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Can You Hear Me Now?

Do you remember the Verizon Wireless commercials with the man walking around busy cities, the remote wilderness, vast deserts, and everywhere in between, saying, “Can you hear me now?”? The idea of hearing and being connected is one we find increasingly important in this age of technology and constant communication.

The question, “Can you hear me now?” has come to mean something different for me, though. When my now oldest was two I was having dinner with a group of friends, some ambient music was on and we were laughing and talking. My daughter was asleep in the room directly above us. At one point, my friend turned to me and asked if I was going to go get my daughter. I told her she was sleeping. She told me that my daughter had been screaming for the last several minutes, and the others indicated the same. I was sure they were wrong, I didn’t hear her. It wasn’t until I climbed the stairs and was outside her door that I could hear her screaming.

The next day I contacted an ENT and scheduled a hearing test. I was losing my hearing. Over the last seven years it has continued to decline. A shock at first, it is something I have come to accept and embrace (so no need to feel sorry about it). During that time though, I have realized that there are a lot of people around me that have hearing issues. I have also realized that most people don’t know how to react or interact, so I’ve put together my top 5 helpful tips. Likely there is someone (or several people) in your life that have hearing loss. Using just a few of these tips can help them “hear you now” and lead to a stronger relationship.

It is important to clarify a few things though before we begin. A person who is Deaf (capital D) is typically born deaf or is deaf before they are lingual. They likely use sign language and communicating in English may be difficult for them. Someone who is deaf (little d) has become deaf after they were lingual. They may even retain some hearing but their hearing loss is great enough that they function more without their ears than with them. Someone who is deaf may or may not use sign language. Someone that is hard of hearing may be deaf but may also be someone with minimal hearing loss. Someone with any level of hearing loss may also speak well, just because someone speaks does not mean they can hear. By that same token as you lose your hearing, you lose your ability to speak as clearly without practice and training because we actually use our ears to hear ourselves when we speak. Understanding these things will be helpful as you interact with those with hearing loss.

Okay now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, here are 5 ways to help you interact well with the Deaf, deaf, and hard of hearing people in your life!

Tip #1: Put your hand on their shoulder to get their attention before you begin speaking.

Tip #2: Look at the person when you speak to them. Many people with hearing loss rely on lip reading, facial expressions, and body language to understand the message you are conveying.

Tip #3: Louder is not better. Hearing loss is not simply a reduction in the volume heard it is a reduction in the types of sounds heard. Increasing the volume simply distorts the sounds they can hear, just like it does for you. This is why closed captioning can be helpful with the TV rather than turning it up.

Tip #4: Don’t get frustrated if you are asked to repeat yourself. Many times it can take “hearing” something a few times before someone with hearing loss can determine what you are saying. It is hurtful to those of us that cannot hear when we ask “what” and we receive a response of “never mind” or “it’s not important”. It leads to us feeling left out and irrelevant. Take the time to repeat yourself, please.

Tip #5: Talking with things in your mouth can make it impossible for us to “hear” you.  Whether that’s food, gum, a cigarette, a pencil, or anything else you can think of, talking with something in your mouth makes it harder for us to discern the words both with our ears and with our eyes. In this same vein, keep a clear view of your mouth and try not to block it with cups, hands, or other things.

These top 5 tips are a good place to start when learning to communicate more effectively with a D/deaf or hard of hearing person in your life.  Check out my blog post “Can You Hear Me Now Part II” for tips #6 through #10 to improve your communication even further!

- Caryn