by Neil Bauman, Ph.D.
People are often uncomfortable around those that are different from them. Thus, it should be no surprise that hearing people are often uncomfortable when trying to talk with hard of hearing people.
Hearing people are not mindreaders. They don’t know what they should do to “fix” the communication problem. Should they just pretend that there is no problem? Should they yell at the person and hope they will hear, or should they take the easy way out and ignore the hard of hearing person?
When communication difficulties arise, we hard of hearing people need to take the initiative and set hearing people at ease. The quickest way we can do this is simply to explain what we need them to do so we can effectively communicate with them. This is a two-step process.
First, we need to let them know what the problem is. I often just say, “I am hard of hearing and am not hearing you.” Now the hearing person is aware of the problem, but this just makes him even more uncomfortable. That is why it is vitally important at this point to take the second step, and immediately propose effective solutions that are easy for the hearing person to implement.
For example, I might say, “There is too much background noise here for me to hear you. Let’s move over there where it is quieter.” In another situation, I might say, “I’m hard of hearing and speechread you. Please look at me when you talk so I can read your lips.” With another person, I may say, “I need you to speak slower and more clearly so my ears can understand you.” Or I may say, “I can’t hear you from over there, I need to get closer to you because I am hard of hearing. Hang on a second while I get closer.” If the light is wrong for speechreading, I may say, “Would you trade places with me, so the light from the window falls on your face and not in my eyes, which interferes with my speechreading you?”.
Often implementing one or two of these simple little things is all that it takes to establish effective communication. Go for it!