Communicating with the hard of hearing

by Chey

I am a hard of hearing teen living in a hearing world. I have one fully functioning ear, while my other eardrum is damaged from tubes and surgeries. It still can be difficult for me however to communicate with hearing people. I would like to offer some do’s and don’ts based purely on my own difficult experiences (many of them in school). While I say “me”, these rules for the most part should apply to verbal communication with any hard of hearing person with some amount of hearing.


-Speak slower than you would with a hearing person. Often times sounds don’t come through as “clearly” and I have to make jumps and assumptions to get the sentence, much like a person with poor eyesight would be able to tell what a far away sign says, not from actually reading the letters, but making assumptions and filling in the gaps. So it takes longer for me to process what’s being said.

-At least face me when you are speaking. (Personally, I don’t have much issue with the eye contact thing, but you need to face me!) When you are facing me your sound comes to me. If you are facing away from me, I cannot hear you. It also has to do with lipreading. While I do not rely on it completely, I do tend to use it as an aid.

-Learn to sign! (I know, I know. I said “verbal”. Oh well.) While I am just beginning to breach ASL, the result of growing up surrounded by hearing people, I find that I would much rather sign than speak. Showing an interest in learning the language best suited to me is a huge gesture.

-Ask questions! I know some deaf/Deaf/hard of hearing people might find questions rude, but I personally feel flattered when someone wants to take the time to find out more about me and the thing that makes me a little different.


-Do not, ever, ever touch my ears. I’ve found that hearing people do that when they discover that I am hard of hearing. My ears do not feel any different than yours, and while the ONE does not hear as well as yours do, that does not affect feeling. I will feel it if you run up and grab my ear, and I do not like it. (This has been done to me, believe it or not.)

-Don’t try to sneak up on me. For one, I can feel your footsteps. It’s extremely rude to me to have someone try to sneak up on me, regardless of whether or not they succeed.

-Don’t whisper into the ear that doesn’t work! The first reason being the obvious one: I can’t hear you! The second being maybe less obvious, I find it very offensive.

-Don’t ask me how much hearing I have. For one, it is likely that you are seeking some sort of percentage answer, and that is not how decibels work. Second, it’s rude. I am not better or worse either way. I am hard of hearing and that’s all you need to know.

-Don’t scold me for not wearing my hearing aid. (Though my “hearing aid” currently is just a sound amplifier, and I will soon get an actual hearing aid fitted specifically to my needs which I will be more likely to wear.) I’ve only ever worn mine, but I do have to say that it is uncomfortable, and falls off frequently, as well as emitting feedback in the form of horrible squealing.

-Don’t suggest cochlears. (A cochlear for me would be pointless anyways.) I know a child whose parents are getting her a cochlear implant for each ear. I don’t even have the desire to go into the details of why I find it disturbing. If the subject isn’t breached by the hard of hearing person, then just leave it alone.

-Don’t chastise me for turning my headphones up loud. (I will not listen to music in inappropriate situations where others will be distracted/disturbed, just to get that out of the way first off.) Turning my music up loud did not make me go deaf. A hole in my eardrum and three surgeries did that. I hear things quieter than you do, therefore volume for me needs to be turned up. As a hard of hearing person interacting in the hearing community more than the Deaf Community (and perhaps people with whom the opposite is true might agree with what I am about to say as well) I find it extremely offensive when someone suggests that my being hard of hearing is the cause of something I did.

-Don’t assume that I’ve heard something that you said when you weren’t speaking directly to me, facing me. One of my teachers often yells at me for not responding to something he said, even though I did not respond because I didn’t hear him. It can get exhausting to constantly explain this to people, so just take the courtesy and save the hard of hearing person the grief. It really does hurt us.

I also have a don’t for hard of hearing people. Don’t immediately take offense if someone asks you if you are hard of hearing or deaf, because that person may be hard of hearing or deaf themselves! I know that whenever I see someone with hearing aids or someone signing I get very excited. It’s not often I find a kindred spirit after all!

