Dining Out With People With Hearing Loss?
Everyone struggles to hear in noisy situations; a healthy set of ears can concentrate on the person speaking and filter out unimportant background noise, but this ability is decreased for a person with hearing loss.
Even for those who wear hearing aids, whilst helpful in increasing the volume and clarity of voices, background noise cannot be eliminated completely. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t invite your hard of hearing friends and family members to social gatherings, it just means you should be a more conscious and better communicator.
Here at Attune, we understand how difficult it can be for people with hearing loss to be part of social gatherings in a loud setting, so we’ve come up with some ways to help those with regular hearing to make dining out easy for their friends or family who have hearing loss.
How to make dining out easier for people with hearing loss
So you’ve got a couple of friends or family members who suffer from hearing loss, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t invite them to social gatherings! Being more conscious of what your friends are going through will make them feel included and understood.
Here are a few things that you can do to make the dining out experience easy for your hard of hearing friends.
1. Don’t shout
One of the worst things you can do when dining out with your friends is to shout. A lot of the time speaking louder doesn’t actually make you sound more clear. Instead, slow down a bit, project your voice, speak clearly, and enunciate your words.
2. Face the person you’re talking to
Face the person when you are speaking to them; whatever the ears don’t pick up, the brain relies on the eyes to fill in the gaps. Your facial expressions and gestures are valuable tools for those with hearing loss. Everyone, even those with normal hearing, will subconsciously lip read. Those with hearing loss rely more on lip reading, especially in noisy situations to help decipher speech. Directly facing the person, maintaining eye contact, and sitting across from them rather than next to them will be extremely helpful.
3. Don’t cover your mouth
Any cues from lip reading are immediately removed when you cover your mouth. Be conscious of your hands when speaking, try not to touch your face, or speak while chewing.
4. Sit in an area with good lighting
Good lighting will help a lot with lip reading and watching facial expressions. Try not to pick a spot that is dimly lit or has harsh down lighting as this can create shadows. Sit in the position where your face is most well-lit. If you’re at a cafe or dining while the sun is up, natural lighting is a bonus!
5. Pick a good restaurant
A weekly gathering at the local pub, at peak hour, while the footy game is on is not exactly the optimal environment for those with hearing loss. Whilst location is not always optional, your friend or family member will appreciate a more mellow setting.
You should also consider the acoustics of the restaurant. A high ceiling, concrete floored setting is not the best as echoing and reverberation are not comfortable, particularly for those with hearing aids. A more intimate setting with soft cushioning and carpeted floors can help absorb the echoing sounds and reduce background noise.
6. Pick a good spot
The best way to secure the best spot in the restaurant is to make a reservation. Ask staff if they can reserve a table for you that is in the quietest area in the restaurant. Most are very understanding and accommodating when you explain the situation. Background music is a common problem for those with hearing loss; while not always possible, if a restaurant is really blaring their music and it’s getting a bit too loud for everybody, politely asking the staff to turn the volume down may be helpful.
7. Reserve the best listening spot
This is the seat where the person’s back is to the noise and they are facing everyone with a clear view of everyone’s faces. Especially for hearing aid wearers, most hearing aids tend to orientate their microphones to pick up information from the front and reduce noise from the back. Sitting in the optimal position at the table will help the hearing aids do their job easier.
8. Sit on the better hearing side
Some people have hearing loss in one ear only, in which case, sitting on the better hearing side is going to make life a lot easier for the both of you. Even those who have hearing loss in both ears or wear hearing aids may have a preference to which side they prefer, so don’t be shy to ask!
9. Rephrase your words
If you’ve asked the same question four times and they’re still not getting it, rephrase or reword your question. Simplify what you’re trying to say and be more specific with your question. Stating the topic upfront before asking the question is also helpful to establish the context of the conversation.
10. Be patient
For those with hearing aids, they may need to adjust their hearing aid settings to optimise hearing for the situation. While it can be frustrating for you to be repeating yourself constantly, it is equally as frustrating for them to have to strain to hold a simple conversation with you.
11. Dine out when it’s not peak hour
Most restaurants and cafes are quieter at earlier or later hours. If possible, opt for a time that is not during peak hour, or when making a reservation ask the staff what time is best to avoid an influx of other diners.
12. Look at the menu beforehand
Allowing the person with hearing loss to familiarise themselves with the menu options will make interaction with the waiter much easier. If there are specials, ask them to be presented visually rather than verbally.
13. Keep the gatherings small
The more people around the table, the more background noise there will be. It is difficult for those with hearing loss to follow multiple conversations at once, so limiting the gathering to 5-6 people and talking one at a time will improve the ability for your friend or family member to follow the conversation and participate.
14. Keep a reasonable distance
Don’t try to start a conversation when you’re at two opposite sides of the table. People with normal hearing can’t do this well, let alone someone with hearing loss. If you must, get the person’s attention first before proceeding with the conversation.
15. Notify people
If you’re dining with a group where not everybody knows each other, it can be helpful to notify others at the table that your friend or family member has trouble with their hearing and give them a few tips. Ask your friend or family member first if they’re comfortable with letting others know about their hearing loss and if they’d like to tell the others themselves.
To sum it up
Hearing loss can sometimes lead people to become socially isolated as they are no longer able to communicate and engage in conversation like they used to. However, this does not mean that you need to exclude friends or family members with hearing loss from social gatherings.
By making small but impactful changes in the way you speak and the environment you’re in will allow the best experience for everyone involved.