Anyone who has hearing loss will tell you that it’s no picnic. Because hearing loss is invisible, it’s easy to overlook, and most people with normal hearing don’t realize how hearing loss affects the perception of a person who has it.
Those of us with hearing loss struggle daily to understand and communicate with people who take hearing for granted. There are miscommunications that are resolved and some that are never addressed but still carry social consequences. Let’s take a look today at some of the things that people with hearing loss wish those with normal hearing would understand. Maybe it will make a positive difference in your interactions with loved ones, coworkers, customers- any of the 48 million Americans who have hearing loss!
Hearing Loss Consumes Energy
Those of us with hearing loss experience fatigue as a matter of daily routine. Straining to hear takes extra energy. There is a scientific reason for this, which has to do with the extra work that the brain has to do.
Normally our auditory cortex processes the sounds that come to the brain from the ears. The auditory cortex sorts through the sounds it “sees,” determines what is speech, and makes sense of that speech for us and even helps commit it to short-term memory. When we can’t hear what’s being said, a lot of the work is shifted to the frontal cortex.
The frontal cortex is usually responsible for synthesizing information and creative thinking– all the higher-order mental processes that we associate with the big, beautiful human brain. When we can’t hear well, the frontal cortex has to do the extra work of determining what is being said. This involves more than we might think. We have to run sentences through our minds multiple times and use context clues to guess whether you’ve just said “teach” or “beach.” Keep in mind that this might be happening for multiple words in a single sentence, and that sentences usually come one right after another, and you see how much creative energy goes into just figuring out what you’re trying to say.
So please, try to understand that we will get fatigued earlier than others in social situations, and try to make it as easy as possible for us to hear you!
We Are Not Trying to Be Rude or Stupid
Miscommunications are nearly inevitable with hearing loss. We might miss the point of a story or answer your question from out of left field. Sometimes this is funny, but try to appreciate that we’re perfectly capable of understanding a narrative, and we’re not intentionally tuning you out. Likewise, if you see us out somewhere and try to get our attention from afar, it’s more likely that we can’t hear you than that we’re snubbing you.
Keep in mind that there are plenty of people with hearing loss who you’ve never met; if a person ignores you when you say, “Excuse me,” consider that they might not be hearing you, even if you’re right behind them.
You Don’t Need to Speak For Us
Though it may take slightly longer, always let us answer for ourselves when someone asks us a question. You may think you’re speeding things up, but it’s demeaning and rude when you don’t let us speak for ourselves.
Use a Few Communication Techniques
While we can speak for ourselves and make our own decisions, there are some things you can do to better facilitate communication with us.
Always face us when you speak, put a little extra space between the words you say, enunciate clearly, and make sure you have our attention before you start talking. Many of us rely on lip-reading to help us understand you, so don’t cover your mouth or turn your head away while you’re talking. The extra loudness you give your voice by directing it at us is also crucial.
If we ask you to repeat something or indicate that we haven’t heard you, try to rephrase what you’ve just said rather than simply saying it louder. As you get louder, you might simply distort our hearing rather than be better understood, and when you rephrase your idea you give us the benefit of more information from which to glean context clues.
We all have special quirks when it comes to communicating. By keeping these few things in mind, you’ll be better able to get along with those of us with hearing loss. We will definitely appreciate the effort!