This is a Guest Post by Josh of doctear.com who was inspired to write about communicating with the hearing impaired after reading my post on the importance of active listening.
Communication is the primary human instrument that helps us make new relationships and stay connected the ones we love. Built around our social structure is the premise of verbal language and how it communicates our thoughts and ideas. Even the terms we use to describe intimacy between two people apply references audible phrases full of meaning such as “she/he hears me,” to explain how we feel our loved one or friend understands our needs.
The question then becomes what happens when these abilities and human interactions are hampered by hearing loss?
Many common assumptions are incorrect. There are many reasons for hearing loss to occur. Hearing impairments are caused by congenital disabilities, viral infections, medication allergies and growing older. It is important to remember that the person living with hearing loss isn’t responsible for their condition and that many of these forms of hearing deficits are not reversible or treatable. Hearing aids and implants can compensate for some of the loss in some cases, but it only allows for a specific range of listening without the richness the average hearing person enjoys.
People often believe many stereotypes when interacting with a person with the inability to hear. We might shout thinking we can make ourselves understood in that manner, or conclude they must speak sign language because, doesn’t everyone who has a hearing problem do so? Worse yet we assume that a person without the ability to hear is too handicapped to be able to communicate without going to much trouble, so we avoid them.
The age group that is most noted for living with hearing loss are the elderly. Many misunderstandings and disagreements that occur when speaking with the elderly can be avoided by following a few simple ground rules when talking to a person with a hearing loss. The following tips will help you enjoy your conversations with the hearing impaired no matter what their age.
First of all remember that it is always common courtesy, and vital to having a fruitful conversation with someone, to identify yourself. Some names are more difficult to understand, especially if your name has an odd pronunciation. For this reason, you should direct their attention to your name tag, if you are wearing one, to aid the person to understand. If you are not wearing a name tag then writing down your name so they can read it can be very helpful.
Maintaining eye contact with the person to whom you are speaking is also important. If you are using an interpreter always talk to the hearing-impaired person, not the interpreter. Keeping eye contact is a human sign of respect and imparts dignity to the person to whom you are speaking.
Do not stand with bright light behind you or place anything over mouth while you are speaking if you wish to communicate successfully. All humans, including people living with hearing loss, rely a great deal on body language. If they cannot look at your mouth and lips or your see your expression, then misunderstandings are more likely to occur.
Also, please do not shout. Shouting at a person with a hearing deficit will not help them hear you better. In fact, bellowing our words will not only make you harder to understand and look ridiculous, but the person you are trying to speak with will find you annoying and insulting.
Rephrasing what you are saying can help enormously. Some words have harder to hear vowels and consonants than others, and changing your wording can have excellent results. For instance, you wish your hearing-impaired visitor to have seat in a beautiful chair you have prepared for them. Upon their arrival, you offer them the phrase, “Please sit in my chair.” You notice that the person is looking at you look at you puzzled, and realize they didn’t understand. The reason is that your visitor couldn’t hear the word “chair” because the sound of this word is “soft” being a combination of the “ch” sound followed by two vowels. The thing you should do next is to change the word. You turn to them and say, “Please, have a seat” while gesturing to your comfortable chair. The word “seat” has a hard “t” sound which is much easier to hear, and your gesture seals the interpretation of what you mean.
Another thing to consider when speaking to someone who has problems hearing is to examine the venue where you are attempting to speak. If the person is in a noisy room, try turning off your television or other devices so they can hear you better. If this doesn’t work or isn’t possible, then consider asking the person to relocate to a quieter room or area.
Courtesy is essential to all humans, and the hearing impaired are no exception. If the phone rings or you hear a knock at your door, don’t just walk away from your conversation. Remember to signify to your friend where you are going so they will not be left sitting and wondering what they said wrong and feeling awkward.
Remember to listen carefully to what the person is trying to say. If you don’t understand something, then ask for clarification. If you ask them to repeat themselves, they will feel relieved to know you are indeed hearing them. Once they repeat the phrase you did not understand, repeat it back to them to make sure that is what was said.
Always treat the hearing impaired as you would wish to be treated. Never air out personal matters in public, but strive to always speak on such matters utilizing as much privacy as possible. In this way, you can avoid the embarrassment to your friend or loved one.
Speaking to the person who lives with a hearing impediment, one needs to remember that they deserve and desire all the respect you do. Like all of us, they crave human interaction and indeed can be very enlightening in their views of the world. By using some common sense and following these simple tips, you will find that you can engage in thoughtful and pleasant conversation with your loved one, friend, or business associate despite them being unable to hear you and form strong and long- lasting bonds of mutual understanding.
DoctEar cares about your ears and your hearing. Visit our website to learn more about hearing protection, hearing enhancement, the best products for your ears and how to take care of your ears in general. We feature content from industry professionals, such as OHSA and medical doctors.