Tips on Communicating With People Who Are Hearing Impaired
Communicating with someone who suffers from hearing loss requires effort and patience.
Putting the right strategies in place greatly reduces the risk of misunderstandings and ensures that everyone can hear what is being said.
It is estimated that more than three million Australians suffer from a long-term hearing disorder.
According to an Australian health study conducted in 2016, one in ten Australians are completely or partially deaf. The study also suggests that each year, more than 500 Australian babies are born with a form of hearing impairment. With so many people suffering from hearing loss, knowing how to communicate effectively is essential.
People with hearing loss are all around you, and since hearing aids are nowadays tiny gadgets worn inside the ear, they’re often impossible to identify. If someone repeatedly appears to ignore what you’re saying, it can cause a reasonable amount of frustration. However, a person suffering from hearing loss isn’t knowingly trying to ignore you. Nor are they any less polite or intelligent than their normal-hearing peers.
The main effect of hearing loss may be a difficulty to communicate via speech, but those affected by it often experience a whole range of other effects, too. Those “side effects” may include:
- Sensitivity to loud noises
- The distortion of sounds
- The inability to locate the source of sound
- Dizziness or loss of balance
- Avoidance of some social settings and a sense of isolation
- Mental health issues such as anxiety, depression and mood disorders
Those suffering from hearing loss expect nothing but to be treated with the same amount of respect and consideration that anyone else would like to encounter. There are many ways to improve communication between hearing-impaired people and their conversation partners, but a few listening and communication strategies for everyday situations stand out.
Here is a collection of the best strategies to use when communicating with someone suffering from hearing loss!
1. Choose the Right Set-Up
First things first: If this is the first time you’re engaging with this person and the situation allows for it, find out their preferred means of communication. Phone conversations might be manageable for some, especially when using a modern hearing aid. Others may prefer communicating by using sign language.
- Be aware that there is no universal sign language. Auslan (Australian sign language) is the sign language used in the Australian Deaf Community. It’s unique to Australia and has its own grammar and vocabulary. It is a visual language that developed over time and it is just as complex as any other spoken language.
- People from other cultural and linguistic backgrounds may prefer using another sign language, such as the Chinese Sign Language (CSL) or the American Sign Language (ASL). Sometimes it can be very useful to hire a professional signing interpreter. It should be the norm for important discussions such as emergency plans, employment, etc.
Choose the setting wisely. Where you’re holding a conversation with a hearing-impaired person, is just as important to:
- Eliminate any background noise from a nearby tv, loud machines or street sounds that could be distracting. For example; a busy cafe on a Saturday morning doesn’t seem like a great idea. Instead, you could opt to meet at a time that is less busy and politely ask the waiter for the quietest table.
- Find a quieter spot if you realize at any point of the conversation that it is still difficult to understand each other properly. Paying attention to natural room acoustics is always a great idea.
- You might be surprised by just how much of a difference it can make to have correct lighting. If you have a window in your back, the strong light puts a shadow over your face, making it very difficult to lipread.
- Facing the person you’re speaking to, isn’t just a sign of courtesy. Those who rely on lipreading gain a lot of information from facial expressions and hand gestures. It’s therefore not advised to wear sunglasses or cover your face otherwise. Be aware of your posture: Keep your head up and look your conversation partner in the eyes. You can’t lip read when you can’t see someone’s face.
- Never speak to a hearing-impaired person whilst you’re walking away or turning around. It reduces the volume of your voice and makes it almost impossible to lipread.
Don’t be afraid to check in with your conversation partner and ask if they can understand you well. Different people will have different preferences for different situations: Some may prefer to sit against a wall in big restaurants. Others feel best when seated in the middle of big round tables or as close as possible to the speaker in a work meeting.
2. When You’re The One Listening
Conversations, whether a hearing-impaired person is involved or not, are about giving and taking. When it’s not your turn to speak, tune in, actively listen and be aware of your body language.
- Relax and show a positive attitude.
- Make sure that you and your conversation partner are on the same page. If appropriate, announce what will be talked about. It makes things easier for those people relying on lipreading to follow a conversation.
- Only one person should talk at a time. Let your conversation partner finish what they’re saying before you start talking. Never speak over each other. And do not suddenly change the topic of the conversation, as it may take a lipreading person a while to process what has been said.
- Don’t do anything else or multitask while you’re listening, your focus should be on the person you’re speaking to. However, it can sometimes be useful to write down what is being discussed, especially if the information is very important.
3. When It’s Your Turn to Speak
Your understanding and consideration of the fact that people with hearing loss struggle to hear and therefore may experience different levels of difficulty to follow conversations, is the first step in the right direction.
There are a few things to consider when having a conversation with someone suffering from hearing impairment. Keeping these tips in mind will make the experience more productive and enjoyable for everyone involved.
- When you approach a person with a hearing impairment, try to get their attention without surprising them. If you’re not in their field of vision, try to say their name first. You may lightly tap them on the arm if they do not hear you.
- Speak naturally and clearly, using full, but simple sentences. Never shout or exaggerate the pronunciation of words, as this can cause distortion and discomfort.
- Don’t overdo hand or other physical movements, as they can be very distracting. Keep in mind that lip-reading and using hearing aids can be tiring enough. Instead, focus on getting your message across.
- Same holds true for using sign language: Like in every culture, the same signs and gestures can mean very different things. So be careful with their use and avoid using them if you’re not proficient.
- Be patient. Don’t get frustrated if you have to repeat yourself one or two times (or more) to get your message across. Before giving up, try to rephrase the point you’re trying to make.
- Keep things away from your mouth while you talk. Eating, chewing gum or turning your head away isn’t just rude, it is also hindering their ability to read lips.
- To make sure you’ve been understood, don’t hesitate to ask what key information your conversation partner is taking away and what (if any) gaps may need to be addressed.
- Some people are shy to admit when they haven’t understood something. If your conversation partner looks confused or isn’t responding, they might not have heard you, so repeat again or ask if they understood what you said.
4. If You’re Talking on The Phone
Phone conversations can be a particularly challenging experience to those suffering from hearing impairment. Not being able to see you, they cannot rely on visual clues and lipreading to give them additional information about the message you are trying to get across. Being extra patient and supportive is therefore greatly appreciated.
- Reduce all background noise on your end before making the call. Turn off the tv or walk into a quiet room.
- Offer to Facetime instead of giving them a voice call.
- Speak a little slower than you would in person, using short, simple sentences. Make enough pauses, especially when passing on important information. Don’t be afraid to repeat important facts at the end of the call.
- Make sure you’re being understood by regularly checking in with your hearing-impaired conversation partner. If they do not understand you after repeating a sentence, try to rephrase.
- Should you and your conversation partner have trouble understanding each other, reschedule the conversation for another time. Send a text message or email to confirm the time, date and topic.
Simple things like catching up with your best mate or calling to make a doctor’s appointment can become daunting tasks to all those struggling to hear. Following our tips on communicating with people who are hearing impaired can make their life a lot easier. These strategies effectively include those with hearing impairments, so encourage others to use these communication strategies and share this post.
Verbal communication can be a true challenge if you or a loved one are deaf or hard of hearing. If you’re following all of our tips and yet, still find it difficult to communicate with the people you care about, encourage them to take another hearing test or maybe upgrade their hearing aids.
At Attune Hearing, our highly qualified audiologists provide excellent services to identify hearing loss and offer solutions tailor-made for the patient’s budget, hearing needs and lifestyle.
As Australia’s only accredited hearing healthcare provider, we aim to help every hearing condition in the most effective way possible. Find the nearest Attune branch near you and book in a free 15-minute hearing test to see if further diagnosis is necessary.