Communicating in Group Situations With Hearing Loss
Hearing loss is more common than many people think. About one in seven Australians are affected by hearing loss. So, if you are experiencing hearing loss, you are far from alone. Chances are, many around you are experiencing the same thing, and some of those people don’t even realise it. In any case, hearing loss, depending on how severe, has the unfortunate effect of disrupting social and professional lives.
Bilateral and unilateral hearing loss make meetings and functions harder to follow than other interactions with one speaker. In groups of multiple speakers, it’s difficult to determine who’s talking and where they are positioned. Difficulty in such situations may lead to self-exclusion, which has social consequences.
The Hearing Care Industry Association’s (HCIA) 2017 report finds that communication barriers caused by hearing loss can lead to social isolation and loneliness. In older Australians, loneliness has been associated with cognitive decline and dementia. The report also finds that hearing loss can result in reduced employment as many jobs are increasingly communication-focused. Therefore, finding techniques to alleviate hearing disruption is critical.
Thankfully, hearing aids exist to help people overcome such barriers. These days, hearing aids come in all shapes and sizes, from completely in the ear canal, partially in the ear canal, in the ear and behind the ear, and are prescribed depending on a person’s listening goals and needs. They can even be customised for uneven hearing loss or other special conditions. Further, cochlear implant technology has progressed to help those with severe hearing difficulty. Despite the progression in hearing technology, social and professional settings can still bring anxiety to those with hearing loss.
When you experience hearing loss, you may feel anxious about communicating in group situations; however, hearing loss shouldn’t mean sacrificing a normal social and professional life. So, what can we do to feel more confident and capable of communicating in a group setting with hearing loss?
To help you overcome any hesitations or concerns, we’ve outlined some tips and strategies to help you navigate communicating with others in various group settings and contexts. From social gatherings to workplace meetings, and educational settings, hearing is vital.
Social interactions are important for our overall health and well-being. Social support helps us cope with stressful situations, prevents mental health issues, and improves our immune system. As humans, we tend to crave social interactions with others and feel down when we’re isolated. With hearing loss, it’s easy to put pressure on yourself and self-isolate, but you don’t have to.
One of the easiest contexts to control is social dinners with big groups. Take control by choosing the restaurant yourself. This way you can do a little bit of research to find out whether the venue is crowded, or whether it plays loud or live music. In the instance that you don’t get to choose where you’re meeting your group, ask for the restaurant’s name to ascertain these details. Another option is calling the restaurant or asking someone else to, to request low music volume and for the specials to be written down for you.
To optimise your hearing, seating arrangements are important. Try to sit opposite your friends so that sound travels directly towards you as they speak. It also helps to sit against a wall, as sounds will reverberate back towards you rather than disperse out into the room. One good tip is to sit far from the kitchen. The kitchen and food pass is a focal point for disruptive noise. The bustling staff, along with the clanging cutlery and dishes, leads to a cacophony of noise.
To boost the efforts of your hearing aid, ensure you are being attentive to your guests. Focus on their eye contact, body language and hand gestures. Lastly, don’t forget to enjoy yourself. After all, it’s a social event.
In Australia, it is unlawful to discriminate against someone with a hearing impairment as part of the Disability Discrimination Act 1992. This applies to people who are seeking employment. Despite being protected by law, many still feel apprehensive about taking work due to communication-based tasks. It is important to understand that you have the right to work and participate in normal civil life. In fact, employers are permitted to accommodate people with hearing loss by making certain adjustments.
These adjustments include:
- Giving a person with hearing loss a workspace that has minimum background noise
- Educating staff about effective communication with people who experience hearing loss
- Providing technology and equipment that can help (for example, hearing loops)
The easiest way to access these adjustments is to ask. Communicate your situation to your employer. Sometimes it also helps to express your needs to other workplace staff. Ask your colleagues to vary their communication with you if needed. Don’t be afraid to speak up. Initially, you might feel a bit nervous; however, after a while, working with hearing loss will begin to feel normal, and so will your interactions with others in the office.
It goes without saying that socialisation is a key aspect of schooling. Socialisation in early education teaches young people how to interact with others and helps them develop a conscience and impulse control. Therefore, it’s important to identify hearing obstacles early. Apart from socialisation, hearing is also critical to speech and language development, communication, and learning. Loss of hearing can interfere with a person’s learning at school and make catching up harder. Research shows that children with 25% to 35% unilateral hearing loss are at risk of failing at least one year level. Therefore, controlling hearing loss in a school setting is critical to social development and learning.
The correct hearing aid can greatly improve a student’s outcome. Along with the correct hearing aid, there are other strategies that can be implemented by parents and students. Firstly, it’s important to keep teaching staff aware by notifying the school’s administration. If the hearing loss is severe then a differentiated learning plan is usually developed for the student. The school may be able to provide loan equipment to help, and the teacher will cater to the student’s needs by adjusting their learning environment and tasks.
A supportive friendship circle also helps greatly in a school setting. Reliable and responsible classmates can look out for students with hearing loss in situations where a hearing aid may not cope, such as in sports activities. As a general tip, ensure extra batteries are always brought to school, just in case.
Much like in school, it’s important to get in touch with student services at your university to inform them of your hearing difficulty. Most universities provide accessibility services to cater to students with a variety of needs. Your university will be able to send you important information regarding accessibility processes. As with schools, some universities can provide technology and equipment to help you stay on track with your learning. Further, some universities are equipped with hearing loop technology where you can wirelessly connect your hearing aid to an audio loop. Other accessibility provisions include providing a note-taker (someone who sits in on classes to take notes), altered resources, and altered exam conditions. For each class, you may wish to explain your situation to your lecturers and tutors who may share their notes. As many universities pride themselves on their inclusivity, many will strive to accommodate all kinds of needs.
In tutorial situations, try and place yourself in the middle of a group setting so that you have the optimal hearing, and so you can lip read if possible. To encourage socialisation, get involved in clubs and social groups to meet new people. You’ll probably find a lot of people are very accepting and happy to meet someone different. Also much like school, take extra batteries in case your hearing aid’s batteries go flat. Thankfully, however, many campuses contain convenience stores where you can purchase extra if needed.
Lastly, don’t hesitate to utilise the free services provided by your university. You can receive advice and support with your research and writing, and if you’re struggling emotionally, most universities provide free counselling sessions.
Tips for Communication with Someone That Has Hearing Loss
Are you not experiencing hearing loss yourself but know someone that is? If you’re looking to try and improve your communication efforts with someone experience hearing loss then there are things you can try. Ultimately, there’s bound to be a little awkwardness occasionally but don’t be discouraged. Making an effort to include someone with hearing loss will help them in many ways, socially and emotionally.
General tips for communicating with someone who has hearing loss include:
- Try to gain their attention before speaking so that they can focus on you and capture everything you say
- If you are aware of their better ear then move to that side before speaking
- Try to avoid covering your mouth while speaking in case the person is lip reading and to provide clearer speech
- Speak naturally, without exaggeration and slowing speech down – use pauses to let them process what you’ve said
- Try to rephrase rather than repeat sentences – sometimes it is certain words that get distorted while listening
- Try to reduce the background noise while talking if possible (turn off the TV or radio)
- Try to communicate in places of good lighting – good lighting helps people with hearing difficulty focus on your face and expressions
Group settings no longer have to be uncomfortable for those with hearing loss. With the right hearing aid, people who understand your situation, and some of the tips outlined above, it’s possible to navigate social gatherings, school, and work. More socialisation means better health outcomes and overall better quality of life. So, get out there and get communicating.