by Neil Bauman, Ph.D.
A college student explained:
Last semester, I was getting really depressed about how isolated socially I am in my graduate program. I tell my classmates I’m hearing impaired, but only one or two of them ever bother to talk to me before/during/after class. It got so bad, I started seeing a counselor on campus once a week. Last time I met with her, I was complaining about this issue—that when I tell my peers that I can’t hear, no one inquires how they can communicate with me, and after that seem to avoid conversation. It makes me feel even more invisible! Her response was interesting. She suggested that perhaps a lot of people might be afraid of offending me more by asking questions about my disability—like one might refrain from offering physical help to a stranger in a wheelchair, rather than risk sounding condescending and patronizing.
Another lady wrote:
I have found that when I tell people that I’m hearing impaired, they back off, or they come up right to my face and talk. I’ve had very few who will take the time and talk with me. It’s like it’s too much of a bother. I get frustrated at times and feel very lonely to the point of not going out at all.
I know how you ladies feel. I’ve had similar experiences dealing with my lifetime severe hearing loss. You are blaming other people for not wanting to put out the effort to talk with you. Did you ever think these people are afraid about how to talk to you?
When you tell people you are hard of hearing, what you are really doing is warning them to stay away because communication is going to be difficult or impossible. And as you have found, it works!
Much better is to say in the same breath, “I have a hearing loss, but I can converse with you quite well if you….” (and here you tell the person exactly what you need him/her to do so you can understand). This will differ with each person and situation. This shows them that they can converse with you without a lot of hassle.
What you have now done is explain that although you can’t hear well, there IS a way that communication can be successful, and then you tell them one or two simple things you most need them to do (look at me, get close, speak into my microphone, or whatever). Now they are not afraid to talk to you. They know they can do those simple things without embarrassing themselves, so they are much more willing to talk to you.
So the secret is, put them at ease by showing them what they need to do to make the conversation a success. The results may surprise you, so go for it!