Communicating with People Who Have Hearing Loss 

Communicating with People who Have Hearing Loss
Cyndi Connolly
Latest posts by Cyndi Connolly (see all)

In all likelihood, someone close to you lives with hearing loss. Significant hearing loss currently affects around 13% of the population, around one in eight people. This percentage jumps within aging populations and amongst workers with very noisy jobs. Hearing loss can make a huge impact on a person’s life especially their ability to communicate with others. 

In a world where so much is done by verbal communication, learning how to better accommodate hearing loss makes sure that people don’t get left behind. Understanding ways to better communicate with people with hearing loss has the added advantage of making your communication, in general, more direct and clear. Here are some key things to consider to better accommodate hearing loss:

Be Spatially Aware

When hearing loss is present, you need to understand that comprehension takes effort. The first step to being a better communicator is making sure a person recognizes when you are speaking to them. Don’t try to get a person’s attention from another room, instead always speak to a person when you are in their sightline. In noisy settings, such as at parties or on the street, recognize that a person with hearing loss may have a great deal of difficulty in recognizing you are calling to them. 

For conversations, be near to the person you are talking to. Position yourself so that your face is clearly visible. Many people with hearing loss strengthen their comprehension by reading lips, so being able to see you as you speak is important. Don’t eat or drink while you are simultaneously trying to talk and make sure the area you are in is well-lit. It can be a bonus to talk in an environment that is relatively quiet or near walls or upholstery that can absorb excess background noise.

Hearing loss can affect each ear differently, sometimes being distinctly worse on a particular side. If a person with hearing loss indicates that they have a “better” ear, position yourself to the side that it is easier for them to hear from. 

Make Things Clear

A few things will help make your speech easier to comprehend, regardless of what you are talking about. First, say a person’s name before addressing them further. Even people with hearing loss are especially attuned to the sound of their name and it helps people recognize that they are being engaged. 

Before you begin discussing a detail, state in general what you are talking about. People with hearing loss often rely heavily on context clues to fill in gaps in their comprehension. Understanding the topic from the outset will help make these connections quicker and more fluid. 

When speaking, talk at a normal volume unless asked to speak up. Articulate your words clearly and add pauses between your statements. Don’t shout or otherwise distort your expression, as it can make reading lips confusing. Sometimes certain words will prove especially difficult to understand. Instead of focusing on reiterating a problem word or phrase, try starting it in different terms.

Write It Down

In today’s technology-driven world, there are more resources than ever for conducting a hybrid conversation through texting, email chatting and just plain writing things down. If part of your conversation has important details to comprehend, such as a shopping list, address or scheduled event, support it by also giving it to them in writing. 

Listening takes extra effort for people with hearing loss and it can be exhausting. If the energy of someone you are speaking with seems to be flagging, offer to continue the conversation another time or continue it in a text or chat format. Necessary information should always be supported in conversation with a note, text or email that says the same thing in writing.

Support Hearing Loss Treatment

While over 30 million people in the United States live with hearing loss, only one in seven people currently choose to manage their hearing condition with hearing aids. Hearing aids can restore listening comprehension making communication easier and more enjoyable. Treating hearing loss does not eliminate the need for clear and patient communication, but it can decidedly improve a person’s hearing experience and quality of life.