Those are just some of my beliefs. I have a lot more to say on the topic of hearing people and hard of hearing people communicating, but I will stop at that.

Comments for Communicating with the hard of hearing

Jan 28, 2016


by: Tessa Roberts

I’ve been hard of hearing sine I was 10. I was in a terrible car accident. I told my family and the EMT I couldn’t hear but they didn’t believe me until fast forward 5 years I’ve learned ASL and how to lipread really well. The hearing exam results come up bad and voila! Mom believes me now. However my teachers and classmates don’t believe me ever when they discover I’m hard of hearing because nothing was initially done. I can relate to everything you’ve said but if I can add, just because someone doesn’t get I taken care of immediately doesn’t mean they’re not hard of hearing or deaf. Sometimes they can’t afford it or other obstacles come up.

Dec 05, 2015

Great read

by: Nathan Lukens

I am mostly deaf due to the same problems you have had. Then I hit an IED and it was donezo for me. I got the BAHA and let me tell you how amazingly not awesome it is. I get afraid of my own footsteps because you can’t tell what direction it is coming from. So, it is a personal decision and it was the BAHA or seal the ear which oils have been awesome. It gives me headaches. I can stream movies and music, so that is a plus. Trying to hear what people say all day is exhausting. You continuously have to focus and concentrate on the person. I read people’s lips even with my BAHA because I know it won’t work forever. Just wanted to say great read.

Jun 07, 2015

Hard of hearing

by: Carmen

Hello. My name is Carmen. I am hard of hearing. I can’t hear from my right ear because I don’t have it completely formed. Insecurity kills, but trying to fit in when you’re not the same kills even more, but I’m learning sign, and I love it! 🙌

May 16, 2015

Mother to a HOH child

by: Lee

First of all thank you. Loved every word! We found out 6 months ago that my 4 yr old daughter is deaf in her left ear and has moderate hearing loss in her right. Hers is hereditary, since her father and I carry an abnormal recessive gene. I’m currently enrolled in an ASL/Deaf studies program at a local college and she is also in a program that helps her speech since she is prelingually HOH. Reading you post gives me insight on how to help her ( and others!) in the future. And I know what you mean by getting excited meeting a kindred spirit. I get that way( even tho I’m hearing) because I know that she has someone who will “get” her, help her, and in general, be there for support. The Deaf community is wonderful, I have met so many fantastic people, even tho our journey has just begun. So again thank you for the insight, and rock on!

May 16, 2014


by: Emma

I am hearing. I will be doing a summer job this year where I will be working with other teenagers who are hearing, as well as deaf/Deaf kids. It’s great to figure out what not to do, as I don’t want to offend anyone while I’m learning more about Deaf culture.
I am incredibly interested in Deaf culture and ASL. Your post was very helpful.

Sep 01, 2013

2 Worlds

by: Anonymous

What a relief to see that I’m not the only person living with a foot in 2 worlds! I was born hearing and had full hearing until 8 years ago when a tumor required the removal of my left middle ear bones and eardrum. The auditory nerve is still functional, so a cochlear implant could restore my hearing, but I really don’t want more surgery (I’ve had other brain surgeries for other tumors since the first one, but they didn’t impact my hearing — nonetheless, surgery isn’t much fun!).

Here’s the thing: I still have full hearing on the right side, so most people have no idea that I’m completely deaf on the left. My right side has over-compensated so well for the left, that I usually “pass,” though I have trouble with telling from which direction sounds come. I still have to remind family members not to whisper to my left ear! I also have to remind my husband not to leave the room while he’s talking to me! I’m not accepted in the tightly-woven deaf community, but I’m not the hearing person I once was. It’s a very strange existence.

