Methods of Communicating with the Hearing Impaired

a man with hearing loss communicating with his family

The world is becoming far more aware of the importance of accessibility and inclusion. You may have friends, family members, or work colleagues that have hearing loss. With a few adjustments to your own communication methods, you can make them feel at ease, and vastly improve your knowledge and acceptance. 

Basics

There are some people who are very open about their hearing loss; they will tell you the best ways for them to be communicated with. Others, however, don’t realize that they have any level of hearing loss and, as such, cannot express to you how to accommodate them. Even if you work with someone who has a hearing aid, you will still need to make the necessary changes to how you communicate. 

When a person has hearing loss, they will be working much harder to stay involved in the conversation and to tune in to what people are saying. It can actually be tiring because of the extra work that is required. There are, however, so many things that you can do to improve the situation for everyone. 

Communication tips

To facilitate the best conversations possible, try to include some of these tips in your communication with people with hearing loss. 

  • Stand or sit close to the person that they can switch between eye contact and lip-reading as they wish to
  • Ask which ear has the better hearing and be sure to try and speak more towards that side, if they want that to be the case
  • Before launching into a conversation, say the name of the person so that they can pick it up
  • Don’t speak into their back or shout from another room 
  • Try not to distort your lip movements, or cover your mouth when you are talking to them so that they can use your mouth movements to complete words correctly
  • Pay attention to the cues that typically mean that they haven’t heard something correctly, find a tactful way to confirm that what you said was picked up

Environment tips

If you are the person arranging a casual lunch or coffee meet-up, or are arranging the meetings at work, consider the environment carefully. 

  • Try to choose a place that has limited background noise. Of course, for coffee shops and restaurants, this is likely to be more difficult, but you can look for corner seating that typically allows better conversation
  • If they wear a hearing aid, consider if the loop function will be good for them (they will be able to tell you)
  • Lighting can have a significant impact on a person’s ability to lip read with ease and to read facial expressions. Try to choose a place that is well lit and that everyone in the room will have the same lighting on their face
  • In a group, settings try to opt for a circular table. This will enable a person with hearing loss to be able to see everyone who is seated. This typically works well for work meetings or meals at restaurants
  • Choose the time of day well – some places are busier and noisier the later into the evening that you choose
  • When inviting people to your home, try to keep music on a low volume and the TV off, if you intend to watch a movie ask if the subtitles would be a good idea
  • Ask the person with hearing loss where they would be the most comfortable

Fixing mistakes

There are going to be times where there will be miscommunications between you, the person with hearing loss, and others. You can help to navigate those situations with the following tips. 

  • Speak slowly and clearly at all times
  • Repeat when asked, or when there are cues that the person with hearing loss didn’t catch what was said
  • Rephrase what you have said 
  • For meetings provided guided minutes so that they can keep up, and go over them afterward if required
  • Speak at an average level, often talking too loudly will distort the movement of the mouth and how the words can be heard
  • If there has been a topic change, then always be sure to mention the topic more than once in a recap
  • Keep sentences short and easy
  • If the environment isn’t conducive to good conversation, then change it and apologize
  • Ask how to facilitate them better 
  • Ask the person with hearing loss where they got up to in the conversation and if they need clarification

If you’d like to learn more about how you can communicate better with those around you, or think you may be experiencing hearing loss, contact Affordable Audiology & Hearing Service at 920-232-4752.