Using a hearing aid shouldn't be seen any more or less embarrassing than vision assistance. Yet for some reason, there's still a stigma around them. It needs to stop — after all, you wouldn't mock or patronize someone for being nearsighted or farsighted, right?
Then don't do that with someone who's hard of hearing, either. See the site for hearing aids.
I don't doubt that if you have a loved one who's suffering from hearing loss, you want to help them however you can. And that's admirable. But you need to understand that helping starts with listening.
Don't Ignore The Subject
Most importantly, you need to take your loved one's feelings into consideration. Are they the kind of person who stubbornly refuses help, or do they seem more receptive? Finding out the answer to that question is simple — ask them how they feel.
Most of the ascend hearing community doesn't understand how to react after learning that someone they care for is hard of hearing, but there's no reason for this to be a difficult topic. Don't avoid discussing it, and don't try to pretend nothing has changed.
On the other hand, don't be nosy. Some things simply are not your business. If a hard of hearing (HoH) loved one has not yet volunteered any information, it may be that they don't want help (though in the case of age-related hearing loss, the lines are a bit more blurred, and you may want to seek advice from outside experts).
Lastly, understand that it's not up to your loved one to make concessions to make the hearing population more comfortable. If you're serious about supporting them, you need to be the one to make an effort. Speaking of which...
It's the Little Things That Count
While you should be willing to help your HoH loved ones, you should also be cognizant of going overboard. Make it clear you are willing to listen, but refrain from "over-helping." A few small changes and considerations can go a long way.
- Turn on closed captioning when a HoH friend comes to visit.
- Face the person when you're speaking to them, to make it easier for them to understand what you're saying. Enunciate your words clearly, and if you're a fast talker, slow down just a little bit. Many HoH people rely on lip reading and facial expressions to fill in the blanks in what they hear.
- If you need to relay instructions or explain something, consider doing it via email, text, or chat. Why shout across the house when you can send a message instead?
- You might consider keeping a few dry erase boards around the house to help everyone keep track of appointments and scheduling.
- Be empathetic about the mental strain. A person with hearing loss has to put a lot more effort into understanding the sounds around them. Try not to fill the silence with nervous chatter, even if it sometimes feels uncomfortable. This is especially important in a work environment — they aren't trying to be snobbish or rude, it's just difficult to concentrate amidst an endless stream of small talk.
Become An Advocate
Society has passively allowed fear and stigma surrounding hearing loss to become a larger problem than it needs to be. People unknowingly cause harm, mainly by ignoring or failing to address the ways we are letting the HoH community down. You can help by educating your peers on HoH etiquette, and by learning more yourself.
If you think it might be rude to ask a question, search for it online to see what pops up first. And if you need to vent or seek advice, there are plenty of support groups for those whose loved ones are suffering from hearing loss. Seek them out.
You might also consider pushing for greater knowledge of sign language or cued speech amongst everyone from parents and children to educators. Knowledge of regional sign language should honestly be a societal expectation. It wouldn't take much effort at all to see it taught in schools at least in part.
At this point, failure to support the learning of all students, regardless of class, creed, or ability is an embarrassment.
They're Still the Person You Love
Hearing loss doesn't mean someone's lost their emotions and personality. HoH people are more capable than society seems to notice, with dreams and aspirations just like anyone else. And they're still the person you care about.
The only thing that's changed is their hearing. Whatever else you do, keep that in mind. Never make them feel like they're an inconvenience, and be aware of the ways you might be hurtful towards them.
Change doesn’t happen overnight, but even the first step towards a more inclusive society counts as forward momentum. Every movement has to start somewhere. Why not let it start with you?
About the Author:
Dr. Renee Flanagan is the Director of Audiological Care at Hearing Planet. She works with the training and development of Hearing Care staff so they may help the hearing impaired population by following best in class hearing healthcare practices.