How To Effectively Communicate With People Who Have Some Form Of Hearing Loss
Hearing loss is considered a disability and approximately 11 million people in the UK have some form of it. Contrary to popular belief, hearing loss isn’t restricted just to an older population. Of this huge number, about three million are under 60 years of age. With these numbers taken into account, hearing loss is probably one of the most underrated and underreported issues in society today.
There’s a good chance you know or will communicate with someone on a daily basis who is hard of hearing — so it’s very important to know how to talk to them in a considerate and understanding way.
How hearing loss makes communication difficult
Pretty much every conversation we have requires focus, energy and patience. So it naturally requires a lot more work to talk to others when it is hard to hear what is being said in the first place. And it only gets more difficult if the conversation is held in a noisy environment or is complicated by other factors such as a person muttering, talking too fast or quietly.
In extreme cases, this might make a person withdraw from conversations or become more socially introverted. Which can lead to mental health problems down the line.
Practical tips — talking to people with hearing loss
If you’re planning on talking to someone who may be hard of hearing, try to find a suitable spot where there isn’t much background noise. Even a place with soft furnishings, such as mats and sofas can reduce the amount of echo/reverberation in an area. And if possible, if you are planning on many conversations, try to rearrange the furniture to make a more accessible space for those with hearing loss.
Try to think positively, be understanding and — most important of all — try to be patient. It would mean a great deal to someone with hearing loss that you are willing to converse with them without showing signs of impatience. Also, be aware that someone with impaired hearing may study your lips closely as you are speaking, to try to better comprehend the words leaving your mouth.
Tips to help you hear better if you have hearing loss
The first (and perhaps most obvious) tip is to ask people to get your attention first, before starting a conversation. Then try to stand close to the person you’re speaking to. Or if you’re practising social distancing, try to stand in a bright space where their facial expressions are clearly illuminated. So that you can watch for expressions, gestures, and for lip reading.
Don’t be embarrassed to admit that you are hard of hearing. Tell them as soon as the conversation starts, try to keep calm, and don’t be afraid to ask the speaker to talk at a slower pace and to repeat if necessary.
Read more about communication tactics for anyone suffering from hearing loss in this NHS guidebook.
Useful tools for hearing loss
Fortunately, we live in an age where hearing-assisted devices are more numerous than ever before. A very practical tool is a live speech-to-text app that anyone can get on a smartphone. Though you should note, their accuracy can be impacted depending on how loud background noise levels are, on regional accents and the speed of conversations.
For those especially impacted by a hearing disability, then the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower lanyard is a good way for people in an area to instantly understand the communication problems they are likely to face.
There is also a variety of video relay services out there that can help businesses and people communicate to a wider audience in British Sign Language.
What not to do
Talking to someone with hearing loss can be more work than usual, but patience is key. If you think it's difficult, try to imagine the hardship it can place on that person who is hard of hearing.
As being hard of hearing can be a challenge it's important to be conscious of your actions so as not to offend or hurt the feelings of the person with hearing loss — especially if you’re talking to a child or young adult. This includes not shouting or talking deliberately slow.
Research has shown that people with hearing loss find it particularly frustrating if someone gives up on their conversation and says something akin to “I’ll tell you later”. With this in mind, try to refrain from using that phrase. If the conversation is very difficult, don’t be afraid to use a pen and paper, or to simply write down what you’re saying on a mobile phone.
About the Author
Neil Wright is a writer and researcher for Hearmore UK, a company that specialises in hearing loss treatments and general ear hygiene