Will You Help Me Hear You? Print

Because I don't hear well, this pamphlet, which I picked up at the House Ear Institute in downtown Los Angeles when I was being fitted for my first set of hearing aids, struck a chord.

My daughter, when she is with me in a crowd, tells people, "My dad is hard of hearing and I can help him with what you're saying." My wife frequently "translates" for me. For those of you who can't hear either, it may make you feel better. For those of you who live with people who can't hear, please read on.

By the way--those of you who can't hear--if you're going to the House Ear Institute, try to schedule a morning appointment and have breakfast at the Pacific Dining Car. It's open 24/7 and it's absolutely the best breakfast in town. (It is also a good steakhouse with a great wine list.)

Finally, an update on my experience with hearing aids is here.  I suggest you read it because it could be important to you.


Will You Help Me Hear You?

People are generally very sensitive to others who have any kind of physical handicap. No one wants to say or do anything that would further hurt or embarrass them. Usually you initially cope with a handi­capped individual by ignoring the disability. For example, if you meet an individual in a wheelchair it is fairly easy not to pay any direct attention to the wheelchair. In addition, with most handicapped people many of the things you can do to help are obvious. Hearing impairment seems to be the most difficult disability for others to accept and deal with.

A hearing person is faced with three problems when meeting someone who has a hearing disability. First, this handicap is invisible—there is no prior warning of the condition. Second, because of its dis­ruptive effect on communication, this disability cannot be ignored. One is immediately faced with the problem of how to communicate with the individual. Third, with the possible exception of raising the voice level, which usually doesn’t help much, there are no obvious actions that can be taken which will help.

Now consider what can be done to change these reactions. It is important to realize that hearing aids will not help everyone and aids don’t restore a person’s hearing ability to normal. Virtually all hearing im­paired people, whether they use hearing aids or not, depend to some degree on speech reading. Therefore, these recommendations will help in the communication process with anyone who is hearing impaired. Here are some of the things you can do, along with me, to help me hear you.

FIRST, it helps to let others know I am hard of hearing. This seems to lessen the uncertainty others have about me. In this way, hopefully, you will not be so concerned about hurting my feelings. You will feel free to discuss my handicap with me sooner than you normally would. Such a discussion helps both of us to understand and accept hearing impairment.

SECOND, please recognize that I must be able to see your face, preferably straight on and in reasonably good light to be able to understand you. Don’t stand or sit with your back to a window. The glare will make it difficult for me to see you clearly. Always try to face me when you talk, even when others are present. Remember that others can hear you, but I must see you! From my own experience I know this is very hard to remember and do because we miss the nonverbal feedback from others in the group. It takes a deliberate effort to face only one individual in a group.

THIRD, you may try to talk to me and get no response. I am not stuck up or ignoring you, I just didn’t hear (understand) you. This is especially true if you approached me from the rear or the side. It may be necessary for you to touch me to get my attention. You’ll find, once I am looking at you, I’ll probably be able to understand you.

FOURTH, speak clearly and distinctly, without exaggerating your normal lip or facial movements. Speaking a little slower will sometimes be very helpful. Don’t raise your voice because that will also distort your lip movements.

FIFTH, please understand that it is hard to follow a conversation only by speechreading. Some sounds, which are formed in the throat, can’t be seen, and hence give no visible clues. Some words look the same on the lips and the correct word has to be selected from the context of what was said. I must rely on context to select the right one.

SIXTH, while I depend on speechreading, I do hear sounds. What I can hear helps me overcome some of the speechreading problems. For this reason, it is more difficult for me when there is background noise such as music or a group of people talking. I very much appreciate it when someone turns off a TV, rec­ord player, or does something else which will reduce the noise level.

SEVENTH, as a speechreader, I am at my best in a one-on-one conversation. I may be able to keep up with two people, but beyond that point, it rapidly becomes impossible. I just can’t turn my head fast enough to keep up with what is being said. I avoid large groups of people for this reason.

EIGHTH, it helps if you let me know when you change the subject, otherwise it may take me a while to get “tuned in” again. This is because I have to depend a great deal upon context in order to understand. Please alert me to a change in the conversation, then I won’t have to spend time trying to fit context with something that doesn’t match.

NINTH, if you say something I just don’t understand, it usually doesn’t help to repeat it exactly the same way more than once. The best way is to rephrase it. Usually if you just restate a few key words, I will be able to pick up the meaning.

TENTH, names of places and people are very difficult for me to understand. It is impossible to associate them with context. Sometimes I must see a name written in order to understand it.

Some of these suggestions are very different from what normal hearing people usually do. We have to remember to apply them. A deliberate effort is required. As with most things, the more they are applied, the easier they become. Discuss this article with someone who is hearing impaired. It may help in deter­mining what special things a hearing person can do to help a hearing impaired person communicate more effectively.

Finally, please remember—my understanding depends on your understanding.

(Abstracted from an article by Max K. Kennedy, November/December, 1986 issue of Shhh. Shhh is published by Self Help for Hard of Hearing People, Inc., 7800 Wisconsin Avenue, Bethesda, Maryland 20814.