Before we truly even notice it, our lives are enriched by the sounds around us. Whether that be the laughter of a close friend or a night out at your local club, sound connects us to the world and to our loved ones. Without this ability, our quality of life and our understanding of the environment around us can greatly suffer. This is the unfortunate reality for 48 million Americans diagnosed with mild to moderate hearing loss, a reality that can be made even more difficult by those around them who do not understand how to communicate compassionately and more effectively. Fortunately, a trio of experts with both professional and personal experience with hearing loss has decided to share advice on how to better communicate with your hard of hearing counterparts.
For many in the hard of hearing community, visual information is critical to understanding conversations happening around them. Speechreading, or the reading of lips and facial expressions, alongside the sound they receive from speech they understand is one way many with hearing loss can follow along in conversations. This is an important process when trying to discern the difference between words such as “bother” and “mother” that sound similar to those with hearing loss, but look different when they are being said. Though this is helpful, it is not foolproof. Some words such as “bomb” and “mom” look identical when being said and sound similar as well, making this first tip critically important: Do not exaggerate pronunciation or cover your mouth when speaking to those with hearing loss. Though you are well-intentioned, exaggerated pronunciation can actually make it much harder to read your words or identify important speechreading cues. Eating while speaking can also change speechreading cues, confusing those who are trying to understand you. Keep it simple, speak naturally, and avoid eating at the same time to avoid changing speech cues.
Some words can be more difficult to hear and understand than others for those with hearing loss. Like our previous example, “bother” and “mother” sound very similar to some of the hard of hearing community, which will sometimes prompt speakers to repeat the word again and again. Unfortunately, repeating the same word someone did not understand the first time does not make it any easier to understand the second. Our professional colleagues advise that if at first you are not understood, to use a word that means the same thing but sounds different. You may also point or gesture to an object to get the point across. This is a better strategy than to frustratingly repeat the same word, making an awkward and uncomfortable situation, especially for the person with hearing loss.
Following these two important tips can greatly increase the verbal and emotional connection between you and your hard of hearing loved ones. It’s important to be compassionate and understanding that everyone hears and speaks differently. Take your time, speak naturally, and keep connecting.