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How to Communicate with Someone Who Is Hearing Impaired

How to Communicate with Someone Who Is Hearing Impaired

By Elizabeth W. Krasnoff, PhD
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I am a hearing-impaired person, who has spent a lifetime coping with hearing loss. As a result of engaging with this loss, I became a sound practitioner, singer, and sound researcher. Excavating the information around hearing loss and communication has been a healing process for me.

Hearing loss can be lonely and isolating. I recently dedicated my doctoral dissertation to my hero Helen Keller. She survived the triple alienation of the loss of sound, sight, and speech, and victoriously learned to connect to the world around her—and most importantly to herself.

We all have this journey from alienation to reconnection in our lives in some way. Therefore, it is important to connect and seek connection. Successful communication can only happen when all people are fully involved in a conversation. That makes hearing loss an invisible disability. Although there may be hearing impaired persons around, you may not always know who they are. You may assume that a hearing-impaired person is ignoring you if they don’t respond when you speak. Take courage and repeat yourself— they may not even know that you are talking, especially if the environment is noisy.

Here I offer some simple tips on communicating in-person with the hearing-impaired people in your life.

1.)   Face the person.  If possible, sit or stand at their level and make sure that you are in good light. See that the light is shining on your face, rather than into their eyes. This allows them to see your expressions. The hearing-impaired person can often understand what a speaker is saying by watching their mouth and face. Speech reading (also called lip reading) is a building block that helps a hearing-impaired person understand spoken words. About 40 percent of the sounds in the English language can be seen on the lips of a speaker if the conditions are right.

2.)   Look directly at the hearing-impaired person’s face and make sure they are looking back at you. Stand or sit 3 to 6 feet away from the hearing-impaired person.

3.)   Start by speaking the hearing-impaired person's name. It will help them to focus on you and reduces the risk that they will miss what you have to say.

4.)   Introduce the general topic.  Be aware that if you suddenly change the subject, the hearing-impaired person cannot easily follow. When the subject does change, let the hearing-impaired person know what you are talking about now. State the most important facts before continuing. Politely repeat the most important keywords to convey your meaning.

5.)   Speak clearly, slowly, and naturally. Use the octave that will send your voice out the furthest. Avoid shouting, as this will cause sound distortion and may make speech reading more difficult.

6.)   Use body movements and hand gestures to express your meaning. But keep your hands away from your face.

7.)   If the hearing-impaired person is unable to understand you, do not keep repeating the same words. Try again using different words. Pay attention to the person’s facial expressions.  If they look puzzled it may mean that they do not understand something you said. Politely ask if they have understood you or ask questions to check if they heard you correctly.

8.)   Take turns speaking during the conversation and do not interrupt.

A few things to note:

If you wear sunglasses it will be harder for the hearing-impaired person to understand your meaning since they cannot see your eyes.

If you know that the hearing-impaired person can hear better in one ear than the other, try to position yourself near the better ear.

Most hearing-impaired people have more difficulty understanding speech when there is background noise. Try to reduce noise from television, radio or other devices when talking to them.

Many hearing-impaired people are very sensitive to sound. If possible, meet in a quiet space where there is little activity or noise.

When giving factual information such as numbers, time, or place, ask the hearing-impaired person to repeat the information back to you. Or write the information down for them.

Do not try to speak to the hearing-impaired person from another room. They cannot speech read from a distance and may have trouble understanding what you say.

Elizabeth Krasnoff, PhD. Is a certified energy healer, composer, shamanic practitioner, researcher, and transformational speaker. You can learn more here.

Although there may be hearing impaired persons around, you may not always know who they are. Elizabeth Krasnoff walks us through.

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