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Hearing loss makes people feel isolated and can be frustrating as they cannot understand or misinterpret what other people say. Deafness is usually passed down in the family. Affected individuals often ask people to repeat themselves, complain of hearing noises in the ear, turn up the volume of the television, and have difficulty in communicating with family members and friends. Hence, they might have difficulty in maintaining social relationships suffer from emotional disturbance and low esteem.
There are ways that each of us can be a little more deaf aware. The first step is knowing the misconceptions about the deaf. From there on, we can learn to be attentive to the ways we can effectively communicate with someone who is deaf or experiencing hard-of-hearing. Here are some myths about people with hearing loss.
Deafness is a spectrum. If someone says they are deaf, they are not necessarily ‘profoundly deaf’ (meaning they can’t hear anything at all). That might be the case for some, or they might be able to hear conversation fairly well, or any variation in between. Degrees of hearing loss vary dramatically from one person to another. Some people may also wear hearing aids or cochlear implants (sound processors).
The majority of people with hearing loss do not use sign language but it is still important to some whose communication depends on it. While some people with hearing loss read lips and others do not. Lip reading, also called speech reading, is most helpful as a complement to residual hearing, even though many speech sounds are not visible on the lips.
Trying to exaggerate your words and drastically slowing down the way you pronounce words does not help a deaf or hard-of-hearing person to understand you. It distorts the words and makes it much more difficult for someone to follow you.
Hearing aids enhance clarity by raising the volume in certain frequencies. The improvement of having a cochlear implant varies from providing near-normal hearing to only gaining an awareness of environmental sounds with no comprehension of what they mean. A person does not obtain “normal” hearing by wearing a hearing aid or cochlear implant.
Deafness does not discriminate. People with hearing loss spend time with family members or friends who may or may not have hearing loss. They do not want to be relegated to special seats away from the rest of the people whom they are comfortable with.
Not only deaf people enjoy music, they can also sing as well as play instruments. Beethoven is one good example who composed some of his greatest musical works even though he was almost completely deaf back then. His music has continued to live on for generations.
It’s just a different experience for people with hearing difficulties. They can not’t hear exactly what hearing people do, but that does not mean that they can not’t appreciate music and enjoy themselves at concerts the way we do.
Tip 1: Get their attention
If you suspect someone is deaf or hard-of-hearing, you can move into their field of vision to get their attention first before you speak. Alternatively, a friendly wave or a gentle tap on the shoulder can let them know you are interested in a chat.
Tip 2: Loudness and clarity
Speak clearly, slowly and steadily. Don’t mumble, shout or exaggerate. Be positioned with good lighting to allow the person to follow your lip movements. Make sure your mouth is uncovered. Maintain a normal volume when you speak and do not shout, as it can be very uncomfortable especially for someone who is using a hearing aid.
Tip 3: Position and environment
Choose a quiet place when talking to them. And when you talk to them, face them, and be at the same eye level. Don’t forget to make and maintain eye contact.
Tip 4: Use simple body language
When speaking, a few simple gestures and facial expressions can help you get your point across well. Of course, don’t go overboard trying to mime every single word. This can come across as disrespectful, not to mention distracting.
Tip 5: Be patient
Communicating with people can be daunting for a deaf or hard-of-hearing person and they have the potential to experience certain level of anxiety. Repetition and backtracking might be needed. Indicate that you’re patient and willing to learn. You may need to rephrase or find a different word. As long as you smile, don’t yell, and maintain eye contact, you are establishing that you’re there for an open and trusting line of communication.
Understanding deafness and learning how to communicate better with them are the big steps in raising deaf awareness. These communication tips require a lot of practice for them to be effective. Keep in mind that just because they have hearing loss, does not mean that they have lesser intelligence. Speak normally and use normal expressions. Maintain eye contact when talking to them. If conversing in a group, make sure that only one person speaks at one time.
Medically reviewed by Ashwini Nair, MB BCh BAO.
1. Dottie. Deaf. PORTAL MyHEALTH. Published September 22, 2011. Accessed May 1, 2022. http://www.myhealth.gov.my/en/deaf/
2. Ismail WS bt W. Tips in Communicating with the Deaf. PORTAL MyHEALTH. Published March 2, 2014. Accessed May 1, 2022. http://www.myhealth.gov.my/en/tips-in-communicating-with-the-deaf/
3. Tips for Being Deaf-Aware - Ai-Media. Ai-Media creating accessibility, one word at a time. Accessed May 1, 2022. https://www.ai-media.tv/ai-media-blog/tips-for-being-deaf-aware-part-1
4. 17 Misconceptions About People with Hearing Loss. Hearing Health Foundation. Accessed May 1, 2022. https://hearinghealthfoundation.org/blogs/17-misconceptions-people-with-hearing-loss
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