Communicating with people who have hearing loss (deaf awareness)
November 8, 2019
How many people do you think have some form of hearing loss? Well, in the UK the figure’s around 10 million that’s about one in six people. Perhaps someone you know or work with, a relative or maybe a customer. Communication can be more effective if you know what helps,and what hinders. So this is what you need to know about communicating with people who have hearing loss. Let’s start by having a look at different levels of loss. People with mild hearing loss are likely to find it difficult to follow speech in a noisy environment. Whereas, someone with moderate hearing loss would probably need a hearing aid and would have difficulty listening to someone without it. A person with severe loss is likely to use
a combination of lip reading and hearing aids. And someone who is profoundly deaf might use hearing aids, or cochlear implants. These are surgically implanted electronic devices that provide a sense of sound – a kind of super hearing aid. Cochlear implants are often used in conjunction with lip, or speech reading, or a lip reading aid like cued speech. And many people who are profoundly deaf use a sign language. So there are different degrees of hearing
loss but there are also different forms of hearing loss, and technology, such as hearing aids and cochlear implants, are more effective with some forms of loss than with others. Some people experience hearing loss as a result of getting older, others become deafened, perhaps by an infection or trauma, and some people are born deaf. This is Dan. He was born deaf and brought
up bilingually. He uses a sign language as his first language and English as his second language. Sign languages are languages in the own right and not a visual representation of a spoken language and not all deaf people are fully bilingual. How do you know if someone has hearing loss? Meet Jackie. She complains that people don’t talk clearly, and she often needs to have things repeated. Sometimes she responds in an unusual way when she hasn’t heard correctly. She finds it difficult to follow conversations
in noisy places, and when she has the tv on, she has the volume turned up high. She talks very loudly and doesn’t seem to be aware that she’s doing it. We all do these things from time to time, but Jackie does them more often than you’d expect. Jackie uses the hearing she has and compensates for any loss with nonverbal means. When she’s trying to lip read, she finds
it hard if she can’t see the person’s whole face clearly, as facial expressions help her understand what the person is saying. So if her boyfriend Charlie is wearing sunglasses, for example, they make it harder for her to understand what he’s saying. Someone like Jackie with imperfect hearing
relies heavily on visual clues and there’s a lot of guess work. So, things like using slang, changing the topic quickly and poor grammar all make it more difficult for her
to follow what a person is saying. So what are some of the things that can help? You might have seen these signs for induction loops in places like banks, ticket offices and churches. Background noise can be a big
problem as the voice gets lost in all the other sounds. An induction loop transmits an audio signal
which is picked up by a hearing aid when it’s switched into the ‘T’ position. It’s
a bit like using headphones or ear buds – the background noise is kept down. If you’re not using a loop system, here
are some other things you can do. As you saw with Jackie, the person you’re
communicating with needs to be able to see your mouth, face, and facial expressions clearly.
So make sure there isn’t a light source behind you such as a window or a light which
would put your face into shadow. Minimise background noise as much as you can, for example by closing a window if there’s noisy traffic outside. Make sure you have the person’s attention
and keep facing them, if you look away to do something, stop talking while you do it as all the visual clues will be lost. Speak clearly and normally not too slow or
in an exaggerated way. Keep your normal rhythm of speech and use phrases and sentences – not single words – as they’re much harder to understand. Use ordinary language at your normal volume and don’t shout – and if you’re not understood the first time, be patient and don’t give up.
You may need to repeat what you’ve said, or find a clearer way of saying what you mean. Add context to what you’re saying, for example, instead of, ‘Fancy a cup of tea?’ try ‘I’m putting the kettle on, would you
like a cup of tea?’ When someone says, ‘I’m putting the kettle on,’ you can guess what’s coming next, and the offer confirms it. A person with hearing loss knows what works for them, so let them help and guide you. It’s almost certain that throughout the
day you’ll be communicating with someone who has some form of hearing loss. Knowing what to do and what not to do, will make communication easier for everyone.