I appreciated your tips, and I can very much sympathize with the frustration of trying to get people to see that you really are “normal,” just not hearing! I started taking ASL when an infection in my right ear made me realize how quickly I could go to completely deaf. I am loving the learning and have a great teacher. She is connecting me with working with kids in her ASL Club at school — some hearing, some hearing impaired, some deaf — and I’m loving it! I hope to feel more balanced in my own life by being useful to both sides.

Mar 25, 2013


by: Arianna

Tell it, Chey!!! Aside from the sneaking up behind me thing (simply because I’m one person that doesn’t really get scared or I know it’s a joke), I feel the same way about everything you said!!!

Feb 13, 2013

HoH Chose To Have Cochlear Implant

by: Lori

I’m 45 years old and recently had Cochlear Implant done on my left ear. I chose to have it because I grew up listening to music which I love and hearing birds chirping and among other things. Over the years my hearing started to deteroriates and was losing touch with music and not be able to talk on the phone like I used to. All I wanted is to be able to hear again so I can sing and enjoy the sound of many things. I do call myself Deaf because I am Deaf. I’m also fluent in ASL which I will always prefer to use ASL as my communication mode. I feel so comfortable signing rather than speaking and I will always feel that way. Nothing will stop me from using ASl even with Cochlear Implant. ASL is my heart in a very BIG way. I’m so fortunate that my friends supports me all the way and know that I will never change who I am. Only thing that changed me is my ability to hear. Having Cochlear Implant still means I’m Deaf because once you take your connector off at nighttime before you go to bed you are Deaf period!!!!. Cochlear Implant is just an aid. It’s not 100% hearing improvement which never will be.

Feb 13, 2013


by: Channea Clark

Reading your page felt like it came from my own soul. I also am losing my hearing due to tubes and ear infections, etc. I loved everything you said and I wish it could be spread to more people.

Jan 03, 2013

To Scott Cramer

by: Chey

I don’t know much about the technicality of the cochlear either, all I know is that I disagree with permanently changing your deaf child like that . . I have no feuds with people who choose to get cochlears for themselves, it’s when the decision is made by the hearing and not the deaf. I personally would never get a cochlear, and I disagree with them in general, though I would always tolerate, because I tolerate everyone and even accept the majority.

The most I know is that as far as appearance goes, a wire comes out of your head and goes into your ear much like a hearing aid would.

Jan 02, 2013

Great post

by: Scott Cramer

I feel your pain and frustration. I have profound sensoneural loss and deal with the exact same issues dealing with normal hearing people. They simply don’t get it. I am curious about the cochlear position, but I just don’t know much about them – as I still have enough lows to not justify.

Good luck, and thanks again for your article.


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  • Hi! I thought this was a great… article? essay? message?, especially when it came to the tips. I’m hard of hearing myself, in both ears, though oddly enough mainly in the lower frequencies– most of my right ear’s high frequency hearing is within the “normal” range. One of the weird things with me though is that my hearing thresholds happen to be just far enough above the vast majority of speech sounds that I actually hear speech pretty clearly for a hard of hearing person. That’s why I didn’t even know I had a hearing loss until I was 7 years old (though my parents did, since it apparently came up on the newborn screening thing or whatever they did when I was a baby), and even after that it wasn’t until I had my second hearing test at 14 that I truly realized that I could technically call myself hard of hearing. However, I understand spoken conversation well enough, and I’ve been around the hearing world so much, that if I meet a deaf person I really don’t know if I should introduce myself as hearing or hard of hearing, simply because I probably have more of a hearing worldview. (no, I don’t think deaf people should be “fixed” however, I’m probably more likely to have hearing views on other things just because I’ve been raised in the hearing world and could count the number of deaf–or Deaf– people I’ve met on my fingers.)

    Out of all the things you mentioned in this writing, the one thing that I have absolutely never heard before was the part about people touching your ears. Like, seriously? That’s so strange. I mean, if someone didn’t have the sense of taste, that doesn’t mean I should touch their tongue or something… If anyone tried to touch my ears when I mentioned my hearing loss, I’d probably swat their hand away and give them a weird look.