye and speak clearly without food or gum in your mouth. Keep your hands away from your face. Speak at a normal rate and at your usual volume. Slowing down your speech tends to exaggerate it and speaking extra loudly may actually distort how it is heard. If masks are required, consider purchasing some clear face masks so they can see your lips when you talk. A great resource to find clear masks is accessiblemasks.org.
5. Find a quiet spot
If you’re at a group gathering and the person with hearing loss is having difficulty hearing, try to find a quiet corner where you can converse more easily. Sometimes, stepping out into a hallway, a less crowded room or perhaps outside can make a dramatic difference in the listening environment. Don't assume what is best though. Ask them if they'd like to move somewhere less noisy so you can continue the conversation. They may welcome the relief a quiet corner or place offers them but do let them decide.
By being aware of ways to help people with hearing loss to communicate more easily, you will make them more comfortable, ease frustration, and likely strengthen your personal or professional relationship with them as well. These tips will be helpful to use with friends, family, co-workers or anyone you know with hearing loss.
Paula Rosenthal, J.D. (she/her) is deaf and uses cochlear implants to hear. Her husband and one of her three children also use cochlear implants. Paula is an award-winning advocate for people with hearing loss and their families. She blogs at PaulaRosenthal.com and is available for speaking engagements. To contact her, please send an email to email@example.com.
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