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.
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