Communicating with DEAF and HARD of HEARING People

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There are about one in seven people in Great Britain who are deaf or hard of hearing. Communication between these people and those with normal hearing can be embarrassing, annoying and frustrating. The most difficult thing is obtaining patience and understanding from hearing people.

There is still a resistance at times by people to all forms of disability, whether physical, sensory or mental impairment. It is viewed as a social stigma even as leprosy once was ostracized and segregated - a blight on the family to be kept quiet and disowned - thrown out or sent to an institution.
Today attitudes are less radical and great progress in understanding has been made, but at times the inference is still there.

Deafness is particularly difficult because of the lack of outward physical signs. There is no way to simulate deafness to enable others to understand. The general assumption still prevails - that because a person has difficulty hearing they are also unable to comprehend.

Screen bean page decoration Trying to hear, and respond accordingly, takes a great deal of effort on the part of the deaf person. There is a double effort required to both hear and collate what is being said, in order to give an informed reply. This is more difficult as the person becomes older.

People with normal hearing also find it difficult when trying to hold a conversation with a deaf or hard of hearing person. The hearing person should ask which is the best way for the deaf person to follow their talk, then try to be patient. The deaf or hard of hearing person should also make their needs clear.

It is upsetting for the person to be told "it doesn't matter" when asking for a repeat; or a hearing person ‘taking over‘ the conversation; (because it is easier and quicker) especially when the topic concerns the deaf or hard of hearing person themselves.

If there is no co-operation and patience from hearing persons then deaf people feel undervalued. This may be why some deaf people, or indeed, those with other disabilities, feel the need to withdraw.

There are many degrees of deafness and each person needs different considerations to assist their hearing problem. However, there are some helpful tactics that hearing people can use to make it easier for communication. (Link on the right hand menu.)

Group conversation is very difficult and the deaf or hard of hearing person is often left out. Those of us so afflicted have become used to this but it is still difficult to bear.

animated clip, bird singing People find it hard to understand why those with a hearing loss are sometimes able to hear unexpected, less obvious sounds. The proverbial "he only hears what he wants to hear", is constantly applied; but it is the clarity of sound that is the important point. It is sometimes possible to hear a bird singing at close quarters, but be unable to sort out a loudly spoken, jumbled sentence. The bird song does not need to be 'analysed' by the brain in the same way as the spoken word.

Hearing loss is generally accepted as an integral part of the ageing process, but there are many younger people afflicted. Read more here.
The problem is usually first noticed by family and friends. It is often some time before the person is willing to accept the situation; even then there is still reluctance to ask for help and support. There may also be a feeling of not wanting to be a bother, or to draw attention to their loss.

Hard of hearing people should be encouraged to look into the possibliity of a hearing aid. Not only will it help them to enjoy sounds better but also make it easier in communication with others. The GP will refer the person to a local audiology department who will test the hearing and then advise and fit suitable hearing aid/aids. Further appointments are made for monitoring the person's progress with continuing advice. Hearing aids take a bit of getting used to but are well worth the effort. Read about Hearing Aid History here

Other advice can be obtained from the National organisations concerned with deafness issues. They provide extensive information and produce magazines and leaflets for guidance. Links to some of the important ones can be seen from the right hand menu.

In addition there are many small Self-help Groups in local communities who hold meetings for their members and give support of all kinds in a friendly way. Often these small groups prove to be the launching pad for someone to seek hearing aids and other equipment. People find themselves in these groups amongst others who understand the difficulties.

If you would like to make enquiries about a self-help group in your area, Contact Hearing Concern (From the Links page) who hold a list of many UK affiliated members and can supply you with contact details for your nearest group.